Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Conservative Litmus Test?

Should the Republican National Committee require Republican candidates to pass a litmus test before it helps those candidates financially in their races? Indiana Republican James Bopp Jr. thinks so. On Monday, he began circulating a proposed resolution that imposes such a litmus test. I like the idea, but I’m not thrilled with Bopp’s execution.

The Bopp Resolution
Bopp, the Vice-Chairman of the RNC, is proposing a resolution that would require Republican candidates to support certain positions as a condition of receiving funds and an endorsement from the RNC. This is his response to candidates like Dede Scozzafava and Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. Bopp intends to offer this resolution at the RNC winter meeting in Hawaii in January.

If the RNC adopts the resolution, a candidate would need to agree to support at least eight of the following ten statements:
(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill;

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.
** Bopp, an attorney, also begins his resolution with eight representation clauses that I won’t bother reproducing. These type of clauses work in poorly drafted contracts, but are a mess in political documents -- not to mention, these are repetitive, pointless, and needlessly invoke Reagan in ways that makes it appear that Bopp is trying to steal the Reagan mantle. Let’s just do this on the merits Mr. Congressman. **
Whether or not the candidate supports these positions would somehow be determined by “voting record, public statements, and/or signed questionnaire[s].” The exact mechanism is not specified.

Is this a good idea? Yes and no. I believe that a litmus test of sorts is entirely appropriate. But I’m not thrilled with this one, nor do I think this resolution is well done.
There Is Nothing Wrong With Litmus Tests
There is nothing inappropriate with requiring party members or candidates to support the fundamental principles of the party either as a condition of membership or as a condition of receiving funds from the party.

Political parties are collections of individuals who have banded together to promote their common interests. It is an arrangement in which people agree to disagree on various matters, meaning that they will support each other despite those disagreements, so long as each supports the agreed-upon set of common interests. Those common interests form the fundamental principles of the party.

This agreement is what forms the party. And for a party to function, the agreement must be respected. That means that members cannot disclaim fundamental principles nor can they make their support for the party or its candidates contingent on positions beyond those fundamental principles. Indeed, if a party member is free to reject the fundamental principles, then they are in violation of the agreement and they have destroyed the foundation upon which the party was founded. At the same time, an individual who withholds their support unless the party accepts some position beyond the scope of those fundamental principles also is in violation of the agreement (this is basically two sides of the same coin).

Thus, there is nothing wrong with a litmus test, provided that it is limited solely to the fundamental principles of the party.
My Problems With Bopp’s Litmus Test
And that’s where my problems begin with Bopp’s resolution. Some of Bopp’s positions move beyond fundamental principle and involve the acceptance of specific policies that cannot be considered fundamental principles of the party.

First, opposition to Obama’s stimulus; opposing cap and trade; opposing card check; issues affecting Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea; health care rationing; and the Defense of Marriage Act are all specific policies, not principles. These may be favored conservative positions at the moment, but they are hardly the foundation of what makes the party the party.

Secondly, these remain negative issues -- things we oppose -- not things we favor. This only tells us how the party would not vote, not what it would do instead. Having a positive vision of how the party will solve problems generally is much more important (and telling) than knowing that a particular candidate will oppose one particular bill.

Next, looking at our own poll results, there are some key issues missing, like opposing judicial activism and supporting free trade. And little of the nuance shown by Commentarama conservatives is reflected in Bopp’s resolution. For example, our own poll showed high support for gun ownership rights, but virtually no support for opposing all restrictions on gun ownership. Yet, Bopp’s resolution appears to lie in the latter camp. And if it doesn’t, then it’s a meaningless statement. . . at least the way it’s written.

Likewise, when did the party decide that it would become a required stance to support the military’s recommended troop surges? Are we to swear to blindly follow the military? And is there even a surge being planned in Iraq? And what is “effective action to eliminate” Iran’s nuclear threat? Why should a candidate sign up to a position that isn’t even defined? Not to mention, there is no mention of Russia or China or protecting American interests overseas? Aren’t those more important?

This list reads like a list of things Bopp doesn’t like about what Obama’s done recently with a smattering of pie in the sky solutions thrown in. We can do a lot better, as we’ve outlined before.
I Would Rather See. . .
At this point, I would rather see the party adopt a statement of actual principles, and then develop a series of policies that reflect those principles. This would be much more useful to guaranteeing conservative government than merely getting candidates to swear that they don’t like some of Obama’s bills.

