The 2012 election marks the fifth presidential election in which I’ve participated. Of these five, I’ve been on the winning side twice and on the losing side three times. After this election, I have found myself more concerned about the future of the Republican Party of which I am a strong supporter than in any other election. With that said, I share the following thoughts. In doing so, I am not so presumptuous to think that my comments will be viewed by countless party members and operatives. At the same time, there are a number of people whom I have met over my 24 years of studying politics who routinely ask what my thoughts are on issues and candidates. With that said, I provide the following comments in a sincere desire to participate in a productive conversation that will move our party into the future.
My Background and some context
My first interest in politics came in 1988 when Vice President Bush successfully (and rather easily) defeated Governor Michael Dukakis. While I certainly didn’t have a strong grasp of many of the issues, I knew that I was excited about politics and I knew that I was a Republican. By 1992, I knew for sure that I was NOT a supporter of Governor Clinton and spent significant time studying the issues which proved why I thought he was wrong for America. In 1994, I volunteered to find people who would take a bumper sticker in support of reelecting Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar. He won easily, I got to meet him a number of times, and I was further convinced that politics was incredible. In 1996, I was greatly impressed with Alan Keyes and, while knowing that he would never win the nomination for president against the eventual nominee Bob Dole, I knew I liked his conservative principles. During that year, I met Senator Dole and soon after the election, began to closely follow local Indiana races.
In the next couple years, I became more and more interested and involved in Indiana politics working for candidates and eventually spending time in Washington working for Congressman Ed Pease as a paid intern. Eventually, I moved to San Diego County where I continued to work hard at staying abreast of the issues and involved with the Republican Party. Two years ago, I ran for a seat on a college board in East County San Diego. While I didn’t win (a local teachers union spent over $300,000 to defeat me) I completely enjoyed the experience, learned a lot, and was fortunate to meet scores of Republican organizers, lots of volunteers, and was able to interact with thousands of voters. I share all of this to not only “prove” my interest in politics but to also suggest that my thoughts on the current state of the Party are worth some consideration given my experiences.
During these 24 years, I, like everyone else, had to go through the experience of maturing and growing. This included growth from a political point of view. Many young people grow up with an idealistic view that is strictly liberal or strictly conservative only to find that, later in life, they’ve moved to the center and become more independently minded. It is with that normal process that I take stock of myself and evaluate my political identity accordingly. I am a proud Republican. I have never voted for a Democrat for any office. I wouldn’t say that I would “never” vote for a Democrat but I have yet to find one on a ballot that I thought better stood for the things I believed in. I am conservative and always have been.
With all this said, I suppose the best way of describing any changes since 1988 is to say that I’ve become more patient. I try very hard to see the other side of the argument. In fact, I will often times read and listen to the arguments made by Democrats (more than even fellow Republicans) in order to be certain where they are coming from. If I had to point to the one thing that I’ve learned in my first 24 years of political interest it’s that there’s value in being patient, listening to others, and working hard to not judge their motives. I’m happy that I’ve come to that conclusion all while remaining true to the principles for which I stand. Given these comments, made especially for those not as familiar with my background as others, I ask the reader to consider my thoughts on three issues.
Issue # 1 – Immigration Has To Be Addressed
During the 2008 campaign, I was criticized by some of my conservative friends for suggesting that we (as Republicans) needed to consider addressing the issue of illegal immigration from a truly pragmatic point of view. The problem then and now is evident. Some 12 million people are living in the United States illegally. I don’t think there’s anyone who would say this is NOT a problem. Obviously, numerous laws have been broken and enforcement of laws has been more than lax for decades. To say this issue is a problem is not only a given, it’s also not forward looking. What is equally frustrating is to hear conservatives bemoan the problem and not be willing to step up and make a serious, thoughtful proposal as to fix it.
I think all of my conservative friends need to know the following and to admit the reality. The 12 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States are here to stay. They are not going anywhere. They will not “self-deport.” Any effort to “round up” this sum of people will not only be incredibly costly, it will never work. Given that those who are here illegally are never going to leave, we can choose to do one of two things.
One, we can continue to complain about it and say they shouldn’t be here. Okay, fine. Say that all you want but NOTHING is going to change. Or two, Republicans can take the lead and say that we want to seriously consider all the options for providing illegal citizens a path to citizenship. Republicans agree that sealing the borders is necessary. That’s true. Let’s get it done. But at the same time, the issue we HAVE to deal with is the 12 million already here. It’s unfortunate that the moment a suggestion like this is made, many conservatives shut down, refuse to listen and refuse to reason. But, as a party, the more we continue to do that the more we’ll lose. The importance of the Latino vote in 2012 compared to 2008 has already in the course of only a few weeks been well documented. Aside from issues of humanity, fairness, and compassion, the political problem is clear. If Republicans continue to take the hard-line point of view, “Deport all the illegals, get ‘em out of here” mentality, Republicans will continue to lose. Period. It has to change and I urge Republicans to begin working on this now, not later.
Issue # 2 – Be Conservative, But Be Electable!
