I love a good Republican cat fight. Not so I can mock it as some mainstream media outlets do to justify the only reason to cover Republicans. But because it almost always generates an open exchange of ideas, diverse viewpoints and opinions so prevalent among party stalwarts that it adds credence and credibility to the intent of the “Big Tent.” It is the essence of who we are as conservatives. We’re not mindless drones, but those with varying viewpoints within a party not necessarily assigned by the party. As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once articulated so eloquently: “I will not have my ideals assigned to me.” You see, unlike Democrats, dissent is actually welcome among Republicans. And one of the accolades among the criticisms (or honest critiques) I have of the party.
This is not to suggest that the party should embrace some of the mindless harping that goes on by old farts who can’t seem to stomach change and innovation, or entertain those who wish to hijack the party’s foundational principles just to “keep up with (more liberal) times.” Quite the contrary. Yet we’ve had a taste of what can happen when sides are taken, arguments are made, and activists are activated in pursuit of a better party apparatus. It was evidenced in the very spirited campaign for national party chairman at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting back in January. Sure, it was a knock-down drag out with some lingering shots still being lobbed. But at the end of the day, no one can say Michael Steele didn’t earn his position fair and square. And the party (so far) is better for it.
That’s why the primary campaign for Republican John McCain’s Arizona Senate seat comes as a welcomed popcorn-watching nail-biter that many conservatives including me are looking forward to. It’s not that I want to see the incumbent, more senior McCain taken down a few pegs by another Republican. Despite his transparently moderate leanings that gave me great pause during the presidential election, he was still to the far-right of candidate-turned-President Barack Obama, and as result was the more palatable. Moderation aside, folks like McCain are one of the reasons the Republican Party is attractive to more than one viewpoint. So is his much more conservative challenger Chris Simcox, who formally announces his intent to run today (and someone I would likely be more inclined to support if I lived in Arizona.)
Putting bitterness, sniping and what’s sure to be some campaign nastiness on the back-burner for the movement, this race does two things: 1) Reinvigorates a much needed debate on real conservatism (fiscal, social and civic), highlighting what many constituents in Arizona and otherwise expect of the leaders they’ve elected to send to Washington. 2) Set the tone for how the Republican party will forge ahead with what could be a rising tide within its ranks. What will that mean in forging ahead to deal with the Democratic majorities? Will there will be lessons learned by supporting conservative ideals in a new package, or moderate ideals in an old(er) one?
At the very least, it’ll be fun to watch.
-Tara Wall is a deputy editor at The Washington Times and editor of TheConservatives.com