The current turmoil inside the Utah Republican Party (URP) tells me it’s time for a change. It’s time to recalibrate what it means to be a Republican and how that meaning is reflected inside the organization.
Ironically, the URP suffers from success. It’s supermajority status means, whether it likes it or not, that the URP is a Big Tent. As a result it’s in conflict – it likes its numbers and hates its people. Democrats who can’t get elected in many locales run for office, out of necessity, as Republicans. Libertarians who have no political traction of their own are the remora of the party, snap at scraps and, interestingly like the actual fish, cling tighter by sliding backwards across its host. This Big Tent also includes self-important ideologues – those seemingly tireless activists, feigning magnanimity, actually seeking to shape the party selfishly in their own image.
One huge sign of how we know the URP is losing its primary reasons for existence – civic participation and civic education – is that its party platform has become a Ten Commandments…or Twenty Commandments…or Thirty Commandments. The party platform now has the feel of federal regulations and party leaders are its agency enforcers. When party organizing, committee and caucus meetings take agonizing hours to plow through every thought-bubble of every self-important party official and “volunteer,” we can tell we’ve ventured from civic duty to Politburo.
Of course, special interests, personal or organized, seek power. It will always be so. Of course the Count My Vote initiative stemmed from this thinking. And, of course, current reactive efforts to stem that tide inside the URP have similar motivations. Our current situation inside the URP has abandoned the common good and its original intent, filtering everyone involved through the lens of objectification – everyone involved is simply someone to enlist, remove, step on or denigrate. The sad thing is that hardly any of us would behave this way consciously, as we would act normally in our own homes or churches. Most of us would admit our desire to become a transcendent force.
But the URP is in a spiral. It’s circling the drain – even if only in character. But the decline is hard to see when the behemoth is so big it blocks the view of everything else. Folks, the URP is not too big to fail. And it will fail if this feeding frenzy/purge/Inquisition/“due diligence” continues. When most of your time is spent defending the faith, not sharing the gospel, you know your effort is in decline.
Utah Republicans need to serve their own longstanding political interest: Support limited government. The URP needs to recalibrate why it exists and its role in behalf of nobler objectives.
If the URP is frightened of RINOs, become a party wherein RINOs have no leverage. If the URP suffers the drag of libertarian remora, become a party wherein libertarians release their pathetic grip from malnutrition. It’s time for the URP to reduce and simplify. It’s time to get back to basics. It’s time for change.
The first step is to wipe the party platform clean, tabula rasa. Start over. Though its Pharisees will insist, the URP doesn’t need a constitutional convention to do this. It needs Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. It simply needs a few even-tempered, smart people with a knack for concise writing and historic understanding of limited government. A new party platform needs to speak in general terms, not specifics. It needs to express a political idea – pick one. Is the URP politically conservative or is it ideologically liberal or libertarian? By the way, that’s a big one. The URP must decide if it will be political or ideological. Right now, it’s both and we can see the dysfunction created by this conflict.
In my opinion, the URP should be the party of limited government. The Utah Democratic Party can stake its claim on being the party of Big Government. And Utah libertarians, well, they never will be a political party because they aren’t wired to govern – they are only wired to think abstractly (perversely, they call these abstractions “liberty”), not functionally and not for the common good.
The task of the URP should be to define limited government in its party platform and that task doesn’t require thousands of words. In fact, if ever drafters of a new URP platform are tempted to start explaining in detail exactly what they mean by taxes or guns or abortion or government regulation – or, frankly, even mention these specific issues by name – they should resign the effort and let others give it a try.
Both RINOs and libertarians benefit from the deep and excruciating minutia of the URP platform and all of the party’s increasingly limiting internal rules of operation. Both benefit from litmus tests and purity arguments. Both benefit from having to describe EXACTLY what it means to be a Republican. Under current circumstances, RINOs, especially of the Count My Vote variety, can argue that the URP is exclusionary and out of touch with real Utahns. Libertarians, remora they are, find comfort in the minute scraps of detail that fall their way and make them feel relevant.
It’s time to reduce and simplify. Limited government can be defined in short order. Admittedly, it’s meaning is deep, rich and complex but not complicated. Limited government is a view, not a minute, choreographed roadmap. It’s a state of mind and an art of practice. It’s a true political philosophy. It’s not an ideology. I happen to believe that conservatism is its intellectual voice. But even that can be debated calmly and reasonably. Trust me, the effort will be worth it.
Imagine the URP respected and beloved by all honest seekers of truth and freedom. Imagine a URP unconcerned about the purity of its candidates – because its simple platform is so plain and clear in support of freedom that special interests would have a hard time exploiting it. Libertarians would flee to the isolated comfort of their imagined “neutral corners” and intellectual inbreeding. RINOs would have no choice but to head to the Democrats. Honest debate would occur. Honest candidates could be supported.
In all of this, don’t get me wrong. There is a need for purity inside every profound idea driving every serious and responsible human endeavor. Only the idea of a loving God is big enough for everyone! In this case, party purity should revolve around the idea, wisdom and prudence of limited government (not people), and that endeavor is open to all honest seekers of truth.
And, I will add, the URP deserves to have, own and proselytize a pure identity or brand. I’m arguing about that identity or brand and, secondarily I suppose, self-defeating people standing in the way of that quest. The difference I see between what I’m arguing and the current path being pursued by the URP is I’m encouraging a quest for great leadership that, by the sheer force of compelling ideas, crowds out imposters and imposers – total confidence in a true marketplace of ideas.
I’m arguing that the URP can avoid all of its infighting by reducing and simplifying its mission – little different from the argument Republicans would use against Big Government. Do we want peace and prosperity in Utah and throughout the nation? If so, limit government. Do members of the URP want respect, honor and righteous influence? If so, limit your own government. And the best way to do that is to reduce and simplify the platform and all party rules and regulations – then let people govern themselves.
Like any healthy organization, the URP should seek clarity and alignment and those characteristics are the fruit of reducing and simplifying a big and inspiring objective, the cause of freedom. This is the needed change inside the URP.