Eager to ensure that “tea partiers” don’t undermine GOP candidates, conservative members of the Republican National Committee are pursuing the creation of a rule that would bar the Republican Party from funding candidates who fail a conservative litmus test.
The group is circulating a petition among committee members that would enshrine former President Ronald Reagan’s proposition that his 80 percent friend was not his 20 percent enemy. The rule would require Republican candidates to share at least 80 percent of the party’s main tenets to be eligible for party aid.
The resolution, if adopted, would withhold party money from the candidates and from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee - the two party affiliates charged with electing Republicans to Congress.
“This is an ‘80-percent unity for conservative principles’ resolution, and if some consider this is a litmus test, so be it, because as a party we must stand by our basic principles in defense of our freedom,” said Oregon RNC member Solomon Yue.
The resolution “imposes standards for candidate financial support, which includes both the $5,000 in cash contributions to the candidate and the $42,100 in coordinated expenditures [in primary and general elections],” said Jim Bopp Jr., a constitutional lawyer who is chairman of the National Republican Conservative Caucus and an RNC member from Indiana.
Members of the conservative group within the RNC tell The Washington Times that, besides aiming to make the GOP more consistently and reliably conservative by promoting lower taxes, keeping spending levels in check and focusing on national security, they want to head off an already emerging third party inspired by the anti-spending tea-party movement.
The third-party movement picked up steam during the recent special congressional election in upstate New York.
In that election, the RNC and the NRCC contributed large sums to liberal Republican Dee Dee Scozzafava’s campaign, despite the presence of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. Mrs. Scozzafava in the end bowed out and endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, who eventually won the race.
RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele said afterward that he made no attempt to persuade Mrs. Scozzafava to stay neutral or endorse the Conservative Party candidate.
Neither the NRCC nor NRSC would comment about the resolution. The RNC may spend up to $84,200 in coordinated expenditures for a House race, and the maximum is $2,284,900 for a Senate campaign, if the state party assigns its coordinated expenditure limit to the RNC.
The resolution could pose problems for candidates such as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s facing a stiff primary challenge from former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the race to replace outgoing Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican. Mr. Rubio is favored by the conservative wing of the party, which has been frustrated by Mr. Crists embrace of President Obamas stimulus package and his support for energy policy based on fears of climate change.
The NRCC has reached out to conservatives in recent weeks to make sure their leaders can support the committee’s top-tier challengers in next year’s elections.
One party strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the touchy intraparty issues involved, urged the RNC members to be careful.
The strategist said a litmus test would send the wrong message to independents whom the party is looking to attract, and said primaries are the best tests of who represents Republicans in each state or district.
“We already have screen tests in place, and they are called Republican voters. If a candidate doesn’t support the principles of the party, Republican voters aren’t going to choose them as a candidate, which renders the whole coordinated-funds issue completely moot,” the strategist said. “Respectfully, some of these committee members need to take a step back and realize this is unnecessarily harmful.”
The RNC conservatives’ move could put pressure on Mr. Steele.
His allies on the RNC have privately argued against the 80 percent rule, which sponsors want to have debated and put to a vote at the January meeting of the RNC in Honolulu.
The last time a resolution to bar funding to Republican candidates was attempted was in 1991, when social conservative Tim Lambert, an RNC member from Texas, narrowly lost a floor vote on his proposal not to help pro-choice Republican candidates.
Some of the party’s most prominent figures, including former Chairman Haley Barbour, now Mississippi governor, were flown into the meeting to speak against the Lambert resolution, arguing that it was a litmus test and thus did not comport with the GOP’s “big tent” philosophy.