by Mary Kate Cary

Is a strict, with-us-or-against-us platform really the way to grow the GOP?

"Have you seen this?" A Democratic friend sent a link to a Christian Broadcasting Network interview of conservative Sen. Jim DeMint. Curious, I clicked.

Here's what he said: "I need some new Republicans, people who believe in constitutional government, a balanced budget, and liberty, and so I'm out across the country recruiting new Republicans who I think if they get here will not only challenge the institutions of government but be willing to even challenge the Republican Party and our leadership if they feel like we're going in the wrong direction."

Hmm. DeMint endorsed Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in New York's 23rd Congressional District race, over Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava. He's also endorsed conservative Senate candidates in their primaries. So he wants to challenge the GOP establishment, and clearly "constitutional government, a balanced budget, and liberty" must be conservative code words, I thought. I was suspicious: What he's really saying here?

So I looked at the code words. "Constitutional government." Most conservatives would say that means supporting originalist judges who don't legislate from the bench. It means following the framers' intentions. If that's what DeMint means, fine by me. And "balanced budget," that's pretty clear: fiscal responsibility and certainly less spending and lower deficits. Again, OK with me. Finally, "liberty." To some conservatives, liberty means a government that places individual rights over group rights; to others, one that values property rights in the face of confiscatory taxation; and still others believe it signals a government that defends free speech and the free movement of goods and people and ideas. Many would say it's one in which all citizens -- regardless of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation -- are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the same basic protections under the law. Probably everyone would agree that liberty means that we are all free to live the lives we choose, without government interference, unless doing so imposes on another's right to do the same.

I would bet most limited-government conservatives would agree with all that. So what's so outrageous about DeMint's policy prerequisites for "new Republicans"?

Not much.

Or is the outrage due to the fact that he seems to be encouraging Republican-on-Republican primary attacks? Certainly, the media jumped on reports of a proposed Republican National Committee "purity test" as only the latest example of GOP extremism. According to Politico, the whole "test" began as a series of private E-mails between RNC members who were upset at party resources being devoted to Scozzafava, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island before her, who accepted GOP funding but later endorsed Democrats. It was an attempt, as venture capitalists say, to get the risk off the table. Maybe these E-mails were a stab at defining a party at the crossroads, post-Reagan, post-Kemp, post-Buckley. It's almost as if they were meant to be a conservative version of NPR's This I Believe. But then it all got leaked, and the media narrative of ideological purity and extremism took off.

The actual content of the 10 planks is pretty mainstream. One has to agree with eight of them to qualify for funding, if the resolution passes in January. Republicans like me would have to agree with smaller government, lower deficits, and lower taxes; market-run healthcare reform; opposition to healthcare rationing and federal funding for abortions; opposition to cap-and-trade taxes; opposition to card check by labor unions; military-recommended surges in Iraq and Afghanistan; containment of North Korea and Iran; and the right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

So far so good -- I qualify for funding! I flunked only two planks. First, there's one that doesn't abide amnesty for immigrants. For a lot of reasons, the GOP would be smart to be the Party of Immigrants, in a party-of-Lincoln, great-melting-pot sort of way, so I disagreed. I know immigration is a controversial, complicated issue, but my family began as immigrants here.

The second one I failed supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which specifies that marriage must be between one man and one woman. Again, a political mistake for the GOP, for a number of reasons. Why call for limited government in all things but this? If the GOP believes that individual rights trump group rights, then equal rights under the law -- regardless of sexual orientation -- should follow. Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Most Republicans like me would agree with DeMint that we need to grow the party -- maybe with people who can pass only 8 out of 10 planks of that purity test. But the vast majority of Republicans, I suspect, don't want a litmus test or bitter primary fights. We'd rather have a well-reasoned discussion about the limited-government, fiscally conservative ideas that unite us. That's why Bob McDonnell won the governor's race in Virginia and why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has some of the highest approval ratings in the country. They stay away from those two planks that are more social.

Republicans like McDonnell and Daniels are appealing to voters who view big government as a threat to our liberty and massive government spending not only as dangerous to our children's futures but to our national security. And those voters also view a strong military as the best way to peace and security, for our families at home and our allies abroad. Maybe the GOP is finally realizing that there are more votes to be found among independent-leaning fiscal conservatives than rigid social conservatives. Forget purity tests and primary challenges: That's the real story here.


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I Survived the GOP Purity Test | Mary Kate Cary

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