There has been a lot of discussion following Haley Barbour’s speech last Thursday night at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Night of the Rising Stars event. While Barbour’s remarks left many social conservatives with a sour taste in their mouths at the conclusion of the event, it would be a mistake to disregard everything that was addressed in terms of party building at the event.
Before focusing on Barbour’s speech again, newly elected RPI chairman Matt Straw deserves credit for giving a good speech in his formal debut as the face of the party. In addition to speaking out against Governor Chet Culver’s policies, fiscal issues, and position on marriage, Strawn also used his speech to tell those in attendance that Republicans must break the mold and go after the votes in the African American churches and other venues that have proved to be difficult for the party. Strawn and others also spoke about the tea party movement and sounded optimistic that these people would find a natural home in the Republican Party.
Strawn’s message was right on target. With Republicans lagging behind Iowa Democrats in voter registration numbers, they must be aggressive in unearthing new Republican voters. The most obvious area to focus on is the Tea Party movement. While some of these people are already solid Republican voters, many are not. Finding a way to bring these people into the Republican Party should be the main goal of Chairman Strawn and his team at the state party.
The marriage issue in Iowa also creates an opportunity for Iowa Republicans to go after both Hispanics and African-American church goers, as well as catholic voters. If the party is successful in getting the Tea Party activists and those motivated to pass a constitutional amendment supporting traditional marriage, Republican’s could have reason to celebrate in November of 2010.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was in Iowa last week to help the party building effort for Iowa Republicans. Barbour’s speech would have been fabulous if it hadn’t contained a massive contradiction. The former chair of the RNC spoke about how the principles of the Republican Party don’t change; instead, he believes Republicans must find ways to apply our principles to the issue set of the day. Barbour also spoke at length on how it is the role of the state and local parties to manage the various coalitions within the party.
All of that is sound advice that the party should follow. The problem with Barbour’s speech came when he told the audience that pro-life people need to vote for pro-choice candidates, and pro-choice people need to vote for pro-life candidates. In other words, despite the issue that may motivate you to vote Republican, in this instance the life issue, you should just bite your tongue and vote Republican regardless of where the Republican candidate stands.
But what about that little thing that he spoke of earlier, our principles?
Barbour’s “just win” speech might have received a different reaction had it be delivered after the primaries, but that’s not where we find ourselves. We are just at the beginning stages of the primaries. The question that must be addressed is: can the Republican Party win elections if it doesn’t even know what its principles are? If the message of the Republican Party is simply that people need to vote Republican so that we can win elections, we are setting ourselves up for a colossal failure.
I think every Republican would agree that the people involved with the Tea Party movement should be Republican votes next November. But can we expect these anti-government activists to hold their noses and vote for a Republican candidate who votes for President Obama’s nationalized health care proposal, cap and trade, or the bailout of the auto industry? I doubt it. And what would the response be if a Republican leader told them they had to vote for the Republican, even if that Republican voted for one of the above proposals? Who knows, but I’ll be it wouldn’t be a positive experience.
Many will say that Republicans are in lock step with the Tea Party movement on the issues that were mentioned above. But there are issues that complicate matters, especially on the local level. Issues like eminent domain and local tax increases like Project Destiny just to name a few.
The same is true for evangelical voters. Evangelicals were widely credited for delivering the re-election of President Bush in 2004. They are an integral coalition within the Republican Party. Can we expect these people to vote Republican if the party refuses to take a clear stand on the issues that they are most passionate about? In this past presidential election Republican saw a decrease in the support of from evangelicals. Can we really expect their future support with Barbour’s “bite your tongue” party building message?
Barbour is one of the most successful party builders in the history of the Republican Party, however, he has not been involved in that capacity for over a decade, and the political landscape has changed. Many people no longer identify themselves as Republicans. We can thank the news media and an unpopular President for that, but it’s something that didn’t exist in 1990’s.
It seems that many people, Barbour included, claim to have faith in the principles of the Republican Party. But what are they?
Is the Republican Party the party of personal responsibility?
Is the Republican Party the party that defends the right of the unborn?
Is the Republican Party the party that fights for traditional marriage?
Is the Republican Party the party that supports individual property rights?
Is the Republican Party the party that believes in the free market system?
Is the Republican Party the party that believes in smaller government?
Is the Republican Party the party for lower taxes?
Is the Republican Party the party in support of a strong national defense?
Before Republican go out and try to court the evangelicals again or try to persuade the tea party activists that they should vote Republican, we better know exactly what it is we stand for.
blog comments powered by Disqus