Once again, a thoroughly distorted version of Ronald Reagan’s “Big Tent” is being resurrected in a misbegotten effort to “broaden the base” of voters come Election Day. Yet if aspiring Republican candidates follow its example, the wholly predictable result will be to deflate conservative voter enthusiasm, and thereby undermine any prospects of victory at the ballot box.
Of course this scenario is hardly anything new or surprising, since it is repeated prior to every major election. However, the effort appears to be growing in momentum among establishment Republicans during the current cycle. Worst of all is that some formerly stalwart conservatives are buying into it as if they have stumbled on a novel and profound truth, apparently oblivious to its consistently disastrous results.
In his August 31 column, none other than Michael Reagan made this pitch, claiming the mantle of the family name in an attempt to convince pro-life voters of the expediency of dropping the abortion debate. According to Reagan, such topics as the economy unite the GOP, while abortion divides it. Therefore it, and those other messy moral issues, should be expunged from the defining principles of the party. In support of this contention, he cites the 2010 successes of the Tea Party in overturning the Democrat congressional majority. And in conclusion he contends that an amoral Republican Party will be more inviting to the likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is immovably pro-abortion.
While it may be daunting to directly refute a contention ostensibly based on the words and beliefs of Michael Reagan’s own father, facts are facts, so the case must be made. Even more importantly, history sternly forewarns of the dire consequences of accepting so flawed a premise, and far too much is currently at stake to allow this game to be played.
It bears repeating, as many times as “moderates” attempt to reinvent the “Big Tent,” that two distinctly different versions exist. The first, which Ronald Reagan advocated, was based in leadership. In short, he let it be known that he stood resolutely on certain defining principles (the inherent right-to-life of the unborn being chief among them). Though he was unwavering in this commitment to the most innocent and helpless amongst us, he invited those who differed with him to lay aside their personal contentions, seize the overall vision he had for the country he loved, and join in the effort to see it through. Ultimately, this was the essence of the leadership that made him so great a president.
Unfortunately, after he had left office, a feeble counterfeit “big tent” was contrived by party “moderates” and other Trojan horses, which has been routinely invoked ever since as a means of watering down the party and thereby securing defeat when it otherwise could have achieved victory. In miserable contrast to Reagan this version could be more accurately termed Bob Dole’s “Big Tent,” since it was foundational to the former Kansas Senator’s pathetic and unsuccessful 1996 presidential run against incumbent Bill Clinton.
While Ronald Reagan inspired others to rally to his lead, Dole sought to follow and pander, avoiding any cultural issue that might generate controversy. Consequently, his became the campaign of insipidness, by claiming to stand for everything he essentially stood for nothing. Offending by seeking first and foremost to dodge any position that might create offense. By the time Election Day 1996 rolled around, the conservative electorate was left with nothing substantive to unite it in support of Dole, and could only attempt to make a case against reelecting Bill Clinton. Not surprisingly, though Clinton garnered less than fifty percent of one of the lowest voter turnouts for a presidential race in more than seven decades, Dole received even less, thus allowing Clinton to win by default.
Later in his piece, Michael Reagan erroneously recasts the 2010 mid-term elections as being only about taxes and the economy. He thus sells them short, and denies the truly widespread concern among Americans about the overall direction in which their country has been taken. Higher taxes and a devastated economy are indeed grave concerns. Yet they are only symptoms of the larger problem that must be addressed if the nation is to have any hope of turning the corner. The notion of cutting government spending amid a societal meltdown is pure fantasy, and will never transpire merely be proposing reduced budgets. If the breakup of the American family, and the general degradation of humanity are not addressed (and contrary to the assertions of liberal feminists, abortion contributes significantly to both), the general wellbeing of the nation will never be restored.
Even from a purely political and pragmatic perspective, the pursuit of a voting base by the abandonment of defining moral principle is a guaranteed loser. Establishment Republicans are obsessed with “independent voters,” but wrongly presume this demographic to be universally made up of “moderates.” In truth, a significant number of “independents” are staunch conservatives who have been so thoroughly disillusioned by the wishy-washy posturing of Republican invertebrates that they have forsworn allegiance to the party. Attempting to win their loyalty through even more fence-sitting on critical issues only serves to amplify their cynicism and disenfranchisement. Such is the counterproductive nature of unprincipled GOP “pragmatism.” In truth, these independents can be convinced to vote for Republican candidates, but must be inspired by something higher and nobler than that offered by the Democrats, and not merely something cheaper.
As America heads into the final weeks before the elections, it is particularly important that the message of unabashed and undiluted conservatism, as well as its worthy history of electoral successes, be recalled in rebuttal of those who would instead seek to win by offering voters a poor imitation of the liberal agenda. From the time that the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision put “moral” concerns at the forefront of political discourse, the successes and failures of every aspiring Republican presidential contender can be directly correlated to their firmness on those issues. And by far the most shining example among them was Ronald Reagan himself.
With Republican candidate Mitt Romney enjoying significant momentum from the groundswell of conservatism that has erupted since 2009, the Obama camp clearly recognizes that its only hope of victory lies in separating Romney from the conservative base. And “avoiding controversial and divisive issues” certainly sounds reasonable. Nevertheless, no single greater danger exists by which to alienate conservatives and secure defeat. It is thus incumbent upon Romney to reject calls from both sides of the political aisle for “moderation,” stay the conservative course, and uphold the values and principles that built this great country and which are so essential to its restoration.
Copyright ©2012 Christopher G. Adamo