What is a Republican?

Lately, I’m been mulling over a question in my mind.  What is a Republican?  Having been part of the Republican Party since the age of 15, I thought I knew.

Now, we all know that there is never complete uniformity in any group, but I was under the impression that Republicans stood for a basic set of principles.  That they advocated a relatively small government, one that kept taxes low and let individuals more or less live their lives without too much government interference except if he or she sought to injure his or her neighbor.

Here, let me share with you the creed of the Republican Party of Virginia:

“We Believe:

“That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,

“That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,

“That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,

“That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,

“That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,

“That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.”

Several weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the Greene County Republican Party and they opened their meeting by reciting this creed.  I must confess, I cannot recall the last time that I had been to a Republican Party gathering where the creed was read or even acknowledged.

But do all Republicans actually adhere to the principles of limited government conservatism as is found in the creed?  The answer is clearly no.  After all, it was a Republican legislature and Republican Governor McDonnell who passed the 2013 transportation tax bill, dubbed the largest tax increase in Virginia history.  And quite a few of those same Republicans helped pass what was previously known as the largest tax increase under the governorship of Democrat Mark Warner.  Why is it that whenever Republicans take control of the Virginia Senate they choose a leader who has supported these tax increases?  If the GOP was serious about limiting the size of government, don’t you think they would nominate someone other than Senator Norment?

Switching gears to the federal government, which party brought us increased federal government control in education through No Child Left Behind?  Republicans.  Expanded federal involvement in medicine through Medicare Part D?  Again it was Republicans.  What about giving us the civil liberties threatening Patriot Act, or the NSA, TSA, or NDAA?  The GOP controlled Congress and presidency.  And which president got this country embroiled in a Middle East conflict in Iraq which has had lasting repercussions to this day and could result in the formation of a horribly brutal and repressive Islamic state?  Why, it is none other than former President George W. Bush, and yes, I’m sure you know that he is a Republican.  And neither John McCain with his hyperaggressive militarism and disregard for civil rights or Mitt Romney and his RomneyCare would have been any better.

It seems to me, that in general Republicans are far more interesting in holding power than they are electing people that hold any sort of principle.  Personally, I find that sad.  And when grassroots Republicans try to stand on principle, as they did in the 6th district when they unanimously insisted that our representative, Bob Goodlatte, not vote for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, they are ignored.  Some people thought it tantamount to heresy when I suggested to the 2014 Republican Senate nominee Ed Gillespie that he ought to advocate eliminating unconstitutional federal programs in his platform.  In case you are wondering, he isn’t doing so.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party in my home of Harrisonburg is similarly a mess.  In recent times they seem to value a blind adherence to the party rather than a common set of political principles.  Believe what you want, but support the GOP, even if they nominate candidates to whom you have a moral objection.  Is it any wonder then that no Republican has been able to win the city of Harrisonburg when facing a Democratic opponent since 2010?

Although one of the most heavily Republican counties in the state of Virginia, the Augusta County Republican Party seems to be in a continual state of civil war.  Certainly there are many factors involved: the struggle for power and personality conflicts.  However, I’m wondering if what is happening in Augusta isn’t just a never-ending struggle between those who feel electing Republicans is the party’s most important task, compared to those who believe that Republicans ought to nominate people who hold to a certain set of conservative principles as found in the party creed.

This past week, the GOP had a booth at the Rockingham County Fair.  In the past, volunteering there was my absolute favorite political activity, one I looked forward to every year since I was 15.  Given that I am running for office as an independent, was booted from the GOP in the early part of this year, and that I have philosophical differences with some of the Republican nominees, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I did not volunteer for them this year.

6th district Republican Chairman Wendell Walker made an appearance and posted this picture on his Facebook page with the following comment:  10583997_10204312722326836_3587689603352275332_n“Spent time in Rockingham at the county fair, campaigning for Ed Gillespie, Bob Goodlatte, and Harrisonburg city’s next councilwoman, Dede Dalton.”

