By Matthew Vadum -
One of the reasons the national Republican Party is such a mess is because Republicans are far too reluctant to criticize their own.
Republicans are nice people. Too many Republicans think it's wrong to criticize other Republicans.
This failure to be forthright has had consequences. It has allowed the Republican Party to take up political space it has no business occupying as it embraces left-wing statist tyranny. Much of the time, the GOP is merely Democrat-lite.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are so dangerously out of touch and out of control nowadays in part because other Republicans have allowed them to get that way. Boehner and McConnell regard conservatives as a nuisance to be overcome, co-opted, subverted, and if necessary, eliminated.
A new way of thinking is required.
For a start, if you self-identify as a Republican and you are serious about restoring the Constitution, shrinking the government, and reducing government spending, it is wrong to think of other Republican Party members as necessarily being your friends.
A political party isn't a club or a sacred religious order. It isn't a brotherhood or fraternity. The other people in the party aren't necessarily your friends, or even people you'd feel comfortable lending your lawnmower.
Here is wisdom: if you, as a Republican, remain true to small-government principles, many of your worst enemies will be found in your own party, and they are likely to be much more vicious, petty, vindictive, and malicious than most of your adversaries on the left. Intra-party squabbles and in-fighting are among the most brutal of all political conflicts in America.
It is important to remember that a political party like the GOP is not a cause in and of itself. It is merely a means to an end. Although the Republican Party has a glorious history that should be celebrated, the modern party infrastructure and establishment are not something to get sentimental about.
The GOP is akin to an army, or more precisely an alliance of armies, large and small, and an ocean of independent actors who come together to fight a common enemy. It consists of people who presumably have roughly the same view of society, how the world works, and how to make things better. They don't agree on everything and can be bitter foes on specific issues. Alliances are by their nature fractious.
And people shouldn't feel obligated to do what party leaders want them to do. GOP leaders are not infallible. They're no smarter or more honest than grassroots GOP activists -- and in many cases, they are less intelligent and less honest than rank-and-file party supporters.
You owe party leaders your loyalty no more than a rabbit owes its loyalty to a hungry snake.
Republicans should free themselves from irrational inhibitions preventing them from speaking their minds. They need to understand that Ronald Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment" doesn't call for obedience to party leaders.
"The commandment never meant that one Republican could not criticize the policies or philosophies of another Republican," said Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. "It meant only that one could or should not engage in personal attacks on another Republican."
The so-called commandment dates back to 1966 and was the brainchild of Gaylord Parkinson, chairman of California's Republican Party, according to Shirley.
After the nasty 1964 presidential primary contest in California between Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Parkinson was attempting to put the pieces of the wrecked state party apparatus back together.
During the California gubernatorial primary in 1966, Reagan's enemies in the GOP attacked him as "temperamentally and emotionally upset." They suggested that Reagan's switch from Democrat to Republican "might indicate instability." Reagan turned the other cheek.
Reagan acknowledged that he embraced Parkinson's code as a result of the "personal attacks" leveled at him in that governor's race.
"But it did not mean he would not criticize fellow Republicans over ideology and philosophy," Shirley said. "Indeed, most of Reagan's political career was marked by challenging the reigning Republican orthodoxy."
If the goal is to maintain the Republican Party as a cohesive force, then following the Eleventh Commandment -- as Reagan understood the rule now associated with him -- is probably a good idea, at least most of the time.
The commandment is a useful guiding principle, kind of like an arms control treaty. It boils down to I won't do it if you won't do it, we won't use up precious campaign resources on personal attacks, and we'll focus on other, more important things so we can go about our business without tearing the party apart.
Somehow, over time, this tactic of benevolent forbearance that was no doubt devised in the heat of battle has been elevated to something akin to a moral principle -- which is, of course, ridiculous. It has morphed into a quasi-religious directive that amounts to "always be nice" or that makes it taboo to dare question those who hold public office so long as they belong to the right political party.
The time has come for conservatives in the Republican Party to stop being nice. RINOs Karl Rove (who nearly lost George W. Bush the presidency twice), Boehner, McConnell, and the rest of the GOP congressional leadership have declared war on the Tea Party, the same movement to which the Republican Party owes its continuing existence. Boehner would not be speaker of the House if the Tea Party hadn't boosted the GOP in 2010 and 2012. And the Tea Party-dominated election of 2010, by the way, was arguably "the best Republican showing ever," according to psephologist Michael Barone.
As MoveOn essentially took over the Democratic Party in 2004 following presidential candidate John Kerry's unexpected defeat, MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser declared that the Democratic Party was "our party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back."
Today the Tea Party ought to own the Republican Party. The movement is going to have to learn to play rougher.