The Indiana GOP: Where’s it Going?
“A Tea Party that devotes the next two years to promoting conservative candidates and removing moderates or non-ideologues is one that is well-positioned to expand its influence in the next round of elections.” — Jamelle Bouie in the Nov. 23, 2012, Washington Post.
by Jason Arp
There was commentary in the wake of the November election predicting that a new wave of conservatives would be the winning factor in 2014. Hopes were fed, toasts were raised. But as someone who has spent the last few months visiting more than a hundred GOP precinct men in one of the most conservative counties in one of the most conservative states, I just don’t see it.
More specifically, I see no indication of a change in the leanings of the core of the Indiana Republican Party from being a broadly based, consensus-forming lot to being more activist, dogmatic or libertarian-principled. That view is based on what amounted to a door-to-door survey of the precinct committee officials in my Indiana county. I found that my party can be divided generally into four groups:
The Pragmatists — The first group is not particularly interested in policy or ideals but is keenly interested in winning elections and being part of the group that reaps patronage when its team wins. Referring to an incumbent county chairman, a common judgment was “He’s been successful; we’re electing Republicans.” When the “conservative” records of these office-holders were challenged, the uniform response was “We need candidates who can win elections.”
The Centrists — This group is generally interested in providing a more “centrist” voice to the Republican Party, tending to side with the Democratic Party on certain social and civil-liberty issues but not particularly interested in budgetary matters. One committee person explicitly described himself as a “liberal Republican.” This group would say that the United States in practice is a democracy, not a republic.
The Conservatives — A third group considers itself conservative and, on the surface, prefers a government that runs a balanced budget. This group’s idea of conservatism radiates from religious and patriotic leanings, and it generally believes that the Republican Party is the party that supports this belief system. These Republicans are largely satisfied that an incumbent is the best choice to beat any Democrat, and that is their top objective. For example, more than one such Republican said to me that “I can’t see how anyone could not vote for Romney.”
The Activists — The last grouping is made up of activists, Tea Party sympathizers and libertarians. Despite media characterizations, these folks do not make up a homogeneous group. Some are staunchly anti-war while others believe that we are in the midst of a holy war against Islamic terrorists. “I like everything about Ron Paul except his foreign policy” was a comment from more than one Tea Party type. Some are for small, limited government while others are more concerned about social issues such as religious freedom. This group is the one that the media sees making inroads into the Party. That may eventually be true, but it would be a disproportional influence given its small size and tendency to fragment on a particular issue.
In summary, the Indiana Republican Party for the last 25 years has been in a drift toward an increasing role for government in the daily lives of Hoosiers, whether it is in the form of increased environmental regulations, entitlements, homeland security, business subsidization or education centralization. Most of the party’s insiders, three of my four groups above, are supportive of this direction — at least in their votes, contributions and campaign activity.
So for at least the next few election cycles, those expecting the Republican Party to become the party of small, limited government and individual freedom are apt to be disappointed. The reins of the party are firmly in the hands of a group that just doesn’t put much value in those ideals, and a group more likely to continue to select candidates who will rally around what they perceive to be the consensus of the moment.
And that means more government — even when Republicans triumph.
Jason Arp, an Allen County businessman, recently ran for county chairman of his local Republican Party.