Republicans Need to Stop Trying to be Democrat-Lites

Recently the Vermont GOP held a gala event featuring New Jersey Governor Christ Christie. While the press was barred from the event, a couple of articles (they are available here and here) are available from people apparently at the event that gives some idea of what took place. These two articles highlight the real problem faced by the Republican party.

After recent election losses and receiving most of the blame for the government shutdown, not to mention various incidents of foot-in-mouth-disease, conventional wisdom has Republicans in a public relations hole and they desperately need to change their image. As one of the article puts it: “The Vermont GOP and the National GOP that Christie is a part of, is starting the process of re-branding itself.  That re-branding is going to take place swiftly and rapidly.”

The first question should be, what are they re-branding themselves from? During campaign season, the Republicans usually proclaim themselves to be the party of limited government, protection of individual rights, and defense of the Constitution. There is much talk about getting government out of the way of entrepreneurs, reducing the tax burden on the most productive, and depending on the issues of the day, about protecting some of the rights listed in the Constitution. For example, if the Democrats are pushing gun control, then the  second amendment is at the fore.

Sadly, there is not consistent support for these principles after the election. One only need to look at history to see instances of the supposed champions of capitalism and individualism trampling those principles. From Nixon creating the EPA, to Reagan doubling government spending while saying government isn’t the answer, to George W. Bush signing the Patriot Act and Sarbanes-Oxley while increasing government spending by about 40% ($1 trillion) elected Republicans can hardly be said to have followed through on their campaign rhetoric. In the end, many Republicans hold the same collectivist principles as the Democrats.

How will they re-brand themselves? Apparently by being even more like Democrats. From the same article, “Second, if the Republicans are re-branding to look more like Democrats, where are the Democrats going to go?  By engaging in this re-branding now, early, the Republicans if successful will occupy the “sweet center” of the political spectrum.”

How might Republicans accomplish this re-branding? It is explained by David Sunderland, the newly elected head of the Vermont Republican Party, this way, “Every Vermonter has different thoughts on how to move Vermont forward, of course. The Vermont GOP now, once again, welcomes them all.”  This means that the re-branded “cocktail party” Republicans will have no principles. They will welcome equally those who believe that the state has the right to compel you to buy insurance or use “green” energy and those who believe that the individual should be left alone to pursue his own happiness with the government only protecting them from force and fraud. With such a “big tent” policy, the fundamental principles will always drift towards the worst, the most statist, beliefs of the group members. This will guarantee that Republicans will continue their drift in the direction of ever more statism, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

If the Republican party continues their tradition to re-branding themselves to be more like the Democrats, embracing so-called “compassionate conservatism,” there will be no real choice for voters. When presented with a “full-strength” and consistent Democrat and an inconsistent Democrat-lite, why would voters chose the latter? Even if they do get elected, what benefit will there be to the country when the Democrat and the Democrat-lite hold the same basic, statist, principles?

This essential dilemma of the Republican party was illustrated very clearly in an English language Venezuelan blog post regarding the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, the last before Chavez died. In speaking of Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in that election:

His problem was that with most politicians of Venezuela they did not have the courage to lose an election based on true principles, to force the sinvergüenzas [shameless people]to vote for Chavez in full knowledge of the situation. Instead they pretended that by promising a better chavismo, a Brazilian Lulaesque approach, they would convince people. As I anticipated already in the primaries discussions, they failed because when everything is said a sinvergüenza [shameless person] is not going to try an ersatz when he already has the real thing.

This exactly parallels the situation that faces the Republican party. To actually change the country for the better, they have to be willing  to stand up for the principles they largely give lip service to today, explaining why these principles are better for the individual and the country. And they have to be willing to support those principles with real action, even if it means losing an election or two. They are already losing elections, or losing ground morally when they win, so the actual down side is small.

By following this strategy, Republicans would clearly contrast the two parties and force voters to make their choice between them in full knowledge of the differences. Voters would then have to explicitly choose between those who would protect their individual rights even against the majority and those who will violate those same rights at the whim of the majority or even an influential minority.

10 thoughts on “Republicans Need to Stop Trying to be Democrat-Lites

    1. Patrick Black Post author

      Thanks. It is interesting that the author of one of the articles I quoted linked to it from the comments of an article on about the meeting. I was described as Randian.

  1. Sen. Joe Benning

    Okay Patrick, educate me. Representative Heidi Scheurmann and I have been going around the state giving speeches in an attempt to reverse a rapidly disintegrating Republican Party presence in the legislature. Our hope is to motivate people into supporting the Party. We have repeatedly said we support the following core values of the Republican Party: a free market economy, low taxes, limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility. That was the message of Governor Christie, which is why we invited him to Vermont.

    We contend we are advancing a viable alternative, using those core values, to the Democrat/Progressive agenda. You seem to imply those concepts are “Democrat-lite.” Do you really believe those core values are not Republican tenets, or is there something else you want added to them before you’ll consider someone a “real” Republican?

    1. Patrick Black Post author

      First off, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I truly appreciate the feedback from someone who is actively striving for what I do agree are the proper principles.

      While it is great to hear that you and Representative Schuermann travel the state promoting these principles, such efforts are being undercut at the party level. When the head of the Vermont Republican party states that every idea of how to move Vermont forward is welcome in the party, what does that say about the actual principles that guide the party? It means, as I stated in the post, that there are no principles that are guiding the party, at least not the principles you are working to promote. If David Sunderland means what he said, then those who think that the government setting limits on corporate profits is a great idea would be just as welcome as those who believe that all government regulation, as opposed to laws protecting individual rights, on business should be abolished. How do you reconcile those principles? You cannot, which leaves one without any principles at all.

      The principles you list I believe are all that are needed, though I might express them as- individual rights, properly understood, and a government whose sole job is to protect them. Beyond talking of those principles however, and this is where the problem is, there must be clear explanations of what they mean, they must be applied consistently (i.e. without contradiction), and defended as moral, as right, not just as what will bring the best results for the state or nation.

      Lastly, on Republicans trying to be Democrat-Lite, it has nothing to do with upholding the principles you list, but rather the tendency of many Republicans to drop those principles after they are elected, usually to be seen as “practical.” I gave a number of examples in my post, but to give another there is President George W. Bush’s (in)famous statement that he “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” How do you preserve something by abandoning the principle upon which it rests? This tendency to abandon principle has led to a drift towards more statism on the part of the Republican party such that at the event with Governor Christie one observer said, “Lastly, it is good to confirm in Vermont, that many of our Republican friends and neighbors would likely be considered Democrats in many other states.” Hence, Democrat-Lite.

      Again thank you for taking the time to comment on my post.

      1. Patrick Black Post author

        One of my concerns in writing my original post and my reply to Senator Joe Benning was that relatively few sources about the event with Governor Christie, especially in regards to some of the more provocative quotes. After I posted my response I noted a new incoming link to my post which turned out to be from one of the source articles, which I see has a comment from Senator Benning, which greatly relieved that concern.

        In commenting on the article (linked to in the previous comment as well as the original post), which in its summary of the take away points states that the Republican party is re-branding itself to look more like Democrats as well as stating that Vermont Republicans could be considered Democrats in many other states, Senator Benning says:

        Nicely written Ed. As a member of the organizing committee, I can say you captured exactly what we were aiming to present. …Thank you for a neutral, unbiased report.

        1. Sen. Joe Benning

          Actually Patrick, my comment to Mr. Adrian was directed towards his remarks about what Mr. Christie was saying. I was definitely NOT referring to his opinion that Vermont Republicans could be considered Democrats in many other states. Mea culpa if folks interpreted that the wrong way.

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