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March 11, 2014 7:21 am

EDITORIAL: Divided GOP cannot stand for very long

Written by Tom Lawrence

Ronald Reagan led the Republican Party to political dominance by espousing a “big tent” philosophy.

“We must keep the door open — offering our party as the only practical answer for those who, overall, are individualists,” Reagan said in a 1967 speech, “And because this is the great common denominator — this dedication to the belief in man’s aspirations as an individual — we cannot offer them a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.

“The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party,” he said in the speech, delivered in his first year as California’s governor, 13 years before he won the first of two terms as president. “There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths.”

The internal battles of the Republican Party, in Park County, in Wyoming and across the country, indicate to us that more members of the GOP need to recall Reagan’s words, especially if they want to succeed in politics and government.

On March 3, the Park County Republican Party had a very public dispute. It was based on who was a “real” Republican and who was one in name only. Some party members tried to remove Bob Berry of Cody from the county executive committee. The effort failed, 16-25.

Terry Hinkle said he believes Berry is more committed to the tea party movement, and the Big Horn Basin TEA Party, than he is to the Republican Party. Hinkle pointed out that Berry is an outspoken critic of a prominent Park County Republican, state Sen. Hank Coe. Of course, Hinkle is a very public Coe supporter and has served as his campaign manager.

It does seem odd that a member of the party’s inner circle is an advocate for Coe’s defeat or removal from office. But Berry feels Coe is too linked to big government, and also betrayed the party when he sponsored a bill in the 2013 session to strip Cindy Hill, the superintendent of public instruction, of much of her authority.

Hill, like everyone else in this scrape, is a Republican. She was a featured speaker at the Big Horn Basin TEA Party picnic last summer, and she has a lot of support in this corner of the state.

Of course, so does Coe. He defeated Berry twice in 2012, once in the GOP primary and a second time in the general election when Berry ran as a write-in candidate.

The executive committee should represent a diversity of viewpoints. Coe has been a leader in county and state politics for several years. It seems strange that he has become such a target in his own backyard, especially since he and Berry undoubtedly agree more than they differ on issues big and small.

It’s a local sign of the internal battle for the soul of the Republican Party across the country, with tea party members trying to seize control and push the party further to the right, and more traditional mainstream party members seeking to maintain their grip on the party’s machinery.

There are other examples of the GOP family feud.

Same-sex marriage is a prominent topic today, and while there are strong advocates and equally determined opponents, one thing is clear: Gay unions are becoming more and more accepted in the United States.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow it, while 33 states have laws to outlaw it. However, just last month, federal judges in Kentucky, Virginia and Texas overturned the bans in those states. Prohibitions in Utah and Oklahoma also were rejected by federal courts, but those rulings have been stayed.

On March 4, a friend of the court brief signed by 20 Republicans, led by former Sen. Alan Simpson of Cody and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, as well as other prominent party members, was submitted to a federal appeals court in Denver that is reviewing the same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. Among the signers is former Republican National Committee chairman Kenneth Mehlman, who came out of the closet in 2010.

The group quoted Reagan and another conservative icon, Barry Goldwater, the longtime Arizona senator and 1964 Republican presidential candidate, in its brief.

It quoted a passage from his 1960 book “The Conscience of a Conservative” to make its point: “For the American Conservative, there is no difficulty in identifying the day’s overriding political challenge: it is to preserve and extend freedom,” Goldwater wrote. “As he surveys the various attitudes and institutions and laws that currently prevail in America, many questions will occur to him, but the Conservative’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?”

Does that include the freedom to love and live with the person of your choice? Republicans are very sensitive to homosexual-themed issues, as we witnessed during the brief contest between Sen. Mike Enzi and challenger Liz Cheney, when gay marriage was a hot potato.

Families, and political parties, are going to have squabbles. That’s to be expected, and there are some benefits to it as well. A healthy debate allows all sides to be heard.

