Within political parties, there is a classic debate between the “large tent” and the “small tent” strategy. The view of the large tent is that a political party must be inclusive of a wide divergence of positions in order to permit the group to coalesce around one banner for the sake of size and power. To exclude individuals based on their views limits the size of the party and its influence. The large tent view permits a party to select a candidate that can win the race for an office in keeping with the philosophy of the region where the election is held. The theory of the small tent, in reaction thereto, is that if the views permitted by the party become too broad, the party will lose its distinction and become meaningless in its message. The small tent view permits a party to maintain a consistent message and educate the nation based on a principled message, but risks the party becoming isolated (or so it is the theory).
It is into the dilemma of the large tent, small tent views of a political party that the Delaware Republican Party fell as it responded to the efforts of the tea party. During the primary, the Delaware Republican Party supported long time Congressman Mike Castle, a candidate considered by many in Delaware and in the rest of the nation to be too liberal. However, the Delaware Republican Party responded that only a moderate of his type was capable of winning an election in blue state Delaware. This is the classic large tent view of the political party. Only by the conservatives accommodating a more moderate view from Delaware may the party grow and win the election.
The tea parties, on the other hand, supported Christine O’Donnell, whom they believed to be the more conservative of the two and to hold views truer to the traditional Republican standard. They were not prepared to bend their principles for the sake of the large tent view. Their principles committed them to a small tent view of the party.
What happened in the primary was ironic. However, it is a classic example of what will invariably happen to a large tent disconnected from its moorings. In its rhetoric, it opposed Ms. O’Donnell, saying she could not win in Delaware. The establishment Republican Party shifted the focus of its message to value of the large tent at the expense of substance. In an attempt to obtain power, substance was lost to expedience. The small tent tea party attempted to persuade the citizens of Delaware to its point of view and ultimately became a bigger tent than the big tent Delaware Republican Party by winning the election. The Delaware Republican Party is now on record as claiming that its candidate cannot win the general election, a position indistinguishable from the position of the Democratic Party. A desire for expedience has made the Delaware Republican establishment obsolete.
What should Missouri Republicans learn from these events? They should learn that the ultimate outcome of a large tent view is eventually irrelevance. Irrelevance comes either in the form of being indistinguishable from those around you or in becoming isolated, seeking only power for power’s sake. The argument that a certain candidate cannot win with the views of the small tent is a self fulfilling prophesy; it is self defeating. As the small tent accommodates to the big tent, the message is lost. A perfect example of this is the recent montra of the media that any thought to eliminate the federal Department of Education is extreme. This is a proposition which has been championed as wise thinking within my lifetime. The message has been lost.
A small tent view is a significantly more difficult position to be in the short term. It may mean loss for a time. However, it has far greater long term value. A small tent view, that is principled, can become a big tent by persuading the culture to the small tent’s principles as was done in the Delaware Republican primary. Ronald Reagan, the champion of conservative values in the Republican Party decades ago, was elected as governor of the state of California, one of the bluest of blue states today. Ronald Reagan brought the nation to him through a reasoned, persuasive dialogue on conservatism. He did not capitulate to a broader view of his party. He brought Republicans and Democrats to him.
What do these events recommend to the Missouri Republican Party? I have several observations, and these observations go primarily to Congressman Roy Blunt. If elected to the U.S. Senate, he will be the primary standard bearer of the Missouri Republican Party. First, return to principle. The Republican Party has been called back to its roots by the tea parties. It has been called back to a conservative ideal of strict construction of the Constitution, to a limited federal government and free markets. I am deeply impressed with the practice of State Senator Jim Lembke. Jim carries the Missouri Constitution wherever he goes. It is dog eared, worn, written in and bent. He almost never fails to testify that it is his guide in his job. I suspect that he is following an old admonition of Scripture.
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:18-20.Roy, your practice should be the same with the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, when you have opportunity to vote once again on TARP, your vote should be no. When you speak of repealing nationalized healthcare, your reason should not be we cannot afford it. Your reason should be “IT IS NOT CONSTITUTIONAL.” Stay principled in keeping your commitment to the U.S. Constitution.
Second, eschew requests for bipartisanship. Our constitutional form of government was designed to protect the liberties of all. In our culture, bipartisanship has become a fraudulent catch phrase for surrender. Today bipartisanship is used by the majority party to induce the minority party to give up the rights of certain people for the legislated benefits of others. This should never be granted in a free republic. You have no right to give up the rights of the people you represent and subject them to tyranny, the confiscation of their property for another. By maintaining a small tent, you will create a large tent.
In closing, I recall a brief conversation I had with former state representative Roy Cagle. I met Mr. Cagle several years ago when he was the Minority Floor Leader of the Missouri House of Representatives. I introduced myself to him again after more than twenty years. He had no reason to remember me and he did not. By way of complement, I thanked him for his service to the state and told him he had served in the Legislature with my father, Bill Linton. At that his response changed appreciably. “Ah, Mr. Conservative, how is your father?” was his response. I told him he was doing well. He heartily thanked me for stopping him and for my kind words. My father’s commitment to principle had made an impression that had stuck. Commitment to principle always leaves a lasting impression. Capitulation does not. Thanks, Dad, for your commitment to principle.