The problem?  Well, if you know the woman on the left, can read the shirt she is wearing, or can see the signs behind them, you will note her name is D.D. Dawson, not Dede Dalton.  One does have to wonder, does Chairman Walker know anything about Ms. Dawson and her political principles?  Or is the party label all that matters?  Having had several conversations with her myself, I can say there is more to Ms. Dawson than the fact that she is the Republican Party nominee.  I don’t bring this point up to disparage either Ms. Dawson or Mr. Walker, but to further illustrate the dis-functionality of the Republican Party locally, statewide, and nationally.

To tell you a little more about my own circumstances, for over a year I served on the Board of Directors for the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia.  I’m glad to say that there have been victories for the moment, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.  But perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that so many liberty-minded people know what I’m saying to be true and they either can’t admit it, or they feel that there is no other alternative than trying to reform the Republican Party.  Unfortunately, that course of action often leaves us feeling ignored or maligned.  For one personal example, in late 2012 I submitted a RLC-VA petition to my local committee calling for the resignation of John Boehner.  But the group wouldn’t hear of it and it was tabled until the start of the next year and then dismissed.  They welcome our help…so long as we keep our views to ourselves.  Thus, when liberty-minded folks cast our ballots, we are often faced with the ordeal of having to “hold our noses” to vote for a Republican candidate that is diametrically opposed to our principles.

When I first met former Republican Robert Sarvis in mid 2013, he told me that the Republican Party is hostile to liberty.  I didn’t believe him at that time and I have to tell you that it was mainly because I didn’t want to believe him.  But as time pressed onward I began to realize that he was unfortunately right.  This is one reason why the Libertarian Party is seeing growth.  We aren’t leaving the Republican Party so much as we are coming to the realization that the Republican Party has already left us.

I must confess I do have the hope, some may call it a naive hope, that Republicans will stand on shared values, but as long as a sizable segment of the party cares only about power and insists on making participants sign loyalty oaths, not to principle, but rather to the party and her candidates, I know that my hope isn’t really realistic.  Although I opposed many positions held by former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA 11), I have to agree with one point he made in 2008, “Members instinctively understand that the Republican brand is in the trash can. I’ve often observed that if we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

So, how do we answer the question first posed, “What is a Republican?”  It is a question that I wrestled with when I wrote “Some Nights With the GOP” after the Republican losses in 2012.  All I can say is that I don’t know anymore;  there are great Republicans and there are terrible Republicans, but the label itself isn’t particularly meaningful.

The Republican (Feudalism) Plan

Image from nobility.org
Image from nobility.org

Ask the average Republican voter or even activist if he or she is familiar with the party plan of the Republican Party of Virginia and I’d wager you’re likely to get a blank stare in response.  Much like a constitution or a set of bylaws, the party plan is the governing document for the state party.  Well, as Craig Orndorff, who runs the Race to Richmond, This Time, Roanoke, recently highlighted, the RPV has made several changes to their party plan.  You can read the entire document here.

Perhaps the most important modification deals with participation in party activities.  Point 2 in section A of Article 1 reads, “A voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.”

Now what difference does this change make?  Well, if it were in effect prior to the 2011 elections, Ken Cuccinelli would not have been the Republican Party nominee for governor in 2013.  Both Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling broke party ranks to support independent Bill Janis for commonwealth attorney of Henrico over the GOP nominee.  As such, under this change not only would neither of the two men would have been eligible to run for any office under the Republican Party last year, but in addition they would have been excluded from all party functions until 2015.  Even Eric Cantor, the U.S. House Majority Leader, backed Janis and would not be eligible to be a Republican, much less hold his current post.

Although not changed in the latest round of revisions, there are other troubling aspects of the party plan.  For example, who can participate in Republican primaries and conventions?  According to the plan, “all legal and qualified voters…who are in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, and who, if requested, express in open meeting either orally or in writing as may be required their intent to support all of its nominees for public office in the ensuing election may participate as members of the Republican Party of Virginia in its mass meetings, party canvasses, conventions, or primaries encompassing their respective election districts.”

