How Republicans Can Save Republicanism

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HARMONY - Greg sat at a tidy red-checkered diner table sipping hot tea doused with more cream than tea and more sugar than cream. Despite the warm day, he wore a navy sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head.

“I am nursing a darn sum‑mer cold,” he explained, declining to give his last name.

A small businessman from Erie County, he's a lifelong Republican, casting his first vote for Bob Dole over then-President Bill Clinton; the last Republican presidential candidate he voted for was Mitt Romney.

He doesn't love or hate Donald Trump, he says, but he'll vote for him, too.

“My bigger concern right now with the party is the infighting in Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan has had a harder time getting votes from Republican members to get bills passed than he has from Democrats,” he said, referring to the prickly influence of the House GOP's Freedom Caucus.

“Oh, they say they won't vote with Ryan because they are a member of the Freedom Caucus and they are standing on principle,” he said.

“I have word I'd call that, (one) that isn't polite, so let me just get to my point: Their behavior isn't about principles. It is about getting on cable TV and becoming famous for being an obstructionist.”

The only way Republicans can save what it means to be a Republican is by enacting conservative policy, which requires electing conservatives to govern, not to grandstand.

Greg is adamant that this dysfunction within the party led to the nonideological pick of Trump and it's past time for elected officials to govern: “It's also time for pundits on Fox or conservative radio or on social media to start placing more emphasis on advancing ideas and less time on how much attention you can achieve by behaving in a way that garners ratings or clicks.

“Part of the problem is that some of these ‘rebels' have followed the rabid railings of some of the conservative media. They actually believe that their job is to obstruct; they actually believe that as long as they are to the right of the leadership, they are doing their job.”

When you're a for-profit conservative pundit, your opinions benefit you — not good governing.

GOP strategist Brad Todd, who has done a lot of heavy lifting to get Republicans elected to the House since 2007, thinks “our mission as conservatives is not to feed the conservative media engine more eyeballs, ears and dollars. It is to inspire America with our principles.”

Todd got into a fascinating back-and-forth on Twitter with conservative pundit Erick Erickson over what Todd pinpointed as conservatism's problem: “We have an entire class of conservative media opinion leaders who don't judge their own success by how often we get conservative governance — but by how often someone in Topeka clicks, donates or tunes in.”

He argues that conservative pundits have done well for themselves by being constant critics of GOP lawmakers instead of being part of the conservative cause.

“We won't save America by abandoning our responsibilities to get people elected,” he wrote in his blog — and he firmly believes the country needs to be saved and that conservatism is the cure.

Greg said fame can't be conservatism's gatekeeper. “Ideas and principles have to be that standard. That is what attracted me to be a Republican — not this outrage-industry of shame that is having a sour impact on what it means to be a conservative,” he said.

Conservatism must dig deep after November's election cycle. It cannot sustain being the party in power simply because voters are more unhappy with Democrats; it must be about something, the tangibles and principles for which it has always stood.

And it should not be dictated to by pundits who champion party primary challengers because of some perceived slight or because an incumbent didn't vote the party line. Remember, House members' first obligation is to their districts, not to their party.

“We cannot let these hard-liners undermine every imagined slight or, even worse, do it simply based on the ‘stagery' that attracts viewers or clicks,” Greg said.

That, he said, would mark the end of the party.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com
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