What is a ‘moderate’ Republican?

A few months ago an Illinois state rep told me that there wasn’t much difference between the Republicans and Democrats in Springfield. Looking at the voting record of Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and the policies advanced by his friend Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-Chicago) it’s hard to disagree. My response was (and is) simply, there should be a difference.

The fact that there isn’t has to do with the fact that so-called “moderate” Republicans have been in control of the ILGOP for a very long time. As moderates, they hold to the ideas put forth in their party’s platform only when it suits them, not as a matter of principle. In other words, they really are only part-time Republicans.

To set a measurement, you have to have a standard, a ruler so to speak, to gauge length or degree. To measure a Republican, the standard has to be the party platform. I realize that conventional wisdom and political veterans view the platform as an article to be ignored. But like it or not, it’s our promise and statement to the public on how we’ll govern.

In fact, those few who bother to read the platform discover that rather than some fanatical document, it typically contains a good summary of mainstream Republican philosophy. It sums up our support of less government, lower taxes, fewer regulations and traditional values.

Focusing in on the definition of the word “moderate,” there are certain contexts where moderation is admirable. But to suggest someone is moderately skilled is to say something different. It’s my opinion that moderates on our side of the political aisle are actually only moderately Republican. For the rest of us who believe that our party’s principles are the path to good government, part-time Republicanism presents a problem.

The Illinois GOP held the Governor’s mansion for twenty-six years and had control of either of the General Assembly chambers for long enough to demonstrate to the public what it means to be a Republican. The fact that they failed is just one danger of being a moderate, or part-time Republican.

There exists the noble effort to create a “big tent” party. Definitions matter here, too. If that big tent is defined as a tent large enough to hold people of all races, creeds, and backgrounds, then the goal is good. If it means a tent large enough to hold all principles, then what’s the point of having a party in the first place?

Another argument says that we’ll never reach majority status if we don’t move to the political middle. Well, we’ve moved to the middle, blurred the differences between the parties, and the results have been disappointing.

Instead of changing our principles, we should be changing minds. Our goal is supposed to be winning independents and moderates over to our solutions. We should be making our case to the public and winning the policy argument in the public square. Don’t bother telling me it’s impossible in Illinois, when our state went for Ronald Reagan in 1980, 1984, and for Peter Fitzgerald in 1998.

There will always be disagreements between Republicans. Even strong ideological allies disagree on the specifics of social, economic, and foreign policy issues. To believe in our principles is not to participate in group-think. It’s to share basic values and opinions about what works due to the realities of human nature and the laws of economics.

There are many possible paths back to less government, lower taxes, fewer regulations and traditional values. As Republicans, we believe these paths must be rooted in the principles outlined in our platform.

If we only keep to the principles on a part-time basis and think moderation is the way to victory, we shouldn’t be surprised by failure at the polls, government that continues to escape reform, and the continued perception that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.