April 12, 2024

The GOP’s shrinking tent


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

The GOP’s shrinking tent

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Both parties claim to be big tents, but the Republican Party appears to be too small for some ideologies and too big for others. Mainstream members worry that their party is becoming an organization of middle-aged white men, a true minority filling a very small tent. But the party is far more complex than this, and has been through several iterations.

It first gained power with Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, when he garnered only 39 percent of the popular vote. He was a regional candidate, elected without support in the Southern states, which then promptly seceded. The Civil War ensued, and the victorious North led by the Republican Party, became entrenched for the balance of the century – except for Grover Cleveland’s two terms. Its 19th century coalition was based upon big business, veterans, and freed slaves.

Then, in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt, a New York reformer and son of a Northern father and Southern mother, came on the stage and ushered in the Progressive Era. He was a trust buster, but not anti-big business. And he did create a big tent, adding environmentalists and even many working men to the party’s rolls. He also paved the way for women’s suffrage. He was not quite an imperialist, but he did believe in building a large navy and projecting U.S. power around the globe.

All this put Roosevelt at odds with many of the party’s old-line members, who remained dedicated to big business and opposed foreign entanglements. They also proved to be far less inviting to the black man’s participation. And so a schism was created that exists to this day. Roosevelt’s wing has been called liberal, progressive, moderate, and even Rockefeller Republicans after New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who carried the Roosevelt torch. Presidents associated with this branch included Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford.

The party’s 1964 presidential candidate, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, represented the opposite wing, and Presidents Reagan and both Bushes were adherents – although the senior Bush actually began as a progressive. These presidents laid out the welcome mat to the Religious Right, whose followers helped replace black voters who had flocked to the Democrats. This did create a dilemma for a party that advocated smaller, non-intrusive government, because the party leaders were compelled to advocate religious-based laws that affected private lives and private activities. As a result, progressive Republicans became a disappearing breed.

Into this this breach stepped the Tea Party comprised of fiscally conservative, often isolationist, small government zealots who were not especially welcomed by either Goldwater or Rockefeller Republicans. As a result, the Tea Party’s entrance created an exit for many longtime Republicans, causing the big tent to shrink. And some Tea Party congressional candidates made sexist and bigoted remarks that caused the party faithful to abandon them. Others, such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have found themselves increasingly isolated by other Republican officials. Notably, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have publicly rebuked Paul over his stand for smaller national security budgets.

It is now clear that the Republican Party’s big tent concept has backfired because it has not been discerning. It essentially gave policy and platform veto rights to the Religious Right, then to the Tea Party, only to discover that this alienated many lifelong members of the Republican coalition, especially women and minorities.

A successful party is a coalition based upon widely accepted principles such as the Four Freedoms enunciated by Teddy Roosevelt’s Democratic cousin, Franklin Roosevelt: “Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.” Implicit in these are the concepts that we are our brother’s keeper and that we must provide the public safety from all dangers, foreign and domestic. But the modern Republican Party has pandered to parochial interests over common beliefs only to discover that when those interests drown out the rank and file with litmus-test demands, the rank and file begins to leave, which is why folks like Christie and McCain are trying to recapture the microphones and recapture their party.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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