Republicans looking to ease the friction among party stalwarts, tea party activists and Ron Paul supporters headed into this year’s election say they may have found a model of unity in Art Robinson, a scientist who is the GOP candidate for a congressional seat representing an Oregon district.
Mr. Robinson, a former CalTech chemist and home-schooling curriculum author who became a prominent skeptic of taxpayer-funded research based on his own experiences, has hit the kinds of notes that ring well with the limited-government tea party and with libertarian Paul forces.
“Art’s grass-roots campaign challenges the Washington, D.C., cabal of insider politics and is gaining momentum for a very good reason,” said Allen Alley, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party. “There’s a moral and political rudder, a core set of beliefs, that come through. The more you listen, the more his good sense comes through.”
But even more, Republicans hope Mr. Robinson can be a template for the broader national party. Many activists fret that Republicans cannot win the presidential election in November if they put up a candidate in a fractured party against a Democratic Party unified behind President Obama.
Tea partyers and Paul supporters claim enough voters in their camps to be kingmakers in the dozen or so swing states that will decide the election, and both camps have made a point to try to recruit like-minded candidates for lower-level offices.
Russ Walker, vice president of FreedomWorks, the lead organizer of the first tea party mass demonstration in Washington on Sept. 12, 2009, counts 57 congressional contests so far this year in which one of the candidates is or claims to be a tea partyer.
Some take it as a sign of GOP metamorphosis that the Oregon party leadership has embraced Mr. Robinson, the kind of candidate whom the GOP establishment would have cold-shouldered before the tea party’s electoral successes in 2010.
Skeptic on the stump
Hardly a run-of-the-mill GOP candidate, Mr. Robinson has won the endorsement of the Libertarian Party in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District as he seeks to unseat Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, a liberal Democrat and 13-term incumbent. The race is a rematch of 2010, when Mr. DeFazio won by 10 percentage points.
The race this year gained national notice when Mr. DeFazio defeated a challenge from Mr. Robinson’s son, Matthew, who switched parties to run in the Democratic race and won 11 percent of the primary vote.
The senior Mr. Robinson gained prominence when he broke with his close friend and two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, after Mr. Robinson’s own experiments found little evidence for the Pauling claims about Vitamin C’s all-healing benefits.
Ever since, Mr. Robinson sees himself as a “show-me-the-evidence” skeptic about things such as the honesty of career politicians and the reliability of scientists who depend on government or industry grants to make a living. Mr. Robinson said he thinks the findings of taxpayer-subsidized experiments too often reflect the prevailing government-liberal-environmental prejudices rather than scientific objectivity.
“I don’t believe in doing scientific research with government money,” he said.
Contrarian statements like that are music to the ears of many Paulites and tea partyers alike.
Mr. Walker said he thinks Mr. Robinson and Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, share a vision for achieving unity on the right and that Mr. Robinson may conceivably be the GOP poster boy for attaining that unity.
“Reince Priebus and Art Robinson realize that to win, Republicans will have to unite economic, social and national defense conservatives with the new force in politics — the tea party — the Paul voters are part of the tea party or smaller-government contingent of the party,” Mr. Walker said.
Mr. Robinson doesn’t claim his good relations with local GOP factions will translate nationally and smooth the GOP establishment’s relations with the Paul forces.
Many tea partyers strongly dislike Mr. Paul’s opposition to an aggressive, interventionist U.S. foreign policy, as well as his laissez-faire views on drug use and other social issues.
Paul supporters in turn distrust the pro-war segment of the tea party movement, while many in the GOP traditional establishment are uncomfortable with what they regard as the rigidly uncompromising attitudes of tea party activists and Paulites alike on spending, taxes, debt reduction and social welfare.
Bridging the gap
Mr. Priebus has tried to moderate some of the distrust between the party traditionalists and the new tea party activists, noting that the tea party’s “energy” has been critical to recent party successes at the polls.
But many in the GOP leadership are wary of extending such warmth to the Paulites, who they fear will try to impose too many of their hard-line libertarian ideas on the party’s platform. Another concern is that Mr. Paul’s legions will wrestle a few prime speaking slots from the party’s more reliable pro-Romney lineup at the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
“The biggest problem for Romney is that Paul will steal his thunder” at the convention, said pollster John Zogby, who has conducted surveys this cycle in conjunctions with The Washington Times. “The party establishment can’t manage the intensity of Paul’s supporters, who are likely to be inside the convention hall on behalf of their own ideals rather than Mr. Romney’s campaign plan. So the worry for Romney is that, thanks to the Paulites, he doesn’t unite the party.”