Tom Edmonds 1:52 p.m. EST March 7, 2014http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/03/07/conservatives-tea-party-republicans-column/6124291/
The divide between conservatives could be tragically self-destructive.
"When conservatives are unhappy, bad things happen to the Republican Party."
So wrote Richard Viguerie, the "Funding Father" of the modern conservative movement, in his 2006 book Conservatives Betrayed. Viguerie characterized the conservative movement as an independent "Third Force" in American politics, one that will bring the Republican Party to its knees "begging for support." Then, George W. Bush was the enemy. Now, it's "impure" incumbent Republican senators.
The modern conservative movement and the Republican Party have never been synonymous. But the animosity between the two has never been more self-destructive than it is today.
Many conservatives see the Republican Party as little more than "the evil of two lessers." Couple that with their belief that pragmatism is a dirty word, and it's little wonder that liberal and progressive leaders give thanks at the altar of the Tea Party while simultaneously crediting the movement for every problem facing our society. The irony seems lost on conservative leaders who should know better.
Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan are the Founding Fathers of today's conservative movement. But many have wondered aloud whether these two icons could even be elected in today's hostile environment. One only has to consider Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" to realize that the former president's admonishments go unheeded by today's conservatives.
Barry Goldwater was not so eloquent. In his typical blunt style, Goldwater, dismissing the litmus test that is today's mandatory coupling of fiscal and social issues, observed during his twilight years, "Today's so-called 'conservatives' don't even know what the word means." He went on to say, "They think I've turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion . . . . It's not a conservative issue at all."
For over 30 years as a political consultant, I've helped elect Republicans to offices at all levels and enthusiastically advanced the cause of many national groups espousing conservative issues. Smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and greater individual freedom -- all these tenets sound like the battle cry for the Tea Party when in fact they've stood as the modern Republican Party creed for decades. What has changed over the past several years is the assertion that if you aren't 100% pure on the entire conservative agenda, you must be removed from office. Never mind that if you defeat an "impure" conservative or, heaven forbid, a moderate Republican, what you get in return is a liberal or progressive Democrat. President Reagan knew this when observed that "The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and ally, not a 20% traitor." Standing on principle as you shoot yourself in the foot should provide a learning moment all political operatives, regardless of their political beliefs.
Two decades ago, in the historic 1994 election known as the Republican Revolution, Congressman Newt Gingrich helped his party win eight Senate seats, 10 governorships, and an astounding 54 seats in the House -- ending the Party's 40-year tenure as the institutionalized minority. How was this possible? He formed a coalition of Republicans -- conservatives and moderates alike -- from both inside and outside the party structure that worked together.
Today, Harry Reid is the majority leader in the U.S. Senate for one simple reason: The Tea Party. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2012 elections by putting forth unvetted primary candidates who defeated incumbent Republicans who undoubtedly would have triumphed in the general election. As Republicans, the words of William F. Buckley should be ringing in our ears: We should nominate "the rightward most viable candidate."
This year, everyone acknowledges that Republicans once again have a golden opportunity to regain control of the U.S. Senate. Of the 36 senate seats up for re-election only 15 are currently held by Republicans. But a substantial portion of those Republicans are facing a primary challenge by a Tea Party candidate. The death wish continues.
If 2014 becomes 2012 all over again, it will be a long time before the Republican Party has another chance to control both houses of Congress.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, 'Americans do the wrong thing until the pain finally causes them to do the right thing.'
How much more pain must Americans endure at the hands of progressives and liberals before today's American conservatives learn that the Republican Party, though not pure, is anything but the enemy?
Tom Edmonds is a Republican media consultant and past president of both the American Association of Political Consultants and the International Association of Political Consultants.