TAUBE: Framing a unified conservative message

GOP and Tea Party have to work together

Are Republicans and Tea Party supporters heading for a potential showdown? Unless things start to change, an unpleasant implosion within the U.S. conservative movement appears to be imminent.

Consider this revealing piece by Associated Press special correspondent David Espo. Republicans reportedly are “treading carefully around Tea Party groups” as incumbents retire and new candidates emerge. Rob Jesmer, executive director of the GOP Senate campaign committee, who was in charge when “flawed, conservative candidates captured primaries, only to lose winnable races in the fall,” was directly quoted as saying you would “have to be an idiot not to prepare” for primaries.

Alas, the article’s negative tone gets worse. “The divisions that pit the party establishment against insurgents and self-styled grass-roots groups show no signs of abating,” Mr. Espo writes. Republican incumbents “seem eager to avoid antagonizing groups that have helped elect Tea Party favorites such as Sens. Mike Lee in Utah, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida and Ted Cruz in Texas.” For good measure, Iowa Rep. Steve King, who claims to have been targeted by the Conservative Victory Project, reportedly said, “Nobody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest.”

This could be another example of the liberal media stirring up the pot and creating further conservative divisions. Here’s the problem with that particular scenario, though: Conservatives have done a tremendous job of throwing each other into the boiling pot of America’s political waters without any help from liberal hands.

U.S. conservatives simply aren’t on the same page. Establishment Republicans are trying to save their party from being eaten alive. GOP politicians are trying to save their political hides. Tea Partyers are trying to save their political souls. Libertarians, classical liberals and others are trying to save their sanity during this period of internal party strife.

New York Post columnist and Commentary editor John Podhoretz recently wrote, “The problem with the close alliance between the Republican Party and the conservative movement is that the two are often confused for each other.” He’s right, of course. The problem is, most Americans don’t understand that a dividing line between the party and ideological movement exists. An impending battle between the GOP and the Tea Party could set back electoral success, and either water down or radicalize conservatism’s ideological core. In turn, this could entrench liberalism into the voter’s psyche and greatly benefit the Democrats.

Can this doomsday-type scenario be avoided? Yes.

Republicans and Tea Party supporters can — and should — coexist. Both sides are taking different positions in terms of winning support, identifying key policies and choosing proper election strategies. That’s not what the GOP needs to win back the White House and regain its edge in the ideological battle for the hearts and minds of voters. Hence, it’s time to bring these two sides back together in a more cohesive unit.

Here are three initial suggestions:

First, find fiscally conservative issues of common cause to earn the voters’ trust. Republicans and Tea Partyers both tend to support lower taxes, reducing the size of government, economic freedom, financial prudence, making politics more transparent, removing bureaucratic waste and so forth. These were the types of policies that brought Americans to the ballot box to vote for the GOP — and they can again.

Second, create a moderate social conservative agenda for all Americans, and not just conservatives. Although voters are often split on social issues, they would be willing to vote for a party that suggested policies in a more general fashion. The GOP should, therefore, get behind freedom of religion, protecting family values, opposing judicial activism, tax deductions for charitable contributions to houses of worship, and allowing individual states to chart a course of action (if desired) on abortion.

Third, listen to the people and find out what’s important to them. Hot-button issues like war, illegal immigration and public health care cannot be ignored, and policy proposals need to be explained in simple, straightforward language. Here’s an easy way to do it: Remove the fiery political rhetoric, and talk instead about military funding for our brave men and women in uniform, safe and secure borders, and reforming health care to make it work better.

Finally, here’s some advice for Republicans and Tea Party supporters: Stop bickering with one another in public and running to the media at every turn. You might feel better in the short term, but you’re hurting the party and ideological movement in the long term.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.

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