Republicans are alarmingly more prone to condemning, criticizing, and ostracizing members of their own party. The behavior of some among the Grand Old Party is more akin to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party than the long-championed “big tent” party of idea-oriented freethinking conservatives.
The recent example are the overly dramatic responses to Senator Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) op-ed in The Washington Post. Most of the punditry’s responses to Romney’s appeals for President Trump to shift his behavior have been superficial, simple-minded, and largely hypocritical.
On the right, conservatives who once championed Romney as the country’s alternative to President Obama’s progressive surge now decry his assertions as disloyal and blasphemous.
On the left, some have once again found a convenient excuse to wave a bipartisan banner by holding his criticism up as an example of Trump’s supposed inevitable downfall.
And on both sides, criticism of what was otherwise a reasonable, fair-minded, and well-articulated piece reached no deeper than the proportionality of Native American DNA now documented in Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). It’s all a meaningless token meant to veil bias and hypocrisy.
Publishing an op-ed which deviates from a prevailing position or expresses reservations about a president’s style of leadership, no matter the party or persuasion, is not some sort of egregious departure of etiquette or an unforgivable infraction of party unity.
There is little doubt Romney’s piece wouldn’t have been condemned by the right and propped-up by the left – both tactics were expectedly used to further entrench the bases in anticipation of the 2020 battle. What’s lost is more valuable: the debate among elected representatives and therefore thoughtful consideration in the public square.
Differences of opinion, especially in approaches to national leadership, are what increasingly sets parties and candidates apart, and a not-so-distant voice like Senator Romney’s is still valuable. The insurgency of Ronald Reagan’s candidacy taught us this. Without a dissenting voice from the freethinking conservatives among us, we would have not elected a man who is still today’s standard-bearer of the modern Republican – a mantle no Republican, including President Trump, has yet to rightfully lay claim.
At a time when the overwhelming majority of our nation’s elected officials routinely fail in upholding their core responsibilities to seek out and enact lasting solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges, what could be more useful to conservatives than a bit of teamwork and accountability?
As any military service member or business leader will attest, success of the whole depends on the strength of the team. In the case of national politics, statesmen from within our party will, and should, challenge our leaders to be better, to raise their gaze, and appeal to those better angels we so often evoke in speeches but never fully embody in civic life.
If conservatives hope to win on the merit of the president’s successes to-date and policy visions for the future, then they ought to embrace the measures needed for improvement and thereby electoral success. Romney’s column was a legitimate call to action which highlighted opportunities to get better, not just get by. That should be welcomed.
It’s fine to disagree with Sen. Romney’s specific criticism about President Trump’s foreign policy conduct because policy disagreements of any kind are the core of governing. It is also OK to debate the timing or even, dare I say the never-to-be-known motivations of the piece.
But, there are far more pressing matters which require a conservative approach and there are even more voters out there who still find a smaller, leaner, and more judicious style to governing conducive to their family’s success. The senator’s words remind us of that important distinction.
If conservatives can hone-in on those aspects, heed the advice from proven and learned statesmen like Sen. Romney, then we can maintain a party more emblematic of the political diversity of our Founders than that of our more single-file and homogeneous Democratic colleagues.
Conservatives should strive to maintain a “big tent” attitude where freethinkers are welcomed, free market values embraced, and civility in discourse is seen as the necessary and sometimes uncomfortable crucible of historic and meaningful leadership.