Republican Reformers and the Big (Collapsible) Tent

Does anyone remember the spectacle of the “unity” event after the 2008 Democratic primary was over? Does anyone remember the various calls for a Republican “unity breakfast” as recently as last year?

I start out with these questions, because it has become readily apparent that whatever the goals of the people who make up our party, “unity” is an ideal supported in word but not in deed. The confusion stems from a simple question. Who are we trying to unify? If I may be so bold to characterize:

Full spectrum conservatives believe we need to unify the solid right and the center-right in order to appeal, in ideologically coherent and principled manner, to the center and at some ends the center-left. For ease of use let us call this the “Republican Restoration Camp.” The name is selected because it is a specific appeal on specific principles to organize activists and set a specific agenda.

Conservative leaning moderates believe we need to unify the center-right, the center, and the center-left because numerically, those three segments create in and of themselves a majority of the voting public. Again for ease of use, let us call this the “Big Tent Camp.” The name is selected because it is a strategy of appealing to the broadest group of people possible, focusing from the political center outward.

Recent events have transpired where the “Big Tent Camp” has clashed with the “Republican Restoration Camp.” Specifically, Gabriel Gomez’s off-hand use of “Klan” to describe Rob Eno and Christopher Pinto. It can also be seen in the schism over whether to defend Phil Robertson or not. Republican Restorers would argue this is the first time a truly viral pop culture event has happened to allow some pushback, Big Tenters would argue Robertson is still too toxic, and to not pick any fights that might offend the center.

And that is really the problem with the “Big Tent.” It is a popularity contest bound by the social rules and assumptions of the far left. As the center is pulled towards the far left, the Big Tent collapses toward it, away from its natural base of support, and even in doing so fails to be competitive against the Democratic machine. It could not be otherwise when the far left is driving the trend and the Big Tent dragged haphazardly behind it. With each shift to the left it becomes more isolated, as people come to view it as a late adopter to “social progress,” supporting it solely for their own electoral benefit.

So how do we fix it? First, we need to recognize that Republican Reformers and Big Tenters are not adversaries. Ideas from Big Tenters are worthy of consideration, and are not tainted for a lack of Republican Purity. By the same token, Republican Reformers are not “Klan” members, are not socially backward, are not inhibiting progress, and are not the source of Republicans losing elections because of the same. Even in approaching this topic, one should notice the drastic difference in each groups understanding of the other. One believes the other to be lacking in coherent political principle, the other in basic moral character. On those terms, then, the biggest rift in unity is coming from the “Big Tent.”

Politics is a numbers game, and you encounter people you would not personally support but nonetheless ally with. It cannot however remain the case that growing the party becomes a net negative goal for the “Big Tent” by continuing to exclude Republican Reformers from moral consideration. We can have a technology revolution, and with no users to go out into the field and use it, nothing will be accomplished. In Massachusetts we have both technology and people problems.

The simple truth is the person intent on reading this and the average person on the street are entirely different kinds of people. The people we need for campaigns are not centrists who have opinions of varying strength and go about their daily life detached from real political involvement. The people we need are people who will be attracted to specific principles and give them the resources and support to make the changes they seek.

And those people, for the purposes of our Republican Party, are conservatives and conservative oriented libertarians. The Democratic Party already has the activists looking for a larger, more powerful, more censorious government on lock-down. Centrists are not natural activists. The centrists that are activists profit mostly from “a pox on all houses” philosophy and enough wealth to have an independent platform at their disposal. In summary my Republican friends, we should be going to the churches, and we should be going to the gun clubs, and we should be going into the communities that have the most to gain from smaller government, the protection of civil liberties, and any with an orientation to a higher power that is not the state. Without these people in the Big Tent, our party is doomed to run Republican candidates that will fail.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you do not respect the moral decency and character of your natural base of supporters, you have no business running for office as a Republican. If your Big Tent is not big enough for Republican Reformers, your candidate will lose, and so will the Republican Party.

~Brian Kennedy, Republican Activist

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