Republican Purity and Conservatism
It appears that the Republican National Committee is working on a set of principles that Republican candidates have to adhere to in order to receive funding and support from the RNC. There are ten principles listed, and the candidates have to adhere to at least seven of these principles “as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate.” If they do not, then the candidate “shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee”.
On the face of it, this doesn’t really seem to be too unreasonable. After all, a political party should have a set of core issues, and too much deviation does beg the question as to whether the party should support that candidate. So far, not a big deal.
However, something that interests me is that of the 10 principles that have to be adhered to receive funding, pretty much all of them could be opposed by a principled conservative, and many of them have been opposed by prominent Republican officeholders and candidates. Here’s a rundown:
(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;
Taking this construction literally, it appears that any increase in spending would have to be opposed for perfect adherence–or, at the very least, any bill that increases spending in one area would have to cut another. So a Republican politician who wants to, say, increase defense spending would violate this principle unless he also supports an equal or greater spending reduction somewhere else. What if a bill doesn’t allow that?
(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
Well, Obama-style “government run” health care is not, in fact, government run and it is very similar to the health reform plan in Massachusetts, which was adopted and supported by Mitt Romney, who is probably the current frontrunner for 2012 GOP Presidential nomination. Additionally, I would also say that strict adherence to the letter of this principle would mean that GOP candidates would have to oppose Medicare and Medicaid–which is fine if that’s how they want to run, but it’s probably not an election winner. Furthermore, many prominent conservative intellectuals, notably Friedrich Hayek, have offered support for government-provided health insurance. Is Hayek too liberal for the modern GOP?
(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
Technically, cap and trade is a market-based reform, as it creates a market for carbon emissions. Structurally, it’s similar to the Clean Air Act of 1990, which set up an emissions trading program for sulfur dioxide. The Act was signed by then-President Bush, co-sponsored by several Republicans, and passed with a vote of 89-10 in the Senate and 401-25 in the House. Why was it okay for Republicans then, but not now?
Additionally, both John McCain and Sarah Palin announced their support for a cap and trade program during the 2008 elections (although Palin has since come out against it).
(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;
And if someone, as a conservative, opposes this government intrusion into contractual relations among individual workers, a union, and their employer on the principle that such individuals should set their own rules?
(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
Amnesty is a policy that used to have large amounts of Republican and conservative support. President Reagan, for example, signed amnesty legislation in 1986. George W. Bush and John McCain both supported a path to legalization that was often derided as “amnesty.” Again, why is this a central issue when clearly there is a disagreement among prominent Republicans as to whether this is optimal policy?
(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
This just doesn’t make sense. Last time I checked, nobody in the military was requesting more troops in Iraq. And there is a division in the Pentagon over whether more troops should be supplied to Afghanistan. More to the point, there is a large strain of conservative foreign policy thinking that opposes interventionism and nation-building. Are those thinkers now no longer considered Republican?
7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;
This is rather simplistic. What is meant by “containment”? Additionally, if the State Department is able to, say, negotiate an end to Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs based on an end to sanctions, would a Republican who supported such negotiations be violatiing this rule because that wouldn’t be “containment”? Or adhering to it because the negotiations are “effective.” This is frustratingly vague.
(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
And so a conservative politician, such as the late Barry Goldwater, who believes that DOMA violates federalism and state control over marriage policy, would be determined to not adhere to this principle.
(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
Again, this is frustratingly vague. Does opposing “rationing” mean no government-imposed cost controls, even though programs such as Medicare or through selection of federal employee’s health insurance programs? If a conservative politician opposes a bill that would mandate coverage for people with a pre-existing condition, is he supporting the “denial of health care”?
10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;
Once again, this is frustratingly vague. How stringently do we define “government restriction on gun ownership”? Does that mean a politician who supports laws that prevent convicted felons or the mentally ill from owning firearms, he violates this rule? Does a politician who supports laws preventing the ownership of fully-automatic machine guns violate this rule? Once again, those don’t seem like election winners or something that a majority of Republicans would support.
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Like I said, I think that the RNC is completely within its rights to decide what candidates it wants to endorse and finance. But if the resolution above is passed as it is, it will almost certainly lead to more heated confrontations between the various wings of the Republican Party and make it much less effective. As someone who wants a strong, multi-party political system, this makes me really uneasy. Although I do support a lot of Democratic Party policies at the moment, I don’t support all of them and would much prefer that voters have an opportunity to vote for a strong alternative in elections.
But if the Republican Party continues to splinter over these types of issues and give in to a particular minority of Republican opinion, it’s only going to serve to alienate more moderates from the GOP and further strengthen the Democrats’ hold on power for a long time to come. That’s not a healthy outcome for our Republic.