Columnist Note: Although this piece was written with regard to perceived divisions within a local party apparatus in Idaho, many local party organizations may be working through some of the same challenges. For this reason, I was encouraged to submit it for whatever value it may provide for local Party entities elsewhere. – Richard
Intra-party struggles are nothing new. In a two-party system as we have, there are always party members who feel theirs is either too liberal or too conservative. What we have experienced this past year in local, state, and national party structures is nothing new, as ideologies are parsed and attempts are made by individuals or groups of individuals to swing party allegiance one way or the other.
Typically, internal party challenges are ideologically-oriented. That’s what the primary election process is all about: selecting candidates for each of the two major parties that are felt by party voters to best represent their respective parties.
The intra-party struggle for self-identity can be characterized aptly by the Asian yin and yang, the symbol closely identified to Taoism. The light and dark teardrop shapes are constantly in a state of flux or self-identification, and yet share the majority of their border with the other. This connection indicates how perceived contrarian forces are truly interconnected as well as interdependent.
Likewise, the forces of party self-definition, seeking their ideological identity, are constantly in a state of flux, where current economic and political climate, candidates, and ascending ideologies affect the overall composition of the party. One is not good while the other bad, but they’re both critical to the overall composition of the party as the forces vie for ascendency in every election cycle.
Political labels are unavoidable, as political parties, candidates, pollsters, and media all incorporate them for purposes of identification and classification. Some, however, are used pejoratively, as in the classification of “RINOs,” (Republicans in Name Only) and the “Old Guard”, which are sometimes used interchangeably, though incorrectly.
The “Old Guard” in most cases constitutes the long-time, sometimes life-long party leaders who have been in the trenches fighting the good fight for conservatism all along. They are, by definition, not synonymous with “RINOs” as they have been the standard bearers shaping the party platform over the years (where RINOs clearly reject many if not all of the conservative planks.)
Headlines in the Journal of late have indicated a schism within the ranks of the Bannock County Republican Party apparatus. The headlines are based falsely, in my estimation, on a difference in ideology. Having been on board from the earliest stages of the Tea Party movement locally, I know what the movement is based upon. The ten planks of the Tea Party movement are: eliminate excessive taxes, eliminate the national debt, eliminate deficit spending, protect free markets, abide by the Constitution of the United States, promote civic responsibility, reduce the overall size of government, believe in the people, avoid the pitfalls of politics, and maintain local independence.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit extensively on ideology, campaigning, organization, and electioneering with those classified as the “Old Guard” of the Republican Party in Bannock County. With each one, I reviewed the core principles of the Tea Party movement, as listed above. And without exception, each one agreed in toto.
Having known these men for years, I would’ve been surprised by any response to the contrary; for they are honorable, civic-conscious conservatives who uphold and defend the Constitution and have spent the majority of their adult lives advancing conservative principles.
This presents a conundrum for the relative newcomers to the party, the Tea Partiers and Ron Paul supporters; for if there is no ideological chasm that exists between them and the “Old Guard,” what is the source of animus?
It seems to me that the original source of the schism seems to be an artificial one created by a neophyte who appeared locally on the scene a few years ago and then left just as suddenly, who somehow convinced the newcomers that the Old Guard was the “enemy.” And without an ideological basis upon which to make such an assertion, the “Old Guard” became disparaged and demonized.
In the absence of ideological differences, all that remains is more superficial stylistic distinctions of leadership style, organization, and management, none of which are sufficiently substantive to warrant the degree of acrimony recently observed.
This brings us to the Tea Partiers and the Ron Paul libertarians. The Tea Party movement found traction in the perception that President Obama and his facilitating Congress were racing the country to a constitutional and fiscal precipice, at which the republic would be cast to ruin. Ron Paul, as a libertarian Republican, capitalized on much of the Tea Party momentum with his no-nonsense approach to reducing spending, basing federal governance on constitutional principles, and denouncing the devaluation of the dollar by the Federal Reserve. Notice I said much of the Tea Party momentum. One can be a Tea Party conservative and not be a Ron Paul supporter, as I have illustrated in earlier columns, and which fact I stand in evidence of.
Tea Party conservatives are opposed to the direction the country is headed; they strive for a return to the constitutional precepts, economic system, and classical-liberal ideals that made America great, and can make her great once again. Ron Paul supporters, for the most part, believe similarly, but with the proviso that inextricably connects a single persona with those principles. As a result, they fall subject to the same errant “messiah” complex that Obama sycophants connected with him as the standard bearer of “hope and change.” A messiah complex is creepy enough on it’s own, but in politics, is both disturbing and illogical. It is a mistake to embrace one person as the embodiment of correct principles (unless one is speaking eschatologically of The Messiah, for there’s only one of Him.)
One of the dogmatic and idyllic characteristics of these groups is the rejection of compromise, for that’s a “sin” in their lexicon. If compromise is seen as abdication and acquiescence, I totally agree that it should be a “sin.” But true compromise on legislation and political issues is the way to get things done and can be done without sacrificing one’s principles. For the reality is nothing in politics happens without some compromise; each side giving up a little in order to facilitate governance.
If we approach politics as we do our personal religious convictions, we will forever live in disillusionment over the political process, lose our zeal and motivation, and never have a positive impact on the process; for we can never have things entirely our way. But compromise to bring reality closer to our ideality is not only requisite; it’s fundamental to having an incrementally positive impact on our political system.
There’s a simple three-step process for the local GOP to function cohesively and in unison for this election cycle and the future: for all factions and persons involved in the perceived schism to realize that there is no ideological divide! We’re all essential spokes in the same wheel. Follow Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican,” and discontinue the divisive and demonizing speech and inferences. And finally, get to work together; for united we stand, but divided we fall. If we’re not part of the solution to create such cohesiveness, we’re part of the problem of divisiveness and failure.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)