Since Kirby Wilbur’s resignation as the WSRP Chair, much discussion has occurred as to what qualities are needed in the new chair, which will be chosen in late August. Rob McKenna wrote a great piece outlining some of the skills the new chair needs, which includes grassroots experience, good communication skills and fundraising abilities. And Steve Beren mentioned in his commentary about a chair encouraging the building of a farm team, which can boost Republican victories. All of these skills are no doubt important, but the new chair must also create a renewed interest in the Republican Party. This effort will be the linchpin that saves the party from extinction within Washington State (and nationally).
The Republican Party has a challenge when growing its membership. Although there are spikes in membership from time to time, such as the entry into the party of the Ron Paul supporters and the Tea Party, the party cannot always keep the momentum going. You won’t find a whole lot of people entering into the party who aren’t from a particular group, such as the Ron Paul folks or the Tea Party. And the party needs to focus on getting these individuals involved.
Although you might chalk it all up to a liberal media, I think it’s time to take a look in the mirror for once. The Republican brand has been hurt over time. Much of it can be attributed more to national rather than state issues. But as you know, what happens nationally, affects voters within Washington State at all levels. I believe that the party needs to take a look at how people perceive our party. It’s really a matter of who we keep out through five obstacles of our own making.
The Fox News Stamp – I think it’s fair to say that many people associate the Republican Party with Fox News. Let’s be frank, Fox leans to the right, and a lot of Republicans like it because of this. I like a lot of what Fox does, especially their shows that concisely break down the news and politics of the day. But in some people’s minds, the following equation occurs: Fox News = Bill O’Reilly = the Republican Party. Yeah, sometimes O’Reilly asks some pretty biting questions that need to be asked, but for the most part I have perceived him as a bit arrogant and kind of a bully – rudely interrupting people and belittling his guests if they don’t take his point of view. That becomes a problem when it stereotypes Republicans (yes, I know O’Reilly claims to be an independent). This can be a put-off to voters. The Republican Party isn’t Bill O’Reilly and its candidates aren’t clones of O’Reilly – I’ve met some of them and they are quite articulate and nice people. You don’t have to be like O’Reilly to express the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility.
Defense Issues – A second thing that people associate with the Republican Party is hawkishness on and much spending on defense/military issues. Now most people aren’t opposed to spending on necessary defense issues – combat readiness and deploying troops when attacked. But the party, or I should say its elected officers in the U.S. Congress, sometimes go beyond that, spending too much on new weaponry and wanting to get involved in every revolution around the globe, even if that means only sending guns to rebels (even when the nature of such rebels may be in question). This kind of policy is neither fiscally responsible with a $16 trillion debt nor is it respecting of American soldiers and their families. Spending all of that money goes against the principles of the Republican Party. You don’t need to go into debt to provide for the “common defense” and the Republican Party needs to get that across to voters, who may see Republicans as no more fiscally responsible than the Democrats.
Freedom – A third thing is freedom. People often want more of it. The party has done a pretty good job of encouraging freedom, but maybe it could do better and be more consistent. The party sometimes gives conflicting messages with regards to freedom. In 2011, it supported the initiative to privatize liquor sales. Although I didn’t support it because I believed that it should have allowed smaller stores to sell liquor, I understood the principle of privatization. But in 2012, the party was against the marijuana initiative, primarily because drugs are bad. Understood, but what you’re saying, whether intended or not, is that it’s good to expand access to liquor but it’s not good to let someone smoke a joint. The Washington State voter and political junkie might ask the following question: Is this consistent with freedom and does the Republican Party support freedom? This question should be freely debated and discussed within the party.
Religion – A fourth thing is a matter of faith. A general stereotype is that the Republican Party is only for people of Judaeo-Christian faiths. I know the reality is different because I’m not a member of any faith and I feel comfortable in the party. But I can see where people might buy into that stereotype. Sometimes the issues get clothed in religiosity, such as mentioning devotion to God. It’s my general viewpoint that if you can’t express a viewpoint on an issue in a secular manner to a voter then you really don’t have a case. For example, I believe the pro-life cause could be much further along if religion were taken out of it. I’ve always been pro-life because I’m concerned with the child inside the womb, not because of the interpretation of any Bible verse. I believe the party needs to be conscious of and seek the support of people of faith and non-faith.
Youth Involvement – A fifth thing is youth involvement. As I’ve attended local Republican meetings I just don’t see enough young people in the crowd. I believe that young people want a radical discussion of freedom and they just don’t see the Republican Party as supportive of that. They may not go to the Democratic Party but they won’t go to the Republican Party either. Furthermore, I think another reason the youth won’t go towards the right is that we are not prepared to relate to their experiences in life. Although the party praises Ronald Reagan for his economic policies, people from the ages of 18-30 were very young or not even born yet during his administration.
These five obstacles to renewed interest in the Republican Party are serious. They limit donations and grassroots involvement. I would be pleased if the new State Chair at least recognized these obstacles and made an effort to remove them within Washington State and at the RNC. I’m not expecting radical changes as change usually comes gradually. But if progress does not move in this direction by means of the public persona of the new State Chair and through his or her association with Republican candidates, the existence of the Party and the pursuit of limited government and fiscal responsibility will be at risk.
Brian Luke is the Vice-Chair of the Snohomish County Republican Party.