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Matthew Towery Columnist

Published Saturday, February 16, 2013

In remaking the GOP, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

For most in the political commentary business, labels come and go.

I’ve read reactions to columns throwing about labels like “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and “Establishment,” coupled with others using terms like “radical,” “ultraconservative” and “Neanderthal.” Now, as likely most Republicans are all too aware, the media are making a great effort to not only paint the GOP as a hopeless cause, but one in which entities are being formed to launch, or are already under way with, an all out assault on the “tea party” and the most conservative wing of the party.

But it is critical for conservatives and those who vote Republican in most elections to come to understand that there is a little bit of truth and a great deal of wishful thinking in most reports of a purging somehow being staged in some organized fashion against all conservatives. And equally important, it is imperative for movers and shakers within the GOP to understand that self-examination and adjustments are fine for any political organization that took it on the chin in the November elections. But attacks on its base are not part of any solution. To both sides it would be fair to warn, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

First, to conservatives who believe there is a concerted effort to not just polish an image but abandon principle, the answer is that politics, like business, is market-driven, and the system will ultimately stay true to its consumer. Yes, the postmortem shows that the GOP is doing poorly in appealing to women, Hispanics and younger voters. And as a result, the approach to a few policies is going to have to change in order to get enough votes in critical elections to, say ... win. But those changes will come organically and, based on years of experience, I believe pragmatically.

No, you can’t have just cheerleader commentators on television who ignore blatant realities and therefore lose all credibility with their viewers. And nominating candidates who decide to venture into not just conservative policy, but areas where their views are out of sync with all but a small percent of voters is not a way to run a railroad. But remember, just a few years ago it was the Democrats who had this problem. Too many of their nominees for office appeared to be too far to the left and off into policy tangents that most could not comprehend or support.

All of that said, there is legitimate concern when professional campaigners start amassing huge dollars for another of their efforts and basically proclaim that they are doing so to serve as protectors of the GOP. That’s nonsense. They may believe they are protectors, but they mainly enjoy the huge amount of money and influence their efforts yield. And if they really believe that so-called “mainstream Republicans” aren’t on to them, they are just plain wrong.

Yes, there were Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, among others, who made boneheaded decisions and statements in 2012. But to think that the overall philosophy of the “tea party movement” is based in far-out concepts is to paint a whole lot of conservative voters who the GOP needs with an awfully broad brush.

This has been an age-old problem for Republicans -- eating their young -- and their old, for that matter. The so-called GOP Establishment couldn’t stand Newt Gingrich, until he led them to their first takeover of the U.S. House in decades. Some in the Ronald Reagan crowd thought George H.W. Bush too moderate, while many of George W. Bush’s supporters thought John McCain too much of a maverick and liberal. In other words, every phase the GOP enters will have its view of others, past and present.

None of those individuals shared much in common with the philosophy of President Obama. Now some who want to reinvent the GOP may believe that’s a bad thing. But it is far more likely that the vast majority of Republican leaders and candidates, past and future, share so many fundamentals in common that the few issues that separate them hardly justify a bloody fight, much less huge mega political organizations designed to pay the same old strategists the same old big bucks to produce the same old results.

The best guess is that by the end of the 2014 political cycle, Republicans will have learned that staying devoted to basic principles while embracing positive and uplifting ideas will be the pathway to the White House in 2016. Neither being completely inflexible or even paranoid nor throwing big-dollar-backed bricks at a critically important wing of the GOP will do anything but make good copy for media outlets hungry for an intra-party bloodletting.

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(Matthew Towery heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage. His column is distributed by Morris News and Creators’ Syndicate.)

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