Monday, November 23, 2015

Rethinking the Big Tent Problem of the Republican Party

There’s a great deal of talk within the Republican Party about expanding the brand as well as building the base. The unsettling criticism unfolds to this one phrase: “We need to have a big tent”.

Is this an isolated concern? Sadly, no. Blue state Republicans who win statewide office fear for their political future, and beg for more “moderation” in the party platform. Usually, this fear arises after a Republican loses, as though his defeat resulted from an extreme right platform. A few weeks ago, I spoke with a young conservative, who eyed a city council run in his own city two years prior: “Don’t we need a big tent to win elections, to take back our country?”

Big Tent Politicking can lead to a circus

This proposal contains some merit. Without more registered Republicans voting for the conservative cause, otherwise winnable districts look daunting and even forbidding to potential Republican candidates. Is moderation necessary, however? More Democrats are voting Republican. For the past four months, following targeted activism in Huntington Park, CA, (a community which is 97% Hispanic) I have encountered a number of registered Democrats as well as Republicans. The surprising thing for me, though, was learning that those Democrats are voting against their own party, in one of the most Democratic controlled regions of Los Angeles County.

One city councilmember in Huntington Park – Valentin Amezquita – blasted the Los Angeles County Democratic Party for promoting cronies and corruptniks, all of which have profited themselves at the expense of their working class constituents and communities throughout Eastern and Southeastern Los Angeles. In Torrance, the South Bay section of LA County and my home, I have talked with a number of Democrats fed up with their party. California Democratic leaders have been taken over by the offensive anti-middle class socialist elements in Sacramento, which promote Big Business, Big Green (the environmental lobby) and Big Labor at the expense of the little guy. One Democrat told me plainly that he would vote for a Republican, if that candidate would secure the border. Imagine that: Democrats who want immigration enforcement, not open borders, pathways to citizenship, nor blanket amnesty. In summary, most business-minded and working class registered Democrats want representatives who will represent --- them!

So, how does the Republican Party expand its brand, and extend its outreach, then? Not by changing its values but increasing its venues. Instead of fighting against marriage and family, instead of caving on the Constitution and limited government, Republicans need to serve communities of need, and reach out to ethnic groups once overwhelmingly targeted by the Democratic Party.

One Republican contender, Ted Grose of Westchester, CA, (who ran for an Assembly seat in a tough district just south of LAX) reminded an audience of Asian-American Republicans that Democratic political machine politicians love attending immigration ceremonies, ready with registration papers to bring another crowd of new Americans into the Democratic Party.  “They call themselves Democrats, which means they stand for democracy, right?” certain immigrants admitted to Grose, who explained to the active Republican their party affiliation. “At this time, a large number of minority Democrats will not change their party affiliation”, one Filipino-American and registered Republican informed me. “But they will vote for Republican candidates.”

So far, so good. Republicans do not need a bigger tent in terms of changing values, but instead reforming the perceptions which voters hold about the Republican Party.  This stubborn problem should not dissuade grassroots party organizers. Many Democrats born in the United States admit they joined that party because their parents were Democrats. The Democratic Party already left their parents, and is leaving the current generation of Americans behind, too. Next, how do Republicans fix their registration problem? Start attending the immigration ceremonies. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, an outspoken conservative, former Congressman from Colorado, and Presidential candidate, welcomed new Americans, expressing his gratitude and respect: “Thank you for doing it legally!” How about planning more events celebrating the contributions of the diverse ethnic groups in our country, and how they have all contributed a new element to “This American, this new man”?

Republican, conservative victory depends on reaching out to new people, not abandoning principles.
Besides that, the Big Tent analogy needs more scrutiny. While “a big tent” sounds inviting, and gives the impression that more people makes for more victories, a tent has to stand for something, covering everyone, and be grounded on a firm foundation. Otherwise, it turns into a cloth lying on the ground, standing for nothing, covering no one, fixed nowhere, and easily blown away.

Let’s go one step further. With more diverse Republicans in elected office across the country, men and women of minority backgrounds and creeds, clearly the GOP has a big tent already. The sticking point for growth is not ideology, but invitation. For Republicans to increase their numbers, they need to focus on people, not principles, expanding their engagement, rather than watering down their platform. If nothing else, American voters, regardless of their background, are simply looking for a limited government which will have their back and give back their freedom and autonomy. A tent has to secure its inhabitants, ensure wiggle room to move around, but has to keep out the unsparing, detrimental elements contrary to the safety and prosperity of residents within. A big tent can turn into a circus of no consequence if Republican Party leaders are not careful about defining their values within a careful, articulate vision.

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