I like the idea of a litmus test based on those principles (8 of 10 support would be acceptable), but would rather first see the party (1) ensure that every candidate is chosen after a primary, rather than a caucus or secret meeting, and (2) ensure that all primaries are closed to anyone who has not been a registered Republican for at least 90 days. I think those steps would go a long, long way to solving the RINO problem.

So, I would call Bopp’s resolution a good start, but it needs a lot of work.


CrispyRice said...

Interesting find, Andrew. I hadn't seen this elsewhere. (Yet?)

Anyway, I really like the idea of making sure that our candidates actually believe in the same thing the party believes in. And I really really like the idea of the Republican party spelling out very clearly and succinctly what it stands for. If you agree, then by all means join and/or vote for us.

Mostly I want a clear platform to present to America.

And while I agree with your philosophical point that a party is a group of people who have banded together because of what they believe, I'm not sure America at large will understand that nuance. The left will paint it as a litmus test and as an attempt to kick out all except the "true believers." And we don't need that kind of press. We have to be very careful about what kind of requirements we put on things like this.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: What I would hope would become a party platform (and a warning to those who say Republican and act Democrat) must, as you say, be a statement of principles. We've been painted as the party of "no" for far too long. A perfect example of where he went off base is that he simply could have said "we support market-based non-governmental solutions to health care reform," period. That completely leaves out the negative while at the same time indicating that there are genuine problems with the current system.

A litmus test is not the same as a "purity" test, and if framed properly is somewhat of a necessity. Again, that Reagan rule of 80% (which is the formula Bopp used). But it must be all about what we believe in--not what we don't believe in. Without that test, the Republican establishment would continue to lend support to "official" candidates like the closet socialist in NY23.

AndrewPrice said...

CrispyRice, Thanks. We do try to bring you news before anyone else sees it!

You are of course correct, there would be negative public relations with this. Although, if there was a time to take the blow from that, this would be it.

Still, a better solution would be to not do this as a public declaration. Instead, we create a statement of principle and we allow individual candidates to use the failure of their opponents to conform to those principles against them. At the same time, the RNC -- which has discretion over spending -- should informally implement it as a litmus test. That would create the same effect, but without the negative PR.

Personally, I think closing the primaries would be more important than any sort of litmus test -- especially as easily as politicians tend to lie. But it's still an idea that would be worth doing. . . carefully.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Exactly. We need a postive statement of what we believe and specifically the kinds of principles that we want to see put in place as policy if we get elected. Simply saying, "I'm going to oppose that other guy" doesn't do that.

You can win an election by just opposing the other guy so long as he is hated or feared, but that doesn't give you any basis for ruling once you've won and it gives people no reason to like you, as compared to just fearing the other guy.

Writer X said...

How much actual work is going to get done by the RNC at a winter meeting in Hawaii? Man, these guys sure know how to live.

I'm torn on the resolution. On the one hand, will it breed a bunch of robots unable to think for themselves or will it bring more consistency to the party's principles? It'll be interesting to see who's in favor and who's not. And why/why not.

If the resolution moves forward, it should be written in simple, straight-forward language--not legalese with sub-sections, annotations, and sentences that stretch a block long.

While it might be a comfort to voters to have a resolution, would it also make voters lazy again and not pay attention to their elected officials because "they signed onto the resolution"?

I remain torn. Want to know more.

Thanks, Andrew. I had no idea this resolution business had even become an issue.

CrispyRice said...

Yes, hear hear on the positive statement.

That's what I liked about Ye Olde Contract with America. "Here's what we're going to do." Let's do that and let's be clear about it.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I understand your concerns. I'm not a big fan of loyalty oaths, which is why I'd rather close the primaries first and then see if that doesn't solve the problem without needing this next step.

Moreover, as I say in the article, I would favor this only if it were done differently. Basically, I'd like to see a broad statement of principle. I think that then requiring candidates to agree with 80% of that statement would be enough to keep out the disloyal candidates (the ones likely to switch parties or those would spend their days trying to harm our party), without converting the candidates into a group of robots.

On the other hand, if you start asking people to swear to specific policies -- like Bopp does, that's when you really get into the robot situation.

The real problem, of course, is that too often the people who run for office are stupid, unprincipled, borderline con-man, who learn quickly to say what people want to hear just to please the crowds. I'm not sure how you fix that one.

LawHawkSF said...

