At times it is easy to remember those days in the 80’s when Ronald Reagan was in the White House as some idealized time when the Republican Party was lead by the now iconic leader who has come to define the modern Republican Party. But the truth is the same divides which exist within the party today were present, and simmering below the surface in The Gipper’s days. What today would be called moderate Republicans, or less politely RINO’s, were then Rochefeller or Country Club Republicans. In fact the 11th Commandment dates back to the 1966 California Governor’s race and was in part a response to the vicious primary attacks in 1964 which left the eventual GOP nominee Barry Goldwater scared and made it easier for the Johnson campaign to pick up upon themes started by Republicans to defeat Goldwater in November 1964.
The idea is politically sound. While differences in policy and capability are the foundation of any primary race and indeed our very democracy, our party should avoid the kind of personal attacks which can leave our eventual nominee damaged in the general election. Those of us who remember the 1980 election which first brought Reagan to the White House recall how the Carter Campaign repeatedly attacked Reagan’s platform as “Voodoo” Economics. Carter’s operatives were quick to point out that it was George H.W. Bush, then Reagan’s running mate, who had first applied the label to Reagan’s economic plan. Taken to its extreme, this kind of intraparty attacks can result in a political circular firing squad (a Democratic Party specialty) which makes the Lefts job of defeating Republicans so much easier.
I can almost hear some readers screaming “we have been fooled by these RINO before and we won’t let it happen again under the disguise of political politeness”. On the contrary, conservatives have won their dominant position in the Republican Party on the force of our ideas, not personal attacks. The media loves a good mud bath, its good ratings, and will always focus on the personal rather than thoughtful policy. As conservatives we will secure control of the GOP at the primary ballot box. But we must ensure whoever wins those primaries, they are in the best position to take the fight to the Democrats, and not scared by their own party.
To those who scream they would rather have a Democrat than a Republican that is not 100 percent to their liking; that thinking helped put Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the United States Supreme Court. I am not arguing for policy moderation. We as conservatives have fought for half a century to secure our policies define the Republican Party. When in the first half of the last decade a GOP congress and president forgot those Conservative values, not only did we see fiscal discipline vanish and deficits skyrocket, we saw the GOP returned to the minority and the White House lost. We must win the battle of ideas within the party, but we must do it on the strength of those ideas, not by personal attacks for they just leave all involved diminished.
What brought me to write this was my profound disappointment over comments by the Governor of Texas yesterday calling Mitt Romney a “fat cat” due to his personal financial wealth. It is absurd that any Republican would engage in the exact behavior we condemned when President Obama waged class warfare over the past few months. If a candidate cannot win the primaries on the strength of their ideas, even when contrasted with their opponents, they do not deserve to win. When they stoop to personal attacks against fellow republicans, they do not deserve our votes.
So today I stand on my soap box and ask all Republicans running for nominations at every level, stick to ideas and policy, and leave the trash talking personal attacks to the left. To my fellow conservatives and Republicans I encourage you to take personal responsibility not only in your words, but with your vote by letting those who would forget Reagan’s 11th Commandment know that they can forget your vote. The stakes are too high in 2012 for us to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.