What is a Republican?
Any discussion about the state and direction of our Party must start with this essential question. As I said yesterday, I do not claim to have the answer to this question. The point is that it must be asked and each of us who call ourselves Republicans must be the ones to answer it.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a Republican as someone who is a member of the Republican party. Though largely unhelpful for our purposes, it is also facially correct. Yet, how do we even define a member of the Republican Party? Is it someone who simply votes for Republican candidates? Is it someone who has officially joined the party at either the national, state, or local level? Is it anyone who calls themselves a Republican? As you can see, even at that broadest level of abstraction, it remains difficult to define a Republican.
Instead of becoming frustrated by this difficulty, let us instead set some parameters for the discussion. Of course, these are again my own suggestions and anyone is free to disagree with them.
First, we should know that the Republican party is a coalition of ideas. That means that there will never be a single set of ideas that is altogether sufficient for defining what a Republican is. In some ways, this is a cop-out, yet in other ways it is something that we must fundamentally accept if we are ever to succeed as a Party. Different groups of people join the Republican Party for different reasons. Sometimes the interests of these different groups will conflict, yet in most cases compromises are reached for the benefit of all factions. Compromise is necessary to a functioning Party.
Last week at NRO, Ramesh Ponurru commented on this very issue saying:
Social conservatives are always complaining that they're not in the driver's seat of the Republican party. So are economic conservatives. They're both right. Neither group alone is large enough to form an electoral majority, and thus have to participate in a coalition that gives them some of what they want but leaves them dissatisfied on other issues.Remembering this is absolutely vital to having a successful Party. Each of us join the Party for different reasons, and not everyone cares about the same things as you do as strongly as you do. That doesn’t make them “bad Republicans.”
That said, however, it is part of the role of the Party to come to a consensus about what the guiding ideas of the Party should be. For example, it is safe to say that Republicans have a generally economic conservative philosophy that favors free markets, low taxes, and limited regulation. Certainly, not all Republicans believe in these ideas. However, those that don’t are probably members of the Party because they care more about some other part of the platform than those particular economic planks. As a result, it is up to each individual to decide which issues are most important to them and then decide whether the Republican Party is the appropriate forum for advancing those ideas.
That brings me to my second point, which is that we must recognize that participation in the Party is voluntary. No person is forced to participate in the Republican Party. Those who do participate are here because they want to advance ideas that matter to them and which they have determined are best advanced by this Party. This does not mean that they will necessarily get their way. In fact, there may be many Republicans who are frustrated that their concerns are not adequately represented. For example, if you are against gun control, you may sometimes be frustrated that the Party or a particular candidate is not taking as strong a stand on that issue as you would like. Your positive options are two-fold. One, is to attempt to persuade the party or the candidate to take a stronger stand. Two, is to go to the other Party if you believe that they will be more willing to accommodate your position.
Two other options are available, but both would likely have a negative effect on your ability to advance the ideas you hold dear. One would be to remove yourself from any involvement and support no Party or candidate. The other would be to attack the Party or the candidate of your identified Party. I do not see either approach as being helpful to the cause.
I encourage Republicans of all stripes to support individuals in Republican primaries whom they find themselves most in agreement with. Intra-party contests contribute greatly to Party strength by honing campaign skills, forcing candidates to make clear their positions, and exposing potential weaknesses. Once these contests are decided, however, we Republicans should remain united and remain active. Even if your candidate doesn’t win an intra-party contest, it is important to stay involved in the party process. In so doing, a mutual level of respect develops between candidate and constituent. Despite areas of disagreement, both individuals can see that the other is committed to the Party’s success and communication is made easier as a result. Name-calling, rumor-mongering, casting aspersions on fellow Republicans and similar activities do not foster a mutual level of respect. The result of these activities is that your efforts to advocate for issues you care about will likely be frustrated rather than given due consideration.
Let me be clear that I am not advocating being “wishy-washy” in your positions, but rather I am arguing that we Republicans must come to the table with two mutual understandings: first, that we all want to succeed, and second, that we will sometimes disagree about how to succeed or which ideas should succeed. Be firm in your principles, but also don’t be discouraged if your ideas are not at the forefront of every discussion.
Further, If you think I’m trying to say that anyone who calls themselves a Republican is a Republican, you’d be wrong. As I have said before, it does the Party no good to have members who refuse to recognize or participate in the activities of the Party that have been agreed upon. It does no good for a Party to accept as a member an individual who does not share the goals of electing Republican candidates. It does no good to have as members individuals whose primary interest is building the Party in their own image, not in fostering open debate and participation of the individuals who make up the Party. Any person is free to call themselves a Republican, but that doesn’t mean that the Party apparatus to which Party members have consented must recognize them as such.
Third, we must understand that the Republican party is a political entity. The GOP is not a religious organization, it is not an ideology-based group and it is not even necessarily a policy-making group. The role of the Republican Party is to elect Republicans. The role of the Party is also to bring together as large a coalition as is possible to ensure victory and effective governance. Too small of a coalition makes victory impossible, while too large makes governance impossible. As a political entity, the Republican party functions in a way that uses democratic (small “d”) and republican (small “r”) principles to guide Party activity.
These Party activities will often return results that will upset some party members. Sometimes, the Republican party will lose elections. It is important that each of us understands that the Party is made up of individuals and it is these individuals who make the Party what it is. It is also necessary for those individuals to understand that having an active, competitive Party necessitates some apparatus. RPV and State Central are not “The Man” trying to keep the rest of us down and squash out any voices of dissent. They are trying to bring together a workable coalition of ideas for the purpose of electing Republican candidates. These efforts might look different in different parts of the state, but the ultimate goals are the same.
So if we accept that the Republican Party is a coalition, that particpation is voluntary, and that it operates as a political entity, then where does that leave us? What is a Republican? Better yet, why are YOU a Republican?
The floor is open.