CrispyRice: I loved the Contract With America. But if we were to do something like it again, this time we'd need a pledge that "this time we really mean it."

AndrewPrice said...

CrispyRice, The Contract With America was good because it gave the party some meaning and something to do once they obtained power. It was a gameplan which people could study.

Obama has shown the dangers of winning an election without having laid out a real game plan. You don't want people learning who you are only after the election.

StanH said...

I understand it to be a step in the right direction. We are beginning to see Republicans trying to tow the line. But, frankly the litmus test for me it’s a little creepy. I liked “The Contract for America,” it expressed conservative ideals and goals, and the country responded. As was touched on, this “litmus test” is a bastardized party platform, and sets up hard targets for the press to portray republicans as kind of Hitler youth swearing oaths. The oath I want enforced is -- “ to preserve and protect The Constitution,” and abide by our founding principles, the net result will be conservatism. I agree closed primaries will solve a lot of our RINO problem, have a solid conservative platform, and use Reagan as our guide.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I find the idea of a loyalty oath creepy as well. But I can justify this because:

1. It's only about whether or not you would get funding, and

2. It only looks for 8 out of 10 compliance.

3. If it was done on the basis of broad principle, I don't think it would seem as creepy. ("Smaller government, support of the Constitutional separation of powers, opposition to judicial activism, etc.)

In any event, I'd very much like to see them close the primaries. I think that might solve the problem entirely.

StanH said...

“The RINO problem” has a funny ring to it. LOL!

“Be careful in the yard little Timmy, you know we’re having that RINO problem.”

AndrewPrice said...

It does, doesn't it! LOL!

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: The RINOs are part of the show in the main ring at the Obama state dinner. Right after the elephants.

Joel Farnham said...


I like the idea in principle as long as it is about principles and not the policy du jour.

If we can agree on the principles, it would go a long way in making sure that Rhinos like Dede cannot get funding, and it would help make little mini-camps. Plus it would show a consistant scoring of candidates.

Expect a huge fight about it. As for what the Democrats do? I really don't care.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I agree. I think it's a good idea to outline what the party stands for and to only support candidates who fit that mold. But, as with you, I only want to see this in terms of principles, not specific policies.

FB Hink said...

Great comments!

My experience with litmus tests is very jaded. In the two largest county parties in the Houston area there was only one issue that allowed you into the party: pro-life. This began under Reagan and continued to grow statewide until recently. Talk about mindless apparatchiks!

My county party was run by the moral majority and policies became symbolic rather than substantive. Flag burning, teaching creationism, prayer in schools, leaving the Ten Commandments in public areas, etc. really became the face of the party. A lot of us left leadership positions because it had grown to the point of intimidation. It even became a contest over how pro-life one really was.

I am in favor of a more broad statement of conservative principals. The Contract with America and a more proactive plan of attack is truly the way to go.

AndrewPrice said...

Hink, I can tell you that the same thing has happened in other parts of the country, and it's very destructive.

That's the danger of a litmus test, that its contents are chosen by extremists (of one stripe or another).

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Hink, do you remember the Fred Thompson campaign for President in 2007/2008? Some religious groups attacked him in the blogosphere, even though he has a 100% prolife voting record, because he'd once written "N/A" on a survey in response to a question about a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. That's twisted.

It's also the kind of behavior that turns off everyone except for the couple percent of people who think like that. The party needs to disassociate itself from those kinds of people, and from the people you mention.

Unfortunately, there are a couple potential candidates right now who fall perfectly into that mold.

FB Hink said...

I didn’t know about Thompson. That’s a shame. He was one of the only candidates in which I had interest. But you’re absolutely right about that turning off people. I’ve often received funny expressions from people when I say I’m a conservative but once you speak with them they realize they agree with most of what we believe in. However, it’s been explained, they can never become a Republican because of the religious intolerance. It is definitely twisted.

AndrewPrice said...

Hink, I've had the same experience. I've met many people (both within and without the party) who mistake the Republican party for a church group. And unfortunately, that's a view that many (again within the party and outside the party) are happy to perpetuate. The one group thinks it gives them power, the other group thinks it keeps people away from the party.

That's got to change. Not only does it keep us from reaching that 60% we could reach, but it keeps the party from becoming truly conservative, because many of these same people are rather totalitarian in their thinking, i.e. they favor big, intrusive government to enforce their pet peeves -- not to mention they have no interest in the things that matter to the other 94% of the public.

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