It was thought that Republicans had learned they could only govern through a majority, and they could only gain a majority by agreeing to disagree within the conservative family from time to time. Apparently we have not.
Now with a 32 percent approval rating, we must face reality again. The Republican establishment can’t win elections without the more conservative tea party element and the tea party can’t implement its Constitution-inspired reforms without the rest of the party’s blessing. If there is advice that we should not ignore in reassembling the Republican Party, it is that of our last true standard bearer, Ronald Reagan. “That person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally; not a 20 percent traitor,” said Reagan.
This applies to both the moderate Republican establishment as well as the tea partiers. A big tent conservative philosophy has proven it can win in almost all of our 50 states, but the only way to recreate the majority party that Reagan built, along with former 3rd District Congressman Bill Brock as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, is to embrace diversity without abandoning our core principles.
On both ends of the GOP spectrum there is a lack of empathy and understanding. Many moderates don’t seem to fully understand the dire fiscal condition of our nation caused by reckless government spending, the key motivating factor in the rise of the tea party. However, the tea party is often too dismissive of so-called RINOs whose political views are often influenced by understandable geographic and economic nuances. One day the tea party will need to work together with RINOs in order to have a chance to balance the budget, simplify the tax code and revive the dreams of our Founding Fathers.
Republicans can’t fall into the trap of defining party factions as the enemy. The enemies are Al-Qaeda, Iran and Russia. The tea party and moderate Republicans, depending on your perspective, are at worst the annoying out-of-town cousins. But they are family and they must be tolerated.
The faces of a family can be diverse without being divided. When I think about the cross-section of Americans the Republican Party can’t afford to alienate I think of my own family here in Chattanooga. None of them would qualify as ideologically pure conservatives, but they might vote Republican if the party does not leave them behind.
My thrice-widowed great-grandmother is 92 years old and still drives herself around town and lives independently. She was raised a southern Democrat in Nashville, but she’s frugal like most members of the Greatest Generation so she wishes the government would live within its means like she does. Medicare has been there for her more than once, including when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 90. And she served her country too, raising my grandmother alone when my great-grandfather was serving in Europe during World War II.
Her son, my great-uncle, is a Vietnam Veteran. He knows the price of war and wants our country to avoid unnecessary foreign conflicts. Like many aging veterans, his VA benefits are too important to him to be trivialized by a government shutdown.
My grandfather still works eight to five every day at 75 years old because he hasn’t felt comfortable enough to retire in this economy. He’s disenfranchised with every person who holds political office. As long as the Republican Party does not continue to sell its soul to corporate America for political contributions, he will still choose to vote Republican over the alternative.
And then I think of my 29-year-old cousin who served two tours in Iraq and is now a lineman and member of the IBEW’s Local 175. If the Republican Party will represent guys like him who served his country, even if he is a union member, he might also find his way into the bigger tent.
All of us have families that are more diverse than what some conservatives in Washington insist is the only acceptable form of conservatism. In order for Republicans to advance a limited government agenda, we have to earn enough confidence among the American people to win elections. And in order to earn the people’s confidence, the GOP is going to have to settle for agreeing 80 percent of the time — like families do. Otherwise, we will look more like a shrinking tribe of the 32 percent than the strong Reagan majority that was able to govern.
Weston Wamp is communications director of the Lamp Post Group.