As a curious person who likes crowds and dislikes big government, it’s only natural that I’ve made my way to a couple Tea Party rallies in the past few months. My semi-regular attendance earned me a number of pins and buttons—including one with the now-again-emblematic “don’t tread on me” slogan—and it has placed my name on the mailing list of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks organization, one of the principal sponsors of the rallies.
Most of the FreedomWorks e-mails contain innocuous descriptions of successful past events or harsh denunciations of our ever-expanding national government—stuff that any Republican can agree to.
But the group’s most recent e-mail is alarming not only because it attacks one of my home state’s senators (Bob Bennett of Utah), leading to his ruin in last Saturday’s Utah Republican Convention, but because it serves to divide, rather than unite, and shrink, rather than expand, the Republican Party.
Titled, “Help FreedomWorks PAC Take Out a RINO in Utah,” the e-mail begins, “I wanted to make you aware of an exciting opportunity that we as limited government conservatives have to replace a big government RINO (Republican In Name Only!) in the U.S. Senate.” The letter proceeds to list the shortcomings of my senator: “Senator Bennett has been in Congress for 18 years and has become an active advocate of big government. He supported the Wall Street Bailout (TARP), his own version of socialized medicine…”
A quick review of the facts: In 2009, Sen. Bennett supported the interests of the American Conservative Union 84 percent of the time. His lifetime score prior to 2009 was also 84 percent. National Journal recently reported that “Senator Bennett voted more conservative on economic, defense and foreign policy issues than 80 percent of members within the same chamber of Congress in 2009.”
To continue, Bennett was vehemently against the auto bailout; he opposes further economic stimulus measures; he voted against the passed health care reform bill; and he recently spearheaded a Senate attempt to ban gay marriage in Washington, D.C.
If Sen. Bennett’s not a conservative Republican, who is?
This is the problem with FreedomWorks, Dick Armey, and the Tea Party movement; they are establishing “purity” not by winning the war of ideas, but by banishing all dissenters. Homogeneity makes for loud and exciting gatherings at the Washington Monument, but it doesn’t win elections, especially when polls consistently show that Americans increasingly identify as “moderate” or “independent.”
Perhaps none of this matters in Utah, a state which has so many registered Republicans that the Republican Party can afford to alienate the middle-ground voters and still win the general election. But in more balanced states, and in presidential elections, the margins matter, and then, the wanton ejection of “RINOs” could be important.
Yes, Bennett did vote for the TARP bailout—when many thought our banking system was about to collapse—and he did propose a compromise health care plan—one far more Republican than the passed reform—so perhaps he isn’t the reddest of red conservatives. But if Tea Partiers commandeer the Republican Party and expel Republicans of Bennett’s ilk, then the party will be left with approximately 15 percent of the country, and almost all of it in the South.
Instead, the reins of the Republican Party should be handed over to those who realize that Bennett—and Republicans even more “moderate”—are necessary to build a winning Party. Ideological purity is perhaps a nice idea, but being a permanent minority party is not.
Stephen Richer is the Director of Outreach at a Washington, D.C.-based legal think tank.