On Principles, Pledges, and "Purity"

A group of conservative Republicans is set to offer a resolution be considered at next month’s Republican National Committee meeting in Hawai’i, calling on party candidates to embrace a majority of a group of ten positions based on core conservative principles to gain and retain RNC endorsements and funding.  I think it’s a brilliant idea that is right for the times.  I acknowledge that there are those who disagree and are concerned that such a resolution may end up bringing about more problems than it will solve.  But I hold that the resolution will help demonstrate to Republican base voters that the party is serious about a return to conservative principles.

Erick spoke for many conservatives in his reasoned and sincere criticism of the pledge resolution.  They are primarily concerned that requiring candidates to take a pledge of this kind will give liberal Republicans cover to proclaim themselves conservative.  They worry the pledge will result in more, not less, fiascoes like the DeDe Scozzafava candidacy in New York’s 23rd congressional district.

But the ten positions are written in a way that is broad enough that any Republican should be able to easily clear the bar of 8 out of 10 that the resolution requires.  Yet, the positions are specific enough to demonstrate both to base voters and disillusioned independents just what Republicanism entails.  And, the positions talk about what we as Republicans stand for, rather than simply what we stand against.

Here is the full list of positions:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care.

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion.

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

Every item on the list can be traced back to one of the following bedrock conservative principles:  limited and small government, free markets, strong national defense, life, and traditional values.  None of them is particularly controversial.  Any Republican worth the label should have no trouble finding agreement on eight of those statements.

That last point in key.  The proponents of the resolution are not looking to enforce a rigid uniformity of thought amongst Republicans with their proposal.  They are only seeking to establish a minimum standard, rooted in conservatism.  Contrary to its critics’ fears, had this proposal been in place over the summer, DeDe Scozzafava would never have become the Republican candidate in NY-23.  She would have found fault on at least three of the positions:  life, card check, and low taxes.

To those who would argue that Scozzafava would have signed the pledge to get the RNC endorsement only to abandon it’s positions once elected, the resolution calls not for a candidate declaration, but an examination of the voting record, public statements, and signed questionnaires.  That would ensure that officials elected under the pledge’s promises keep their word throughout their term in office.  It calls for a wholesale examination of a candidate’s record, not reliance on a single self-serving statement.

The media is having a field day with the proposal, as could be predicted.  It is being portrayed as an outgrowth of the internal struggle within the party on how best to rebuild the Republican brand after two successive disastrous election campaigns.  It is, of course, anything but.  The proposal is not a sign of a party trying to come to grips with a strategy.  That has already been decided.  Traditional conservatism has won that battle.  Rather, it is a sign that Republicans are seeking ways to demonstrate to skeptical base voters and independents that this time, they mean it.

A large part of the reason Republicans and conservatives are in the wilderness is because they were willing to back anybody who could win with an R after their name.  It is about time Republicans started demanding some measure of loyalty to a basic set of beliefs in exchange for the party’s money and support.  To be sure this proposal is no Contract with America.  But I believe it is not intended to be.  The Contract came during the height of the 1994 campaign and we are a long way from that.  This is more of a Contract with the Base, and it is never too early for a political party to shore up support amongst its most loyal voters.