The GOP's Blacklist

The Republicans’ new so-called purity test is worthy of Joe McCarthy. Mark McKinnon on why it will doom their comeback.

Just as the opportunity to expand seems to have sprung magically from the political mists, the Republican Party seems determined to shrink its ranks.

Six months ago, the notion of a Republican resurgence was laughable. The GOP was foundering so badly, pundits talked in terms of “decades” of Democratic dominance. Today some recent polls find more voters supporting a generic Republican candidate for Congress than a Democrat. Obama’s favorable ratings have sunk to 49 percent. No president has been re-elected with a favorable rating of 47 percent or less.

If the Republican Party is serious about becoming competitive again, the last thing it needs to do is send messages of intolerance.

And so just as the wind begins to blow back toward the GOP, it decides we need a “purity test” to determine if Republican candidates are sufficiently conservative. I don’t care what’s on the list, the idea of a “purity test” sends chills down my spine. It sounds like a McCarthyite “loyalty test.”

Integrity and character aren’t mentioned. So, presumably, if two candidates were running for office and one met the purity test but cheated on his wife, gave no money to charity, and treated his staff like chattel, he would get funding against a candidate who, let’s say, was an Iraq vet, outstanding father and husband, head of the local YMCA, but disagrees with three of the Republican National Committee public-policy positions.

Mark McKinnon: How Palin Helps BloombergMark McKinnon: Huckabee’s Power SurgeThe positions laid out by the committee aren’t problematic. They sound as a whole fairly reasonable:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public-policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

(2) We support market-based health-care reform and oppose Obama-style government-run health care;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

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(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health-care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; and be further

RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public-policy positions of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee.

The question is: What is the problem this resolution is trying to solve? We have too many people wanting to be part of the Republican Party who aren’t “pure” enough? I thought we were trying to grow the party. Seems like that’s what you do when you find yourself in a minority. Or if you’re in the majority and you’re interested in staying in the majority.

Apparently, part of the rationale for this resolution is the outcome of the congressional race in New York’s 23rd District, a race in which Republicans split their vote between a moderate and conservative Republican, resulting in the election of a Democrat. Actually, the reason the Republicans lost is because a bunch of national Republican big shots decided they should come in and big-foot the race—sending the signal to the locals that they knew best. Kind of like a “purity test.”

One of the party’s superstars and top recruits could, by these standards, be considered impure. Mike Castle, a former Delaware governor and congressman and beloved legend in the state, is lining up to run for Joe Biden’s Senate seat against Biden’s son Beau. But, if the purists have their way, Castle could get scratched off the official endorsement list and lose significant support and funding.

Principles are fine. Party platforms are fine. The Contract With America was great politics. But, if the GOP tells candidates that they have to properly genuflect to an agenda or they are not welcome in the party then we shouldn’t be surprised when candidates and voters will go looking elsewhere for a party or movement that welcomes diversity of thought.

If the Republican Party is serious about becoming competitive again, the last thing it needs to do is send messages of intolerance. And that’s exactly what a “purity test” does. It blows a very loud and ugly bugle that says independent thinkers need not apply. The GOP needs to be looking for converts not heretics.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.