Do mainstream Republicans have courage to take back their party?
Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger, home for the summer recess, has been holding Town Hall Meetings in his district. In a recent one, a Tea Partier rose to ask Pittenger what he described as an easy question, requesting a simple yes or no answer. Would Pittenger vote to defund Obamacare, he asked?
When Pittenger asked the Tea Partier if he was willing to listen to the thoughtful answer to his question, he was abruptly told, “No.” So just as quickly Pittenger responded “No” to the question.
The Congressman’s very thoughtful reason and the debate over repealing or defunding The Affordable Care Act is worthy of more conversation but the vehemence in which the question was posed and the refusal to hear anything but a black-or-white response illustrates the growing schism between the mainstream and Tea Party extremists in the North Carolina Republican Party, a schism more threatening to continued GOP control of North Carolina than any threat posed by the disorganized Democrats.
Those who identify themselves with the Tea Party apparently have as poster boys, Barry Goldwater and Grover Norquist. Some still remember Goldwater, in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination, saying, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” The extreme element’s definition of the defense of liberty is to be unyielding, anti-government, in fact just about anti-everything.
Am I wrong or do they appear to have no use for any government program, public infrastructure or the common good? It seems they define liberty as the freedom to be able to do what they want without question, obligation or responsibility for others.
Tea Partiers are angry, sometimes with justification, over the current state of government and they clearly don’t like today’s culture. They have learned from Grover Norquist to use threats and intimidation tactics to get their way. Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform coerces candidates to sign “no tax hike” pledges, then he turns on them and sees to their defeat if they vote for anything that even smells like a tax increase after being elected.
Tea Partiers are using these same tactics to effectively silence and make impotent those within their own party who are willing to seek consensus and compromise; leaders who heretofore have included the likes of Jim Broyhill, Jim Holshouser, Jim Martin and others. Today’s mainstream Republicans are conservatives but they are also pragmatists willing to include others, to get far more accomplished with cooperation than by being unyielding, threatening or mean-spirited.
One doesn’t have to be a political expert to understand reality. The continued domination by those on the far right is a sure recipe for defeat. They do not speak for the majority of North Carolinians. Both political parties have large numbers of members neither far right nor far left in their convictions, and the fastest growing registrations come from unaffiliated voters, now consisting of 24 percent.
The question North Carolina Republicans face is whether they will allow this extreme hard-line element to dominate their party or whether they have the courage to stand up to them and regain control. They need to know the bullying will continue until someone stands up to the bully. The mainstream’s response will determine their party’s future and will impact our state.
Tom Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly discussion airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m .on WRAZ-TV FOX50. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.