- - Sunday, March 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The mainstream media have a meme they post over and over and over: The Republican Party is in “disarray.” Sometimes they say it’s “divided.” Or there’s “discord,” or “dissension,” or “dysfunction.” Other times, the GOP is ripped apart by “disunity” or “disharmony.”

Like just last week. Amid the annual Conservative Political Action Conference held outside of Washington, The Associated Press wrote this: “Conservative conference highlights GOP divisions.”

“The nation’s top Republican leaders are courting conservative activists gathered in suburban Washington this week, highlighting the tug of war over the soul of the GOP,” the left-leaning wire service wrote — for the millionth time.

While there are never — ever — stories about discord in the Democratic Party, this constant chorus by the MSM that the GOP is divided is a simplistic, even ham-handed, attempt to make a single point: If the Republican Party can’t even get its own house in order, how could it possibly govern America?

But the know-nothing, couldn’t-care-less press corps misses that the Republican Party really has once again become the “Big Tent” that President Reagan once set as a top goal. It is, as several top party leaders have said recently, full of warriors fighting it out on “the battlefield of ideas.”

Just think of this year: You’ve got conservative constitutionalists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Libertarians cross over for Mr. Paul and tea partyers like Mr. Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio. You’ve got dyed-in-the-wool conservatives like former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. You’ve got more moderate yet pragmatic politicians like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (and maybe even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush). And you’ve got establishment Republicans like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

None, to be sure, fits neatly into any one category: There is crossover support for all from the different camps. But unlike the Democratic Party, where members march in lock step, all parroting the exact same “principles,” there is open debate in the GOP — the Big Tent.

The great debate now is which way to go. Republicans are on a bona-fide losing streak, and there’s a split: Go more moderate, possibly jettison the focus on social issues; or go further right, hew to the true conservative ideals embodied by Mr. Reagan.

Mr. Ryan captured the idea perfectly in his speech to CPAC.

“The way the left tells it, the Republican Party is in a civil war,” he said. “It’s tea party versus establishment — libertarians versus social conservatives. There’s infighting, conflict, backbiting, discord. Look, I’m Irish — that’s my idea of a family reunion.”

In his speech to conservatives, Mr. Cruz summed up the situation as he sees it.

“All of us remember President Dole, and President McCain and President Romney. Now, look, those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate,” he said. The comment drew rebukes from top party leaders.

Mr. Santorum echoed the view, saying Republicans must steer clear of advice from “D.C. consultants” whose advice is “to not rock the boat.” For those who advocate a move to the center, he thinks “they actually mean, ‘We have to lose.’”

And, he said, that’s happened the past two national elections. “As conservatives, we lost heart. We listened to the voices who said that we had to abandon our principles and values to get things done. To win.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Christie, who won re-election in a bright blue state with massive support from moderate Democrats, women, blacks and Hispanics, said at CPAC that “one simple truth in this democracy is this: We don’t get to govern if we don’t win.”

“We’ve got to start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against. The reason for that is very simple. Our ideas are better than their ideas — and that’s what we have to stand up for,” he said.

So, yes, there is “debate” within the Republican Party — that’s healthy. And there are more than two sides. But it’s early, two-plus years before the next presidential election, so the party is putting its house in order, as it should.

Mr. Paul, again, caught the mood exactly:

“We’re figuring out the best way to apply our principles to the challenges of the day,” he said. “Sure, we have our disagreements. And yes, they can get a little passionate. I like to think of it as ‘creative tension.’ That’s how it always is: You fight it out. You figure out what works. You come together. Then you win. It’s messy and noisy and even a little bit uncomfortable. But the center of gravity is shifting. We’re not just opposing a president. We’re developing an agenda — a modern, pro-growth, principled agenda for our party.

“We are going to show the country there’s a better way,” he said to universal applause from all in the Big Tent.

Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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