Several years ago the RPV attempted to use a loyalty oath as a condition to vote in a primary.  Although legally unenforceable, the effort generated considerable backlash and it was withdrawn.  The whole idea is rather concerning.  In order to select a Republican nominee a voter has to pledge in advance to support the eventual Republican candidate whomever he or she happens to be and regardless of what positions he or she happens to hold.  Imagine, if you will, a single issue voter.  Let’s say she is a pro-life Republican.  On primary day she goes to the polls to support a pro-life candidate over a pro-choice one.  Regardless of the outcome, according to the party plan by voting in that primary she is honor-bound to support the Republican even if that candidate holds a position which is in stark contrast to her own.  Does that seem right to you?  What will be the effect assuming it is attempted to be enforced?  It seems that the loyalty oath is alive and well.

Now, this position is not unique to the Republican Party as the Democratic Party of Virginia included a similar statement in their 2010 party Plan.  “No person shall participate in a Democratic primary, convention or caucus who intends to support a candidate opposed to any Democratic nominee in that general or special election.”  Many of the locals know that it is very unlikely (but not impossible) for me to vote Democratic.  Will some party official stand at the door of the polling place on primary day, like George Wallace, denying me entrance?

In point three, the party seems to call for voter registration by political party, an idea I firmly oppose.

Moving through the RPV party plan, we reach point four.  It reads, “In addition to the foregoing, to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, unless otherwise stipulated by the appropriate Official Committee, a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party within the last five years.”

In plain English, this means that if you vote in the Democratic primaries, you are booted from the GOP.  It doesn’t matter that your tax dollars fund these primaries, you cannot voice your opinion in these contests…according to the Virginia Republican Party.  As someone who faithfully votes in as many primaries as he can, this plank is exceedingly worrisome.  I can think of at least three Democratic primaries in which I’ve voted; 2006 U.S. Senate, 2009 Statewide Virginia, and 2013 Statewide Virginia.  In addition, although I could not vote, I was a witness to the 2013 Libertarian state convention.  Does that count as participation too?  What if you live in an area of the state where only Democratic candidates can win?  Would voicing your opinion to select the best Democratic option exclude you from later expressing your opinion in Republican circles too?  Can a party forbid you to take part in a political process funded by your own tax dollars?  Although there is a clause to avoid this issue…as a one-time exception…being required to craft a written statement denouncing the other party very much seems over the top.

I find these issues worrisome and would expect that many of my conservative brothers and sisters would as well.  Why is it that the Republican Party is so concerned with making vassals of their base?  Shouldn’t they instead promote the Republican principles found in the Republican creed and make sure that Republican elected officials actually honor and uphold these values?  If the GOP wants to make a principled statement, why not strip party membership from delegates and state senators who supported the transportation tax hike last year…or work to remove them from leadership positions…or, at the very least, publicly chastise them?

With these rules, one has to ponder why the party just doesn’t force all primary voters, convention goers, and potential candidates to declare, “I will to my party be true and faithful, and love all which it loves and shun all which it shuns”?  In case you are wondering, that declaration is a modification of the Anglo-Saxon Oath of Fealty.  I wonder if the RPV wishes to reduce us to serfdom.  Is political feudalism alive and well within the Commonwealth?  Are we being transformed into red and blue vassals, stripped of any semblance of political free will?

Shouldn’t the RPV do a better job reaching out to voters and actually reducing the size of government rather than promoting restrictive regulations?  Rather than expanding the Republican Party, these rules (especially if actually enforced) will only serve to shrink involvement, which, in turn, will further reduce any chances of future Republican statewide victories.

As so many Virginia elections are either uncontested or one party has a virtual lock on a seat, participation in party nominating contests is an important tool for voters to have at least some voice in determining their representation.  Demanding loyalty or forbidding cross party voting in order to take part in party politics is a violation of a free and open political process and weakens the strength of our democratic process.  No group or individual should ever unquestioningly own your vote or your support.  We haven’t lived in the middle ages for centuries, so why should our partisan politics be so mired in the past?

If the Republican Party of Virginia desires to enact an oath I can get behind, it ought to sound something like this: “I will to my principles be true and faithful.  As long as the party and her candidates uphold these shared principles, I will support them.”

