If there is anyone currently in the U.S. Senate of whom I would consider myself a fan, Jim DeMint of South Carolina would be on that short list. I understood where he was coming from but found it a little disconcerting when he said: “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”
What a great relief then to see Senator DeMint’s excellent column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal — what I consider an opportunity to revise and extend his remark. His rhetoric is blunt, and his analysis is clear:
In the wake of two successive electoral defeats and the likelihood of a 60-vote Democrat majority in the Senate, what does it even mean to be a Republican today? Moderate Republicans are right to remind conservatives that they cannot build a center-right coalition without the center part. And conservatives are right to remind moderates that Republicans only succeed when we rally around clear principles.
The real mistake is that Republicans became more concerned with staying in D.C. than reforming it….
To win back the trust of the American people, we must be a “big tent” party. But big tents need strong poles, and the strongest pole of our party — the organizing principle and the crucial alternative to the Democrats — must be freedom. The federal government is too big, takes too much of our money, and makes too many of our decisions. If Republicans can’t agree on that, elections are the least of our problems….
Freedom will mean different things to different Republicans, but it can tether a diverse coalition to inalienable principles. Republicans can welcome a vigorous debate about legalized abortion or same-sex marriage; but we should be able to agree that social policies should be set through a democratic process, not by unelected judges. Our party benefits from national-security debates; but Republicans can start from the premise that the U.S. is an exceptional nation and force for good in history. We can argue about how to rein in the federal Leviathan; but we should agree that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them. [emphases added]
Electoral defeat can do a lot to focus the mind. My first impression? I like the idea of the three bolded statements as the strong tent poles of the GOP. Candidates for office — and particularly those at the national level (President, Senate, Congress) — should be able to subscribe to those, leaving room for respectful, measured disagreement and debate.
DeMint goes on to refresh our memories that a successful national party is built on the principles of federalism similar to the way our own Constitution is. While Republicans nationwide agree to these three broad statements, the flavor they may take in different regions and states will look somewhat different.
Under this banner one can be a strong conservative (whether on fiscal issues, social issues, or both) and work constructively as part of a broader coalition. I for one plan to remain a strong voice from my position on the Right side of the spectrum, because coalition-building does not mean capitulation. The tent is big, but it does have strong poles and clear edges. On the other hand, persistent persuasion does not equate with isolation.
Of course, this also presumes that our Republican elected officials in Washington live up to the three main principles. Too many have fallen short — especially on the third — but Senator Jim DeMint is one of the faithful few. No politician is perfect, but he has walked the walk. That’s why I pay attention (and bring attention) to what he wrote in the Journal yesterday.