Prior to the election, I predicted on various media appearances that if Mitt Romney lost the presidential race, a national Republican civil war would ensue after the election between 1) the GOP establishment and 2) movement conservatives and grassroots Republicans. I have been surprised how quickly my prediction was proven accurate.
The first major media riposte by the GOP establishment was a column published in the New York Times on December 3, 2012, entitled “Where Have You Gone, Bill Buckley?” by David Welch, a former research director for the Republican National Committee . It’s a good thing that Mr. Welch is a former research director, for in describing Bill Buckley, he demonstrated gross incompetence in historical research skills.
The core assertion of Mr. Welch’s column is that a modern day Bill Buckley is needed to purge the Tea Party followers from the Republican Party. He notes Buckley’s repudiation of the John Birch Society in 1962 and goes on to say that “the modern day Birchers are the Tea Party.”
This analogy is odious and constitutes a falsehood of the worst order. In making this comparison, Mr. Welch is either deliberately engaged in slander or simply demonstrating extreme historical ignorance – or maybe both.
The John Birch Society was an organization that opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and advocated the withdrawal of the United States of America from the United Nations. Its founder, Robert Welch described Dwight Eisenhower as “the tool of the Communists.”
By contrast with the John Birch Society, the Tea Party has never remotely espoused such extreme positions; nor has the Tea Party ever engaged in personal slander, especially of a nature comparable to the Robert Welch defamation of Eisenhower. Instead, it is a movement with the slogan, “Taxed Enough Already?” The movement has been dedicated to reducing 1)federal taxation, 2)spending, 3)the deficit, and 4) national debt. It is most fundamentally a grassroots movement, which frightens the elitists of the GOP establishment, who are unable to control the Tea Party.
I myself have criticized the Tea Party when the movement propelled inept candidates to victory in U.S. Senate GOP primaries, such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Yet it must be acknowledged that the Tea Party was the primary force that enabled Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to win U.S. Senate primaries and elections in Florida and Texas, respectively, in 2010 and 2012. Rubio and Cruz are truly the young, attractive Republican superstars of the United States Senate.
Furthermore, the Tea Party movement has been embraced by such eminent Republican U.S. Senators as Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah. If David Welch believes that DeMint and Lee are extremists, then he belongs in the Democratic Party.
Mr. Welch most blatantly demonstrates historical ignorance when he describes Bill Buckley as one who “placed great faith in the Republican establishment and its brand of mainstream conservatism.” For a person like me, who has been a Bill Buckley admirer and adherent for nearly five decades, this statement is absolutely laughable.
Bill Buckley was the quintessential anti-establishment Republican. He was an early supporter of the Conservative Party of New York, because of his distaste for the New York State Republican establishment. His anti-New York GOP establishment beliefs led him 1) to run for mayor of New York City on the Conservative Party of New York ticket against the successful Republican candidate, John V. Lindsay in 1965; and 2) to play a major role in the victorious 1970 U.S. Senate campaign of his brother, James Buckley, likewise on the Conservative Party of New York ticket, ousting the GOP incumbent U.S. Senator Charles Goodell. He also backed Ronald Reagan’s 1976 campaign for president, despite the support of the national GOP establishment for incumbent President Gerald Ford. Most remarkably, he endorsed conservative candidate John Ashbrook against Richard Nixon in the 1972 GOP primaries! Mr. Welch’s notion of Bill Buckley as a Republican establishment supporter is ludicrous by any reasonable historical standard.
In truth, there is little doubt that William F. Buckley would have been an enthusiastic supporter of the Tea Party. The following quote from Buckley explains why:
“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”
Despite his aristocratic upbringing, Bill Buckley’s conservatism had a strong degree of populism. There is little doubt that the populism of the Tea Party movement would have appealed to him immensely.
There is only one aspect of Mr. Welch’s column that I can agree with. He lauds both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I agree that both would make fine GOP presidential candidates. My enthusiasm for Jeb Bush and Chris Christie is based upon their successful administrations of their respective states and their ability to unite the GOP establishment with grassroots Republicans and movement conservatives. I seriously doubt that either Chris Christie or Jeb Bush wants to be cast in the role that Mr. Welch envisages for them when he writes, “Mr. Christie and Mr. Bush are ideally suited to drive extremists from the party.” Rather, I am certain that both these gentlemen see themselves as party unifiers rather than leaders of purges against GOP constituencies that Mr. Welch wrongly defines as “extremist.”
For the GOP to have a chance to regain the White House in 2016, the ongoing GOP civil war must somehow be resolved. The key is for the combatants to find common ground. Columns like that of Mr. Welch only serve to fan the flames of GOP internecine warfare while further polarizing the GOP base from the party establishment.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.