Remember Jim Leach? The moderate Republican Rep. from Iowa defeated in 2006 by Dave Loebsack in a major upset partially attributed to his refusal to allow Republican activists to distribute an anti-gay mailing? Phew. Had a lot to say there.
Today, on Politico’s The Arena, Leach posted a very thoughtful comment on where the GOP is today, how it moved there, and why everybody keeps talking about tents. The initial question asked was: “Is there room for Michael Steele in the GOP tent? How small can a tent get anyway?”
Jim Leach’s response:
If he doesn’t survive it will be a shame
Yes, this is all about the most overused metaphor in Republican politics – the tent. At issue is not only how big it is but how many doors it has.
The pillars of Goldwater’s tent were decidedly of an individual rights, individual initiative nature. They were not considered strong or compassionate enough to hold a majority of the American people, at least at the time. The tent therefore got broadened with 1) a Southern strategy, based in part on Republican connivance but principally on a Democratic Party becoming philosophically committed to a Northern abolitionist soul, and 2) an appeal to fundamentalist pro-life values which gave a perceived moral legitimacy to a collectivist spectrum of issues beyond the realm of the traditional Rockefeller/Goldwater divisions within the party.
What this meant was that the door to the Republican tent was opened to include two huge groups that had for most of the 20th Century been Democrats – Catholics and fundamentalist Christians. At the same time, however, as these new entrants came in the front door, traditional “country club” Republicans who had been comfortable with Taft, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Ford, and the gentler sides of Reagan and G.H.W. Bush began walking out the back of the tent. They – doctors, lawyers, business leaders – found their values and their leadership challenged. Understandably, the new entrants to the party determined that they didn’t simply want to be manipulated at the voting booth as “strategists” from Atwater to Rove may have wanted. They wanted to lead, to insist on more absolutist approaches to values, and abandon the tolerance and diversity which had been the progressive pinions of Republican philosophy from 1853 through much of the 20th Century.
In this context it is impressive not that Michael Steele is proving controversial but that he was elected in the first place. If he doesn’t survive, it will be a shame; but the party should be given more than a little credit that he has been given a chance.