Here in the great state of New York, our governor, Andrew Cuomo, kind of put his foot in his mouth recently. I'm not a journalist, so I'm not going to report the story to you, but you can listen to the whole thing here. But here's the important part of what he said:
"You have a schism in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is searching for an identity. They're searching to define their soul. Is the Republican Party in this state a moderate party, or is it an extreme conservative party? That's what they're trying to figure out...the gridlock in Washington is less about Democrats and Republicans, it's more about extreme Republicans and moderate Republicans. The moderate Republicans can't figure out how to deal with the extreme Republicans, and the moderate Republicans are afraid of the extreme conservative Republicans...their problem is not me and the Democrats. Their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are Right to Life? Pro-assault weapons? Anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are."
After this part he discusses some specific state issues, makes up some really, really bizarrely fake statistics, and kinda sorta endorses 'moderate' Republicans in general. As you can imagine, conservatives all over the Empire State are riled up. I could write a whole other post on how Mr. Cuomo could have more eloquently and less offensively made his point (which has been completely missed by all the media, it would seem), but I'm not here to solve his problems (although Peggy Noonan did a good job of it here). I'm here to solve yours. At the end of this diatribe, Cuomo poses a really pointed question. A question every Republican has asked themselves more than once over the past decade--
"Who are the Republicans? And who wins between the extreme conservatives and the moderates?"
And if you're running for office in 2014, this is the perfect time to ponder this question, because the success of everything you do from this point on - developing a campaign messaging strategy especially - rests on how you answer this question for yourself, and how firmly you're willing to stand by that answer. Let's take a look at the history of the GOP, shall we?
Technically, there have been two Republican parties in our nation's history, and the first one cropped up in the 1790s when the founding fathers were still on the political scene as the Democratic-Republican Party (basically, Thomas Jefferson's anti-Federalist party). The party's philosophy was much more nebulous than would be acceptable as a party platform these days, but generally revolved around Jefferson's concept of "republicanism" which, by his definition, narrowly focused on the themes of liberty and equality.
"The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind." --Thomas Jefferson
After the Federalist Party petered out and the Era of Good Feelings began, the Democratic-Republican Party faded away as well. Though the first Republican Party became obsolete, the principles behind it--freedom and equality--were the same values that prompted abolitionist political leaders to form the Republican Party that still exists today. Abraham Lincoln is, famously, the first Republican president. And is there a greater national representative for freedom and equality?
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." - Abraham Lincoln
Along the way, we've had a few truly legendary men to serve as bastions for the GOP. But here's the funny thing--the coolest Republicans have never fallen in lockstep with a boilerplate political platform. They set new standards. They think of republican principles first, and only after that do they define Republican platforms. Teddy Roosevelt was an environmentalist, for example. That's not a value typically assigned to the Republican platform, but it should be noted it was there.
“I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
Freedom, for our nation as a value but also for individuals, is the one common thread that has held the Republican Party together for decades. In his later years, when the issue was thrust onto the national political agenda, Barry Goldwater--the conservative standard-bearer Barry Goldwater--became an advocate for gay rights. Some people think maybe he was off his rocker toward the end. I think he understood the republican value that my rights only extend so far as they do not infringe on another man's freedom.
"Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism." - Barry Goldwater
So when you're determining your campaign's key issues, when you're interacting with voters--especially those who don't completely agree with you--and when you're trying to decide what "type" of "Republican" you're going to be, please remember Thomas Jefferson's original vision for what it means to be republican.
"I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts." - Ronald Reagan
So what is the answer to Mr. Cuomo's question? Lincoln said "a house divided against itself cannot stand," and that's just as true today as it was when our nation was ripping itself in two. Will the Republican Party split itself out of existence, leaving only moderate Democrats and Socialists to run the country? Or will we find some common ground to stand on? If you intend to be a candidate for office this year, no matter how big or small, you are an integral part of answering that question.
What kind of Republican will you be? Hopefully one who thinks for himself. Don't allow yourself to be trapped by terms like "conservative," "establishment," "Tea Party," and so on. You can be a part of those things without being a slave to them.
"The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas - a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated." - Ronald Reagan
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