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Principles And Party   August 10th, 2010
Principles will only be advanced through the party       

 
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"Principles over party."

Conservatives have heard that phrase a lot over the last year. While it's a catchy phrase and at a certain level is reasonable, it can justify some counterproductive decisions and is based on a false premise.

The slogan makes two dangerous and incorrect implications. First, that the party doesn't have principles; second, that an individual should vote one's "principles" even if that means voting against the party's candidates in the general election.

These two implications can lead to cynicism and electoral defeat.


Implication #1: Party Doesn't Have Principle

The first incorrect implication the slogan makes is that the party doesn't have principles.

The party is nothing more than a group of people working together to advance our principles. These are committed people--the vast majority of whom are volunteers--that feel so strongly about our principles that they're willing to contribute many hours (dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of hours every year) to make sure the party is principled.

The 2008 Republican Platform is 67 pages that state principle after principle after principle. To suggest that the party doesn't have principles is a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of citizens across the country that participate in the process to ensure that the party does reflect our principles.

Of course an individual might think that the party or a candidate isn't living up to those principles. If that's the case, the solution isn't voting for a non-party candidate or leaving the party in disgust. The solution is to get more involved in the party to make sure it stays true to its principles and chooses candidates that will do the same. The party needs principled people that don't just claim to be principled, but are so committed to those principles that they're willing to invest their time and energy to advance them.

Implication #2: Better to Vote Individual Principle Than Party

The second incorrect implication the slogan makes is far more dangerous--it implies that if the party has a candidate that is not ideal, an individual should "vote his principles" even if that means voting for a non-party candidate.

This is dangerous because it's a sure-fire way to split the vote and elect an individual (usually a Democrat) that has far more ideological flaws than the party's imperfect candidate. And, remember, it's not just about the candidate that we elect, but about the appointments/confirmations/laws he will support and oppose.

That isn't to say that we should keep on doing the same old thing and electing the same old candidates. We must hold our candidates accountable and, when they don't reflect our principles, we need to make sure they're challenged in the next primary so that we have a candidate that does reflect our principles. But we must do that within the party structure during the primary, not during the general election.

And that's why, as I wrote above, those that aren't happy with the party or its candidates have a civic responsibility to get more involved in the party rather than taking their marbles and going home.

 

Photo by Dave Gill, Used with Permission
 
The Reality of "Party Loyalty"

Party loyalty isn't about loyalty to some organization, it's about loyalty to our principles. And that's not always easy.

If the Democratic Party were to adopt the Republican Platform and the Republican Party were to adopt the Democratic Platform, I'd change my party affiliation immediately. Why? Because what matters to me are the principles that drive the party, not the name "Republican." In that sense, yes, principles over party makes sense.

But when people are urged to stand firm and support the party's candidate in the general election, it's not for the sake of the party. It's for the sake of our shared principles. There is absolute truth in the expression "United we stand, divided we fall." A "principled vote" for a minor party candidate will not matter one iota if we split the vote in the general election and elect a Democrat.

The primary is when we should vote our principles to choose the candidates that most closely reflect those principles. But in the general election we must all come together and get behind the candidates that we, as a party, have chosen--yes, even if they're imperfect. Because as imperfect as they may be, they're far better than whatever alternative the Democrats will be offering. And I don't know about you, but as a matter of principle I'm opposed to electing Democrats.

Primaries demand principles. General elections demand pragmatism.

The Party Advances Our Principles

The Republican Party is just a vehicle to win general elections and govern according to our conservative principles.

If you're in California and need to get to Washington DC, you can try to get there without a vehicle. You can start walking across the desert, through the mountains, and across the plains. A few may make it, most won't. Those that do make it will arrive haphazardly and without organization or support. The alternative is to get on the Republican train that picks up like-minded conservatives as it travels across the country and quickly arrives at its destination.

If you're not happy with the state of the Republican Party or its candidates, or think either has strayed from conservatism, get involved. Become a precinct committee person. A district captain. A party officer. Start participating in the party and offer yourself as a candidate for public office. Or support those individuals that share your principles and are doing one of these things.

It's far more likely that you can help fix the Republican Party by getting involved in the Republican Party than it is that you can fix the entire country by wandering around in the political desert, alone, without a vehicle to help you get to a place where your principles will make a difference. Sure, it'll take time. It'll take patience. It will be more work than taking 30 seconds to cast a "principled" protest vote every two years for someone that's going to lose. But battles aren't won in a day, and the fight for a return to American values won't be won by splitting the conservative vote as a matter of "principle."

The reality is that the party would serve no purpose without principles, and our principles will not be advanced if we don't unify behind our party's candidates after the primary.

So instead of principles over party, I'd suggest we work with "principles AND party." That's a slogan that recognizes the importance of principles while also acknowledging the critical function of the party in advancing those principles.

It's also a slogan that has a much higher probability of electoral success. And considering what our state and country are facing, we cannot risk settling for anything less than victory on Election Day.


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