More on the Texas GOP purity test

A recent post discussed efforts by some in the GOP to create a test of party loyalty for candidates. Here are some details on the Texas version.

The Tarrant County GOP’s message to candidates (2010-tcgop-candidate-platform-review-form3) includes the ten-item test for Republican candidates. While there has been a lot of discussion about this test, there’s actually very little to it.

Most of the ten points are such general platitudes that agreeing has almost no meaning.  For example, statement #1 reads:

“We respect and cherish the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our Founders’ intent to restrict the power of the federal government over the states and the people. We believe self-government, based on personal integrity of a proper moral foundation, is the best government. This is best balanced with limited civil government, coupled with public trust, to provide collectively for the people those services not efficiently achieved individually.”

Republicans (as well as Democrats, Libertarians, and independents) could such a broad statement because speak to “restricting” the federal government with no explanation about the limits on federal power might be. Some conservatives would frame this in terms of health care. Many liberals would refer to civil liberties and the Patriot Act.

There are a couple of points that will give even some candidates pause. Point #2 declares that life begins “at the moment of fertilization” and that “all innocent human life” must be protected. With no exception for rape or incest, some candidates will not be able to sign on.  Point #5 limits marriage as being between “a natural man and a natural woman.” Log Cabin Republicans and libertarian Republicans will pause there.

Beyond that, the language is actually less strident than it sounds. Point #4 assertion that “We believe that government spending is out of control and needs to be reduced” could have been written to limit the grievance to only the federal government (at the time of the platform, under the leadership of George W. Bush). Instead, it can be read to include the state government (under Rick Perry and the Republicans).

There seems to be some Republicans who wish to use the adherence to the party platform and party rules to exclude “Tea Party” fans and/or moderates from roles in the party. However, there would be two problems with that argument:

  1. How would parties change if adherence to a political philosophy could be required of party members? Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy and excluding certain voices is no more appropriate in a the Republican Party than it would be in the republic in general.
  2. The party rules do not support excluding candidates (including those for party offices like precinct chair). The rules behind the Republican platform quiz are not part of eligibility requirements. They relate only to eligibility for funds from the Candidate Resource Committee of the State Republican Executive Committee. The Tea Party” crowd wasn’t counting on the support of the party establishment.

The questionnaire is much ado about nothing. However, the Republican establishment runs the risk of over-playing its hand. Some Republicans have pointed out similar Democratic pledges in the past. However, Democratic loyalty oaths in the past were symptoms of weakness in the Democratic ranks and should not be held up as a prescription for a healthy party.

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