Botetourt’s Stand

As I mentioned in a post back in 2008, Republican activists and politicians would do well to remember the tenants of the Virginia Republican Creed.  These include such “radical” concepts like following the Constitution, observing fiscal responsibility, and promoting a moral backdrop for our society.  Sadly, such thinking has fallen out of favor with some of our leaders and representatives both here in Virginia and in Washington.  However, I’m pleased to say that our friends and allies in Botetourt County have taken a stand for these principles and our creed.  A few days ago, the following release arrived in my inbox:

Botetourt County Republican Party Acceptance of Republican Candidates

Whereas, the Republican Party of Virginia has adopted core principles as expressed in the Virginia Republican Creed, namely,

Virginia Republican Creed

That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,

That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,

That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,

That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,

That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,

That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.

Whereas, the Botetourt County Republican Party heartily endorses its nominees for elective office,

Whereas, the Botetourt County Republican Party and its volunteers work tirelessly to elect candidates that support the U. S. Constitution and the Virginia Republican Creed,

Whereas, the Botetourt County Republican Party strongly supports the efforts of grassroots activists and supports policies which elevate the voice of grassroots supporters,

Whereas, an elected nominee or representative can supplant the voice of the people for a time and do much damage to the reputation and integrity of the Republican Party,

Therefore Be It Resolved, that the Botetourt County Republican Party shall consider only prospective candidates for nomination that accept as their guiding principles those laid out in the Virginia Republican Creed,

Be it Resolved, that the Botetourt County Republican Party shall consider only prospective candidates for nomination that support the United States Constitution as it was intended by our Founding Fathers,

Be it Resolved, that the Botetourt County Republican Party shall consider only prospective candidates that support the local Republican Party as well as its nominees,

Be it Further Resolved, that the Botetourt County Republican Party shall consider public support of a candidate of a party other than the Republican Party by an elected official as prima facie evidence that the elected official no longer desires to be affiliated with the Botetourt County Republican Party.

In order to be a functioning, coherent, and successful party, we must agree to a certain set of basic principles.  If we cannot rally behind something as fundamental as the creed, then for what do we truly stand?  Don’t we need to hold our politicians accountable as both Republicans and Virginians?  Otherwise, what makes Virginia Republicans Virginia Republicans?  Therefore, if you agree with the Creed of the Republican Party of Virginia and the Botetourt County GOP resolution, I suggest two actions.  First, insist that your local city or county committee make a stand in support of the creed.  Second, send a word of thanks and encouragement to the Botetourt County Republican Party.  To borrow a quote from Martin Luther, “Here I stand.  I can do no other.  God help me.”

Rediscovering the Creed

This afternoon, while cleaning out my car, under a carpet mat in the back seat, I ran across a tattered magnet. Affixed to this magnet is an ad for Bob McDonnell as well as the Republican Creed of Virginia. Even though I’ve been involved in politics for well over a decade, I have rarely seen the creed. Therefore, I thought it best to type it out and share it with you here. Please note that these words are not my own, but copyrighted by the RPV.

“We Believe…

That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice

That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society

That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government

That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing constitutional limitations

That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense

That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers, is essential to the moral fibre of the Nation”

After reading through the list again, I ask you, what’s not to like? It reminds me of the guiding principles that drove me to become involved back in high school…fiscal restraint, limited government, social responsibility, and freedom. These are critical concepts and I believe that we must struggle everyday to promote these ideals. Unfortunately, as you know, there are politicians among us who despise these tenets and not all of them are Democrats. Lamentably, wolves exist among the Republicans, there are those who seek to destroy these very same principles, liberals who long for more power and glory for themselves, for Richmond, or for Washington. In addition, I’m sorry to say that a number of Republicans in other states do not hold to the same set of values as we do here in Virginia. As stated in my earlier piece, “Brand Loyalty”, it is always important to verify, verify, verify!

So now that you’ve read the Republican Creed of Virginia, I have to ask, what is your creed? What moves you politically?