In recent days, I read two great pieces that illustrate what I feel is a major problem with my Republican party. The first was an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. The second was a column on Forbes.com by Bruce Bartlett. Both talked about the implications of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s switch to the Republican Party.
Bartlett correctly points out that the Republican Revolution led by Newt Gingrich in 1994 was because Democrats purged their more moderate members in 1974. And Democrats regained control only after adopting a “big tent” approach – by no longer insisting their members adhere to every plank on the platform.
History should be a dire warning to my fellow Republicans. Stop making the party a difficult place for the Arlen Specters and Olympia Snowes and Charlie Crists and John McCains. This party needs moderate voices, as Bartlett points out:
The party is now widely viewed as corrupt, incompetent, ideologically rigid and out of step with the American mainstream. It should be engaging in self-examination, developing an agenda that addresses the real problems faced by Americans and reaching out to the millions of voters who have left the GOP in recent years. Instead, Republicans are pushing out the last of the party’s moderates as if that will somehow make them more popular with the very moderates whose votes are essential if they are to regain power.
If Republicans really want to take back Congress and win back the White House, then we have to abandon ideology and adopt a pragmatic approach. Snowe wrote:
There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.
It is for this reason that we should heed the words of President Ronald Reagan, who urged, “We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty.” He continued, “As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”
I couldn’t agree more. We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand. Rather, we should view an expansion of diversity within the party as a triumph that will broaden our appeal. That is the political road map we must follow to victory.
We are at a crucial crossroads for the GOP. In one direction lies the return to national prominence by broadening our philosophy. In the other lies the perpetual minority of true ideological principles. Which do we choose?