On Purity Tests And The Republican Party ...

The effort by ten Conservative members of the Republican National Committee (led by Jim Bopp Jnr. of Indiana) to introduce a resolution at the RNC’s Winter Meeting this month that would have forced all Republican candidates for Federal office to sign off on at least eight (or seven) out of the ten issue positions in the resolution or face having the RNC withhold its funds from his or her campaign generated quite a bit of ink/pixels when it came out back in late November last year.

As expected, much of the media (and many obstensibly on the Right) ominously referred to the proposed scheme as a “Purity Test “, with the Left touting it as yet more evidence that the GOP has become a party with no room for anyone except the so-called “Far Right.

Erick came out against it; with the very reasonable argument that this would be used to allow the bland content-free so-called “moderates ” the Beltway Republican Establishment tends to favor a shortcut past the vetting process by simply signing off as supporting positions on the issues when their previous records and statements show otherwise. Afterwards, when elected, there is no guarantee that they would hold to these new positions, especially when threatened with being left off a cocktail guest list. As Erick pointed out, despite a record of votes in the NY State Legislature and declared issue positions on taxes (and other issues) that would usually describe the philosophical profile of a middle-of-the-road member of the House Progressive Caucus, DeDe Scozzafava signed the ATR’s tax pledge … after mocking Doug Hoffman for signing it.

Mark, on the other hand, came out in favor of the resolution , or something like it; with his own very reasonable argument that notwithstanding the Left and some of the DC Republican establishments’ shrieks of the list being an exclusionary and “Far Right ” “Purity Test “, all ten positions stem from mainstream conservative principles shared by majorities and near majorities of the American people, and what’s more, the scheme would also serve to show disillusioned Republicans that their party has finally begun the long-overdue return to its principles.

I’m more inclined to go with Mark – to a point. A party is not a sports team or some sort of social club where winning on Election Day is the end in and of itself. Being a Republican (or a Democrat) is not similar to being a Yankees fan or a Rotarian. Reagan sounded a familiar note when he said; “A political party is not a fraternal order. A party is something where people are bound together by a shared philosophy.

Which is why, even though in the topsy-turvy world of Beltway politics this would invariably be greeted with apocalyptic denunciations on both sides of the cocktail circuit with labels that induce panic in “moderates ” like “extremist “, “intolerant “, “partisan ” and even {gasp!} “controversial ” being thrown about in both broadcast and print, it is hardly unreasonable for grassroots Republicans to demand some sort of confirmation that this or that individual seeking the GOP nomination for a particular office actually does share the party’s philosophy with its members.

But, I just don’t think producing some list (especially one that is so personality and current-events focused) and asking candidates to sign off on a minimum baseline number is the best way to go about it. Not only does it give the media a handy propaganda tool supporting their favored narrative of the GOP being a narrow lock-step marching cult catering to the “Far Right “, Erick is right in saying that it would be all too easy for the GOP establishment’s preferred content-free, spineless, unprincipled, go-along-to-get-along, Republicans-of-convenience to shortcircuit the vetting process by signing off on positions they have no intention of advancing or defending once in office, especially if it would get them disinvited from swanky DC cocktails.

A better (but perhaps less workable) idea, I think, would be that a resolution be introduced that all Republican candidates for office must participate in a minimum number of debates to be conducted by the state and/or local parties prior to the Primary. New media means that this does not have to be expensive – venues, stages and podia can be hired for cheap or nothing at all, and good camcorders are not too expensive. Better yet, it costs virtually nothing to upload stuff to YouTube.

Given a choice, I’d restrict the debate formats to the following;

  • Town Halls: The candidates get to answer questions directly from representatives of their Primary electorate. Ideally, audience members would each write down a question to be randomly chosen out of a raffle box for a candidate to answer when it’s his/her turn. This would force things in a more issue-focused rather than personality-driven direction and also discourage dirty tricks by bad faith actors i.e. Candidate A supporter asking Candidate B a “when did you stop beating your wife” question.
  • Candidate-to-Candidate: The candidates ask each other questions. With follow-ups. Third-party moderators may shy away from asking tough questions, especially if it would threaten any future opportunities to play moderator again, or allow their biases in favor of one candidate over another to color/soften their questions. This eliminates that possibility and also provides a good opportunity for underdogs to make an impact. Besides, if one cannot handle tough questions from an opponent in the same party, how would he/she handle the Democrat and the Press?
  • Lincoln-Douglas/Presentation: The candidates would be asked to make an uninterrupted case for their policy prescriptions (i.e. legislation they would sponsor) addressing the various issues they believe are of the most concern to the voters of their district/state. i.e. taxes, healthcare, spending, education, national security, etc. They may use any props (e.g. PowerPoint) and aids they think necessary to make their case. Afterwards they would defend their thesis from the audience and their opponent.

In my opinion this scheme is more likely to yield the needed answers about the depth of the candidates’ convictions and thinking (or lack thereof) about the issues than simply asking them to sign off on any random eight out of ten policy positions in exchange for the party’s support. Either way, Scozzafavas (like this lady here ) and opportunist windsocks like Charlie Crists are less likely to make it through such a gauntlet than the current system, and they are less likely to cause harm when they crash and burn out. The winner can point out in any forum that they had a fair opportunity to convince Republicans that their way was best and they failed.

An arguably more significant advantage is that candidates, including conservative candidates, are forced to put some effort into thinking beyond Election Day; “moderates ” would have to come up with something other than trying to avoid taking any positions and simply repeating the stupid meaningless “Bipartisan ” platitudes that served McCain so well {/sarc} in 2008. Ultimately, the GOP needs to reclaim its 1990s mantle of being the “Party of Ideas ” again, and I’d think a robust Primary debate requirement is one of the most effective ways of forcing candidates to devote time to coming up with some solid ideas (or getting familiar with good ideas already on-ground) they can present to voters giving them reasons why they should send them to Washington or the state capitol.

This can only be good for the GOP, I think.

In other words, you get the same result (and more), leave the power to choose the candidate where it belongs – with the base, largely deny the MSM narrative-supporting talking point, and neutralize the unfortunate “moderate ” penchant for endorsing Democrats when they lose Primaries.

And that’s my 2 cents …