Virtually every conservative leader claims to be for a “big tent” Republican Party. In 2008, Republicans believed that fighting the War on Terror was so paramount that Senator Joe Lieberman–the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate–should be given a prime time speaking role at their national convention due to his hawkish views. At that time Lieberman and most conservatives agreed on nothing but foreign policy. In contrast to Lieberman, that same year and at that same convention, Congressman Ron Paul was denied entrance to the event despite the fact that most conservatives agreed with the libertarian firebrand on virtually everything except foreign policy. Yet, Paul’s presence was forbidden based mostly on his dissent on this one issue.
Contrary to conservatives’ contention at the time, Lieberman’s inclusion was not evidence of a big tent GOP but further example of the pup tent the Republican Party had become under George W. Bush. In their zeal for war, the GOP had become almost exclusively a single issue party, as also evidenced by Paul’s banishment. Most Republicans’ were not apologetic for their overt pro-war views and would often serve up fiery and emotion-charged rebuttals to anyone who dared question or challenge them. Many conservatives still believe this today, arguing that support for a foreign policy consisting of permanent war and perpetual global military engagement should be the one issue on which no Republican should deviate.
Thankfully, post-Bush such conservatives have become a shrinking minority as the Right’s focus has shifted dramatically from foreign affairs to economics. As many establishment Republican politicians now targeted by the Tea Party can attest, concern over massive debt and spending pretty much trumps all else. The Tea Party itself is almost exclusively a single-issue movement. Unlike the nationally unpopular and always questionable Bush foreign policy, Republicans’ new budget slashing rhetoric has not only galvanized conservatives but has attracted popular support from across the political spectrum. The Democrats now adjust their own rhetoric to reflect popular disenchantment with big government. Figures like the liberal Lieberman have pretty much lost any appeal they once had amongst Republicans. Solid conservative Ron Paul is now a Tea Party darling.
Given the contrast between Bush’s Republican Party and the new Tea Party-tempered GOP, it seems there’s nothing wrong, per se, with being a single issue party-it just depends on the issue.
Which makes the reaction by some conservatives toward the inclusion of the gay organization “GOProud” at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., all the more curious. CPAC mainstays like the Family Research Council and other groups are refusing to attend what has become the largest annual gathering of conservatives, or as FRC spokesman Tom McClusky explained: “We’ve been very involved in CPAC for over a decade and have managed a couple of popular sessions. However, we will no longer be involved with CPAC because of the organization’s… movement away from conservative principles.”
Movement away from conservative principles? Wasn’t the entire Bush presidency-in which we saw the national debt and federal government double in size-a movement away from conservative principles? Yet it was social and religious conservatives who were always Bush’s most reliable champions, particularly in their support for the Iraq War. Social conservatives’ enthusiasm for Bush and his foreign policy was so strong that we witnessed the strange spectacle of evangelical leader Pat Robertson endorsing the socially liberal Rudy Giuliani for president during the 2008 Republican primaries. This was the same Giuliani who had not only long been a champion of gay rights, but who regularly dressed in drag at public events. Giuliani’s singular appeal to conservatives at that time, much like the equally socially liberal Lieberman, was his hawkish views, and many seemed willing to consider his candidacy accordingly. Such was the bizarre state of Bush’s single-issue GOP.
Yet now, at precisely the moment a single-issue GOP dedicated to slashing government might arise, some social conservatives seem ready to abandon ship over the mere tolerance of open homosexuals on the Right. When our greatest national threat was perceived as being radical Islam, social conservatives seemed more than willing to make questionable alliances with gay-friendly politicians. Now that many perceive our greatest threat to be economic, some social conservatives seem to believe making any alliances with gay friendly groups somehow poses more of a threat than the debt itself. This is political schizophrenia.
For the record, I have no problem with and indeed support most state and local measures that would make homosexuals more accepted in our society. That said, I also have tolerance for social conservatives who disagree with this view and who generally hold negative attitudes toward homosexuals. Both views have worth and deserve to be discussed, debated and heard. By definition, a truly “big tent” Republican Party necessarily must include members with different and often opposing positions-yet if the GOP is to remain a single issue party, this more recent singular issue of spending will likely always be a better coalition builder and more appealing to voters en masse than support for permanent war.
A liberal friend told me recently that the Republican Party doesn’t stand for much more than hating gays and Arabs.
If judging his comments exclusively by the actions of social conservatives who’ve chosen to boycott CPAC, it would be hard to tell him he’s wrong.