Washington Matters


GOP 'Unity' Resolution
May Have Opposite Effect

Mark Willen

A Republican purity test could be a turnoff for independent and moderate voters.



Next month, when the Republican National Committee meets, the very definition of a Republican may be decided. On the agenda is what RNC member James Bopp Jr. is pushing as a “unity resolution,” although others have compared it to a suicide pact. What it really amounts to is a litmus test designed the purge the party of candidates who don’t tow the conservative line. It achieves unity by keeping everyone who doesn’t agree out of the discussion hall.

The resolution lists 10 “principles” of Republicanism and declares that anyone who doesn’t support at least eight-- either through words, deeds or voting records -- should be denied the party’s endorsement and financial support.

The 10 principles include the familiar: Cut taxes, shrink government and back free enterprise, for example. But the wording of the principles ranges from simplistic and benign to the extreme and impossible. For example, on the benign side, No. 7 states: “We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.” I can’t think of any politician in either party who doesn’t support that goal; the question is how to define “effective action,” and the resolution gives no hint.

On the extreme side is No. 10, which states: “We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.” That seems to mean all restrictions so even convicted felons and the mentally imbalanced would be free to buy an Uzi. Not to press the point, but even a convicted murderer or terrorist who escaped jail would be able to buy a gun.

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Others depend on semantic games. No. 2 rails against “government-run health care” and is aimed at the Democratic health care bills. But Democrats deny it amounts to government-run health care and insist they’re against that, too. So they could presumably support the principle. On the other hand, Medicare clearly is a government-run health care program. So are we to presume Republicans now oppose Medicare?

No. 5 opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, but those who favor allowing illegals to work their way into the system after paying penalties and back taxes insist that’s not amnesty, an argument also made by John McCain and George W. Bush. Whether you can sign on to that pledge depends on how you define the term.

The official name of the document is the “RNC Resolution on Reagan’s United Principle for Support of Candidates,” and it begins with a preamble paying homage to the former president, mentioning him five times. It quotes him as saying anyone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was a friend and points out that he believed Republicans should welcome those with diverse views.

But that’s exactly the opposite of the resolution’s intent. It’s aimed at excluding, not welcoming, diverse views, and commentators have been quick to point out that President Reagan would have flunked the test. He violated the resolution’s tenets on raising taxes, lowering the deficit and shrinking government. He also sold arms to Iran, and he endorsed what truly was an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Apart from the damage the resolution will do to the Republican Party if it is adopted and observed, the document will put another nail in the coffin of intelligent discourse. It forbids what Washington needs most -- people who are willing to calmly discuss their differences and try honestly to bridge them. Instead it forces candidates to harden their stance and swear off any compromise. In short, it forbids them to think on their own and come up with new and original ideas to solve the nation’s problems, which is exactly what we all need most. Hopefully, the wiser heads in the Republican Party will see that and find a way to kill the resolution before it even comes up for a vote.




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