Too often, conservatives forget to think about the fact that the candidates we support have to be appeal to a broader electorate than merely those of us on the right. Sure, it’s nice to hear a candidate line up with everything we believe and to be the “perfect” conservative. But too often, the perfect conservative is the perfectly wrong candidate. I think it’s important to point out here that I am not suggesting we sacrifice principles. For example, I am pro-life. I have never voted for a pro-choice candidate. I can’t imagine me ever voting for a pro-choice candidate. In fact, I would likely vote for a pro-life Democrat before voting for a pro-choice Republican. I am not suggesting at all that we cave on issues so important like this. What I am saying is that, while proudly supporting the things we believe in, we also have to be smart in the way we go about them. Earlier this year, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was lambasted by conservatives for suggesting a “truce” on the social issues so that Republicans could be more successful at the polls. This overreaction by conservatives missed the point. Mitch Daniels, it seems to me, was simply suggesting that we need to be smart in order to appeal to as broad a coalition as possible in order to be successful in November. Hindsight is 20-20, but Governor Daniels was right.
If I lived in Missouri this year, I would have voted for the Republican candidate, Todd Akin – of course. If I lived in Indiana this year, I would have just as easily voted for the Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock. But let me be frank. These two candidates, strongly supported by the far right against more mainstream Republicans, cost our party and our country a great deal. I understand that in the course of a long campaign, especially with the advent of cell-phones and hidden cameras, that candidates on both sides are going to say things that come out the wrong way – that’s to be expected. Aside from this, however, the word choices of Akin and Mourdock were incredibly and without any doubt politically inexcusable. Akin’s reference to “legitimate rape” and Mourdock’s musing about the will of God in terms of a pregnancy resulting from rape were abhorrent. And now, what do we have to show for the poor choice of Akin and Mourdock? Well, two less Senate seats to stand up against Senator Reid and the Democrats in Washington. These two instances are just two (of many) cases wherein I think some in our party aren’t thinking logically at all. When choosing nominees, the electorate and party officials need to think electability. If we don’t, we’ll see unfortunate losses like these replay themselves over and over again.
Issue # 3 – Don’t Stoop To That Level, Be Respectful
People on the left and right are equally disrespectful and inappropriate in the way they talk about candidates. If liberals want to verbally disparage Republicans and be disrespectful, so be it. But Republicans need to take the higher road. I am not saying to disagree and, for that matter, disagree loudly with liberals. I believe that much of what the Democrat party stands for is so wrong for America, so wrong for the middle class, so wrong for faith-based people, that I am not one to stop talking about how on way more issues than not, those on the left support all the things that are just plain wrong. Most of my readers will not disagree on this. But I know too many Republicans who allow so much venom to spew from their mouths that I’m ashamed to be associated with them. And all it does is drag down the party.
I very, very rarely use the phrase, “Obama did that” or “Obama said that.” Rather, because I respect the serious office he legitimately holds, I speak of President Obama. In a conversation about the president, I continually refer to him as “the president.” Sure, someone can say “Obama” as much as “Romney” and not mean anything by it. But too many are just downright disrespectful and that’s not becoming of an individual who truly wants to be taken seriously. On this note, conservatives would do well to remember that there are numerous biblical teachings that mandate we respect those in authority and I believe that not only is it right to do so in order to please God, it makes for a more civil conversation.
When a few members of the tea party and other conservative groups incessantly suggest that the president wasn’t born in the United States, that he’s a Muslim, or that he’s a terrorist-sympathizing, American-hating man, I’m embarrassed. I’m convinced the vast majority of the members of the tea party and other conservative groups don’t act or talk that way. In fact, I had a number of dedicated, concerned, tea party conservatives who spent lots of time and money on my campaign two years ago. But a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Those that talk so despairingly about the president embarrass me and our party, making us fodder for complaint.
In the 1990s, I publically supported President Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Mexico when Jesse Helms and other conservatives balked at the idea of the more moderate Willaim Weld serving in that capacity. In the same decade, I criticized Republicans for being too hasty in criticizing the president for sticking with air-strikes in the Bosnian conflict and thereby protecting American forces from more dangerous ground combat. Early in President Obama’s term, scores of conservatives threw a fit when the president spoke to American students all across the country. I supported it and, to be blunt, thought the uproar among my fellow Republicans one of the dumbest things ever. My point is evident. We should disagree often with Democrats. But when we stoop to the level of petty fighting and insults, we lower ourselves and make ourselves less believable. That’s not the path I want the party to take and that certainly is not the path to future electoral success.
There is certainly more I could say. For instance, I spoke nothing about the nonsensical responses from ALL the Republican nominees earlier this year during the primary in regards to the 10 to 1 ratio question. The question that was posed to Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry, and the other candidates was whether they would agree to $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in additional tax revenue. Believe me, I’ve studied politics long enough to know that such a question was specifically designed to get a candidate to trip up, say something that offended the primary electorate, made national news, and the like. But when every candidate refused to raise his hand or address the issue, it’s as if none of them had ever thought ahead to address an issue that every independent and uncommitted voter cared about a lot. These issues need to be addressed and they need to be addressed now.
I am happy to be a Republican and am proud of the principles of the party. I honestly and firmly believe the country is better off when the conservative ideas of the Republican Party become the governing reality at all levels of government. And it’s because of my belief in the party and, more importantly, the great country that I love, that I humbly submit my ideas and truly hope we move toward a surer and brighter future for this good land.
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Ping is the preacher at Santee Church of Christ. He has degrees in Political Science and History from Wabash College in Indiana.