The shrinking Republican tent (part 2)

Not long ago I noted that Republicans are not even considering a socially moderate candidate to challenge Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s most Democratic-leaning Congressional district.

Now some members of the Republican National Committee have the bright idea of cutting off party support for any candidate, anywhere, who strays too far from conservative dogma.

I knew some conservatives were crazy, but I didn’t know they were that crazy.

The Wall Street Journal blog published the full text of the resolution proposed by RNC member James Bopp Jr. of Indiana. The RNC will debate the resolution in January. Your first hint that its authors are detached from reality comes early on:

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies and Republican solidarity in opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda is necessary to preserve the security of our country, our economic and political freedoms, and our way of life;

Hard to see a “socialist agenda” when senior White House officials cut backroom deals with pharmaceutical companies, and the Treasury Secretary protects Wall Street profits at the public’s expense.

Anyway, this is the key part of the proposed Republican “purity test”:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:

(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 healthcare;

(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, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

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

RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy positions of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee;

Keith Olbermann noticed that Ronald Reagan himself would have failed this test:

Number one, Reagan expanded the government taxes and the deficit. Number five, he supported amnesty for illegal immigrants. Number six, he ignored the military recommendation to pull out of Beirut. Number seven, he sold weapons to Iran Number eight, he opposed California’s anti-gay prop six, and hosted the first openly gay sleepover at the White House. Number ten, he signed a gun control law in California and supported the Brady Bill after he and his press secretary were shot. President Reagan, four out of 10.

Not only that, Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine would be shunned by the RNC if this resolution passes. The GOP’s strongest candidates to win U.S. Senate seats in Delaware and Illinois next year would also fail the test, and things might get dicey for Republican candidates in New Hampshire and Connecticut as well. Iowa’s former longtime Congressman Jim Leach would be deemed unworthy of support.

Conservative Republicans continue to stew about moderate Dede Scozzafava receiving the party’s endorsement in New York’s 23rd Congressional district, but the concept of “good fit for the district” still eludes them.

Steve Singiser’s post on the purity test is worth reading. He notes that in 2006, Senator Joe Lieberman faced a primary challenger in Connecticut, while a more conservative Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, did not.

The bottom line was simple: Nelson’s apostasy was less obscene than Lieberman’s, if for no other reason than simple political geography. Nebraska ain’t Connecticut, to put it mildly.

Republicans, in their fervor to rebrand the party, might be ignoring that lesson to their detriment. Insisting on rigid adherence to party orthodoxy might not hurt them in some states, but it is hard to see where a Mark Kirk [of Illinois], a Rob Simmons [of Connecticut], or a Mike Castle [of Delaware] gets traction running as an advocate of teabagger Republicanism. […]

Therefore, there is a certain impracticality to this GOP purity crusade. Conservative ideological policy sell well in certain arenas, but less so in others. The problem for the GOP is that several of their most high-profile targets are in blue or purple territory.

The Republican Party of Iowa has lost a lot of elections lately and faces a disadvantage in voter registration numbers. Yet at least two of Iowa’s three RNC members support this purity test:

Steve Scheffler, Iowa’s Republican National Committeeman, is part of a “conservative steering committee” that has pushed for reform of the national party.

“We wanted the RNC to make a difference as opposed to being a mere social club,” Scheffler says. “We felt that the party needed to do some things, make some statements that would give our grassroots some faith that we were going to try to be accountable to them.” […]

“In my view these 10 points are not a litmus test and so we’re not saying you have to agree with all of them,” Scheffler says. “…But, you know, if you want RNC funding, then there ought to be certain standards and there should be a benchmark by which you ought to qualify for that money.”

Kim Lehman, Iowa’s Republican National Committeewoman, is also part of the “conservative steering committee.”

“(RNC) Chairman Steele is faced with supporting candidates that call themselves Republicans, but don’t have the values of the Republicans so it’s caused some branding issues for the Republican Party and it’s also problematic for other Republicans as we try to rebuild this party to act upon its mission statement, which is in the platform.”

Lehman says “most Americans hold conservative values” and this is an effort to ensure the G.O.P. stands for them.

To my knowledge, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn has not yet spoken publicly about this effort. He wasn’t available for an interview with Radio Iowa last week, but as the third RNC member from Iowa, he’ll have to express an opinion sometime. Strawn brought in Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to headline a GOP fundraiser in Des Moines this summer, and Barbour warned the crowd that Republicans need to be inclusive in order to come back:

“There are tens of millions of pro-choice Republicans that are just as good Republicans as I am, and we need to support them,” he said, adding: “That’s what party building is about, and don’t think that is giving up your principles.”

Strawn is probably smart enough to realize that the purity resolution is a poor strategy for the GOP, but if he denounces the effort, he could face backlash from grassroots activists in Iowa.

If Republicans want to drive more moderates away from their party, that’s fine by me. The latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register found that while a plurality of Iowans identify as conservatives, many people who once considered themselves Republicans have been turned off by the GOP’s intolerance toward dissent and compromise:

More former Republicans than current members cite dissatisfaction with the party’s social-issues agenda and unapologetic approach. […]

More than half of Iowans who say they have been Republicans in the past think the party has become too partisan.[…]

Thirty-seven percent of former Republicans say the party is controlled by the religious right, compared with 12 percent of current Republicans. Forty percent of former Republicans also say the party has made some people feel unwelcome, compared with 20 percent of current Republicans.

A statewide poll commissioned in the spring by the Republican group Iowa First Foundation found similar image problems for Republicans:

The Republican brand in Iowa is in poor shape. The poll read a list of traits to respondents and then asked if the description sounded more like Iowa Republicans or Iowa Democrats.

   The Party of the Future – Republicans 25%, Democrats 38%

   Open and Welcoming – Republicans 13%, Democrats 33%

   Fair to Everyone – Republicans 17%, Democrats 27%

   Arrogant – Republicans 30%, Democrats 22%

   Backwards-looking – Republicans 30%, Democrats 13%

   Reformers – Republicans 18%, Democrats 34%

   Racist – Republicans 16%, Democrats 8%

   Willing to listen to those who disagree with them – Republicans 15%, Democrats 28%

   Will fight for the most vulnerable in our society, like children and the elderly – Republicans 17%, Democrats 46%.

Adopting a laundry list of required opinions for GOP candidates would reinforce the party’s image as arrogant, unwelcoming, and unwilling to listen to those who disagree with them. But good luck getting right-wingers like Scheffler and Lehman to acknowledge that reality.

If he’s smart, RNC Chairman Michael Steele will find a way to derail the purity resolution, but I wouldn’t bet against that “conservative steering committee” when the RNC meets this January.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

LATE UPDATE: Republican bloggers Brent Oleson (The Marion Contrarion) and David Chung (Hawkeye GOP) posted good commentaries on the purity test.

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