While standing by your principles is admirable, lingering by the side of the road while voters drive past into the future is never a good idea for a party that wants to compete, win and govern. Simpson and other Republicans are well aware of the demographic changes that are increasingly evident, and the fact that younger, more diverse voters have differing views on social issues.

People, parties and nations must grow and adapt to survive. The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The sooner Republicans accept that, the better their chances to have a more influential voice in the nation’s business and not just in some states and congressional districts.

The College Republican National Committee has just released a report indicating that millions of young Americans have serious doubts about the GOP and its policies. The report calls for a new focus for the party based on its old standards.

“On the ‘open-minded’ issue, yes, we will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table,” the authors of the report wrote. “In the short term, the party ought to promote the diversity of thought within its ranks and make clear that we welcome healthy debate on the policy topic at hand.”

Republican Party members should heed the words of the party’s first president, Abraham Lincoln, whose immortal words in an 1858 speech ring true today: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

5 comments

  • Comment Link March 11, 2014 8:10 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    It is quite entertaining to watch the failed GOP self destruct,and the debacle in Park County between tea party people and RINO's is leader of the pack.Wyoming is long past due to clean out the rats nest that has infected the states politics for many years.

  • Comment Link March 12, 2014 8:44 am posted by c

    it will not be cleaned up till the taxpayers wake up.

  • Comment Link March 12, 2014 6:31 pm posted by zack

    This is a bit of a quandary for the GOP with a simple soloution. First even your modern day hero R .Reagan opened up the tent to the far right an religious right in presidential primaries then marginilizrd these folks after he was elected president. The two Bushes did the same thing. So it is a bit of a problem of their own making. Second, it is the practical thing to do to get elected when the bulk of the party does not want government ramming their views on everyone, including religious views but the country is evenly divided. (The First Amendment is kinda serious to most folks)
    Then you have a "party " that knows it cannot stand on it's own platform I.e. the Tea Party, so they try to hijack the GOP and bend them their way. It won't work. Perhaps Mr. Barry and Ms. Leach et al should actually form a "party " stand on their own merits and most likely fail. Wyoming, like no other state could see the GOP expell these radicals, survive just fine and let the reconstituted moral m ority, I.e. "Tea Party " stand and fall on its agenda. The GOP will be just fine.

  • Comment Link March 13, 2014 8:57 am posted by Dewey

    Republicans in ruins. You see it nationwide, but down here at the grassroots all we see is the dirt. It's the same everywhere you go..Repubpicans at eac others virtual throats. Torn between old school conservatism ( rarer by the day ) Neo-Conservatism ( a sham ) , social conservatism ( bipolar political psychoses , now an epidemic ) , the Religious Right ( Wrong) , and all those Nanderthals from the Tea Party. All right here in the political petri dish that is Park County Wyoming.

    Great opportunity for all the Democrats, independents, progressives, populists, and greens to unite under their Big Tent.

    Meanwhile, I'm laughing my gluteals off...

  • Comment Link April 01, 2014 7:08 am posted by Don

    When your dream of a failed Republican party comes true, and you jump up and down for joy, and all there is are liberals and progressives digging ever deeper into our pockets, destroying our military and encouraging people to follow their hopes and dreams rather than be productive and responsible... will you be happy then? This bus will run out of gas and quickly. Nations that already hold us in contempt will have the means to take action against us. How well are they going to respect your ideologies? We are becoming a weak, politically correct and corrupt nation. I choose to raise my kids to be Christian; responsible and conservative, they will be the tax payers when tax payers will be demonized for being responsibile, cursing at them while robbing them blind. They will hold true to a proven set of beliefs and be cursed for it also, while the liberals choose to follow what "feels" best for them, no set of rules or a basis for belief, but rather just go with every "feeling" that comes their way. This cannot be a healthy society in the broadest stretch of imagination. While attacking the conservatives you survive only by our hard work, when we are gone you will no longer have the means to support your lifestyles.

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