Thinking About The “Tent”

Republicans are facing a situation that has them in a bit of a dither. It’s about the “tent”. Who should be in the “tent”, how big should the “tent” be? How many points of view should be in the “tent”? Which points of view are granted access to the “tent”, which should be marginalized? If we don’t expand the “tent” will we motivate a third party? Can we win without a bigger “tent”? We need a bigger “tent”!!

The latest precipitant is two of the three 2009 races have an independent candidate; in one case, a clear conservative and in the second a fiscal conservative. It may be a telling message to the GOP that the independent candidates occurred in the context of Republican candidates not being perceived as conservative.

The argument for a Republican big “tent” assumes that if the parameters of ideological acceptability are expanded the “tent” will expand. The application of this argument is that Republicans should adopt a select few Democratic positions or ideological points of view, Democrat “light” if you prefer. This approach, favored by Senators McCain and Graham assumes that if Republicans can get the conservatives under control and define a more centrist agenda independents will flock to the Republican point of view. Maybe, but what about conservatives; does not the jeopardy exist that this approach will simply trade one constituency for another?

The stress point occurs as conservatives push back against the idea of a big tent for the sake of a big tent, the conservatives want the “Big Tent” folks to abandon the shift leftward or center-wise if you prefer. They point to consistent polling where a growing majority of Americans self describe themselves as conservative. They point to the failure of John McCain. They point to Bush’s fiscal failures. They point to the media’s infatuation with folks like John McCain, the suspicion being that a left orientated media is simply picking the candidate they think Democrats can beat.

Beware the conservative base! Conservatives are so frustrated with Republicans that the jeopardy of a third party from the right is an actual reality; the early indications are right in front of us. Recent polling indicates that 42% of Americans would look favorably on an independent candidate running in 2012! I know, I know, it changes in the voting booth but a message is a message! If a message falls in the woods and no one hears it does it make a noise? The GOP is in jeopardy of becoming as tone deaf as Congress.

The equation here is simple; conservatives are willing to step up and lose elections in the short term, for the sake of making a point, confident that things will get so bad that conservative resurgence in the future is all but guaranteed. Republicans are not!

Message to the Republican establishment; forget about “making” the “tent” bigger worry about making the “tent” more attractive and more principled.

How do you make the “tent” more attractive?

The first thing you say is “to Hell with it, win or lose we will base our view on clear conservative principals and this time, we’ll stick with it. You aggressively communicate that if you disagree with 25% of what we say you don’t have to look for an exit for the ideologically impure. It simply means we will continue our effort to give you the evidence, logic and history that might alter you’re point of view. You simply say we are confident enough that we would welcome the opportunity to prove to you our 75% is a better deal than 75% of what the other guys stand for. If you build it they will come.

Then, of course, you have to define the principals. The principals should be defined in terms of priorities, most to least important.

Recommended Republican Priority one: economic conservatism, smaller government, common sense regulatory reform, tax reform, deficit reduction, national defense and a clear foreign policy guided by American self interest. All cast in the context of individual freedoms. We can’t solve every problem, but we can create the environment whereby you can solve them. The 80/20 rule! 20% of what we do, if carefully crafted, will address 80% of what you’re concerned about. The 80/20 rule never fails.

Republican Priority two: Education reform consisting of parental choice and educational competition, a commitment not to participate in the growing movement for “world government institutions and the proactive development of omnibus legislation to eliminate conflicting statutes in the current legal morass. Simplification, elimination of government subscribed winners and losers, a free market with common sense regulation and harsh penalties for the miscreant.

Republican Priority three: There are bad Republican actors out there, get rid of them yourselves. You want credibility? Go after your own! Zero tolerance on corruption, make it public, unapologetic and aggressive. Go after Immigration Reform with common sense, a recognition of the realities on the ground and national security as the key priority.

Republican Priority four: The social agenda. No matter how you cut it, the key issues to the social agenda has been a 50/50 proposition for decades and will remain so into the foreseeable future. There will be no conscientious on issues like abortion but, you can convince people that choice should not automatically be funded by tax dollars. Take what you can get on social issues, they will, eventually, follow the arc of the first three priorities.

The first two priorities, consistently and strongly applied make the “tent” more attractive. There has not been a better counterpoint upon which to cast these priorities since Jimmy Carter. A bigger “tent” is of no use if an equal number of people are both entering and leaving.

A “tent” that people actually want to enter is the answer, not some artificial projection of size. Motivating people to want to spend a little time testing the “tent” is about principal as the basis for policy. Conservatives have this little trick they use to good effect, its called logic. Conservative principals well represented actually stand up to the test of logic. A meaningless, manufactured hybrid is not the answer.

Hybrids may make fine little cars but hybrids do not drive arguments because there is no argument, just shades of gray along the fringes. If the choice is cast between a left leaning progressive and a right leaning progressive there is, for conservatives, not a beans worth of difference.

Do we still believe that principal and the courage of conviction is attractive?

The psychology of wining demands that you not be afraid of losing!