The Big Tent Fallacy

By Cliff Springs

I’ve heard enough.  I’m not sure who first put forth the idea that the Republican party should be a “Big Tent”, but I’m about ready to pack mine up and move out.  For those of you who may not be clear on the meaning of the “big tent” philosophy, it’s basically this:  our party is so big and so diverse that we welcome all who will come.  In my mind, that’s the generous definition. “Big tent” is another way of saying, “We stand for nothing, so you can join us without fear of being offended.”


Before I go any farther, I want to reiterate that I am a conservative first and a Republican second.  If the Republican party ceases to represent conservative values and another viable party steps forward, then I’ll gladly turn in my membership card and sign up for the new club.


The straw that broke this camel’s back came in the form of a column written by Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writers Group.  She assailed Republican party Chairman Michael Steel for taking firm positions that, frankly, many conservatives are celebrating.  A battle is currently taking place for the identity of the GOP—is it Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Dick Cheney?  Is it John McCain and Colin Powell?  If you recall, Parker was one of the first national columnists to reject Sarah Palin and called for her to step aside.  Parker’s comments helped launch the media onslaught claiming that Palin wasn’t up to the task.  Ever since that column, Parker has swerved farther and farther from anything that makes sense to me.  But she is far from the only one.


For decades, there has been a division among fiscal conservatives and social conservatives—particularly with the fiscal conservatives growing increasingly intolerant of the pro-lifers and the evangelicals.  Fiscal conservatives tend to more closely resemble moderate voters—not really standing for anything but some degree of economic restraint. Social conservatives tend to be both—pro-life and for smaller government.  Unfortunately, even within the GOP, the social conservatives get labeled as ignorant, dumb, and simple.


Because social conservatives are often religiously driven, I’ll use a Biblical example to explain my contempt for the Big Tent theory.  Jesus said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  He didn’t say, “If you’ll agree to come along, I’ll lower my standards so that you can be my followers.”  He didn’t say to His disciples, “Wow, we’re not growing like we should.  Let’s quit talking about sin and holiness and see if we can’t win some of the stragglers back so we can pad the church rolls.”


No.  He said—I’m paraphrasing—“Come to me.  Seek me.”  Jesus knew he had the winning combination—eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  As a conservative, I know—I KNOW—we have the winning philosophy.  The Republican party is supposed to be the party of ideas.  We’re supposed to win over voters because we’re right, because we make sense.


If Republicans—in an effort to be the Big Tent—welcome those for higher taxes (Colin Powell) and those for lower taxes, then what is it we’re selling?  Even if we grant that not every Republican is going to agree on abortion, we still have to agree on something.  And that “something” is not moderation.  Moderation is NOT the answer.  Moderation by definition is right down the middle.  If your standing in the middle, then you could blow either way in a swift breeze.  If you can sway either way, then nobody will ever be clear on what to believe or what to expect from their elected representatives.


Lest you doubt the veracity of my argument, just take a look at the past two elections.  Democrats didn’t win control of the House and the Senate by acting more like Republicans.  Democrats ran hard left—they distinguished themselves from Republicans in a clear way (even if it’s the wrong way).  As Republicans fought to see who could come closest to center without going over, they lost their identity, along with control of Congress and the Presidency.  John McCain, though an honorable man, is the epitome of the Big Tent philosophy—and he lost.


I’ll use another analogy—raising children.  Children crave leadership, they crave discipline.  There is nothing more confusing to a child than to have no guidance, restrictions, discipline, or order.  Some parents think they do their children a favor by not being overly strict, but the opposite is so clearly true.  A life without guidance is a life full of mistakes.


Similarly, we have cultivated a class of people in society who wear their moderate status as a badge of honor—claiming to be open minded and independent thinkers.  Has society benefited from this lack of conviction?  I would argue that wishy-washy thinking is the very definition of self-doubt, lacking confidence in your own decision-making ability.  How can voters have confidence in their representatives when the representatives don’t appear to have confidence enough in what they believe to take a firm stand and plant their feet?  Like children, I believe the “independent” voter is just dying for someone to pull them to one side or the other.  When all facts are clearly laid out on the table, I believe conservative philosophy will win out time and again.


If Republicans are to win back Congress or the Presidency, it’s going to be driven by the conservative arm of the party.  We can’t let others define us as bigots, backwards, hatemongers, or zealots—we must define ourselves.  If you revisit the “Our Mission” page on this site, you will recall that communicating and celebrating our conservative values is the reason I started  The Republican party is supposed to be the party of ideas.  Conservative values are the very core of that philosophy.  Building the Big Tent must be the result of packing our little tent to overflowing.  We must sell our ideas—not sell them out.




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