By Senator Chris McDaniel
Much has been made about the present divide in the Republican Party. Mississippi is no stranger to the controversy. My U.S. Senate race against Thad Cochran in 2014 exposed deep divisions within the party, both state and national.
Incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran had to rely upon thousands of liberal Democrats to win a Republican primary. In so doing, his campaign resorted to dirty, underhanded, and sleazy tactics that have been well-documented. Not only did his campaign play the “race card” while openly encouraging liberals to cross-over and participate to the GOP primary, he openly campaigned like a Democrat — pushing for more big government, massive federal subsidies, pork-barrel spending, and increased food stamp participation. In what’s perhaps the most conservative state in the republic, he expressly repudiated the Republican platform for the state and country to see.
Though indefensible, it was a victory for the political class, lobbyists, DC insiders and corporate elites who see the federal government as little more than a banking institution for the big business special interest lobby. They, along with assorted establishment groupies led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, celebrated their pyrrhic victory, justifying their actions by slandering conservatives as somehow radical, extreme or unelectable.
Betrayed again by the DC machine, conservative frustration with the party establishment reached a record high. More than a year later, the anger is still very real. Conservatives are convinced the GOP’s leadership has openly abandoned the party’s conservative foundation.
But to fully comprehend why this is happening, we have to understand the background story. Central to the divide is how people, particularly the mainstream press, attempt to define the combatants.
Take my race, for instance. I have been a Republican since 1984, and have never been a member of a TEA Party group. Nevertheless, during my run for U.S. Senate in 2014, most attempted to improperly frame the ongoing GOP fight as TEA Party vs. The GOP Establishment. But nothing could be further from the truth.
What we are seeing, instead, is an ongoing struggle between true conservatives and moderate insiders — who presently control the GOP establishment — within the party structure.
On one side of the debate stands the thoughts of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater (constitutional conservatives). On other side of the “fracture” is the moderate idealism of Nelson Rockefeller and Mitt Romney (establishment insiders).
Constitutional conservatives seeks structural reform, smaller government, constitutional balance and the maximum in individual liberty consistent with social order. The moderate establishment camp lauds the value of compromise, while fighting to preserve the status quo, so long as corporate welfare, favoritism to their donors and the growth of government suits their financial and personal needs.
Perhaps no one has expressed the divide as well as Redstate.com, an online news and opinion website for conservatives. In describing a recent poll for the 2016 GOP nomination for President, it declared: “Jeb Bush and John Kasich are tied. They are also fighting for the same demographic slice: moderate-to-liberal, high income voters. This is not surprising given their message of “hey, that status quo is working pretty good for me.”
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson and Donald Trump are fighting to win the support of Ronald Reagan’s conservative coalition — a union of blue collar libertarians, economic, pro-defense, and social conservatives. Interestingly, these are the very people who have abandoned the establishment because they no longer believe that Republicans adhere to conservative principles.
Put simply, one side distrusts government and policies of centralization; the other simply seeks to control the DC machine, even if it means sacrificing principles. Conservatives claim liberty and Constitutional government as our combined end game; the other side desires power at any cost.
Although we’ve lived under the same tent for years, tension between the groups is rising, and some in the establishment camp have resorted to hostile tactics. Both Cruz and Trump, for example, have recently been slandered. And what was done in Mississippi last year was despicable.
Contrary to the attempts to brand conservatives, there is nothing radical or racist about our thoughts, ideals or policies. Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were voices for our government philosophy, which is rooted in Jeffersonian liberty and the heritage of Western Civilization. It represents a consensus of reason operating within tradition, and it recognizes its origin as the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
Instead of allowing the establishment to define us, please consider the true conscience of a Goldwater/Reagan conservative:
- We believe that political solutions should be sensitive to the whole human being – mind, body and soul – conceding that the problems affecting society are the result of the complexity of human life and therefore cannot be quickly or efficiently rectified by government action, schemes of forced social improvement or similar one-size-fits-all approaches.
- We value self-government, believing that local governments are preferred because they are closest to the people and, therefore, the most responsive. Consistent with this idea, we believe states should retain all powers given to them by the Founders which ensures a system of state autonomy where state and local governments act as “laboratories” for democracy — a system where policies are created and tested pursuant to the Constitution’s 10th Amendment. This not only ensures social and fiscal experimentation, but also a balance of power between the central authority and the states, whereby individual liberty is preserved for future generations.
- Refusing to ignore the spiritual side of individuals, we hope to maintain a high moral tone in society, insisting that truths exist and are necessary for people to responsibly self-govern their own affairs. We trust in God, as He is our foundation.
- Our philosophy is characterized by respect for inherited institutions, in which individuals develop character by voluntarily cooperating with others in local associations designed to further the common good without government interference.
- Living within our means is a way of life for us, so we expect our government to do the same. We request the courtesy to earn a living, but do not desire the government to provide for our necessities. Work is always preferred to welfare.
- Before we look for government to save us from every perceived crises, we would rather depend on ourselves, our families and friends. Hero worship is not our norm, as we are not easily charmed by smooth-talking politicians desiring a cult of personality.
- It has been said that governments only expand because they do not trust the independent, free judgments of the people. But we understand that any movement whose main promise is a relief from personal responsibility is immoral in its effect, however lofty its good intentions.
- The acceptance of personal responsibility begins with the admission of a simple truth: government is not our ultimate protector and cannot be all things to all people; liberty is the result of individuals learning to rule themselves.
- We admire complexities, embracing blessed variations and stubborn particularities. Unlike liberalism, it is not our desire to override the wills of people and reform them into one master plan. The establishment seek to use the power of government to dominate others; we do not and would never.
- Since independence is a cornerstone of our philosophy, we believe people and corporations should accept the consequences of their actions, although failure or unhappiness may be the eventual result. Government bailouts offend our notions of justice and fairness.
- The rule of law matters to us; words have meaning. We consider the words and phrases of the Constitution to be sincere, and not subject to whimsical change by the dictates of a federal judge. It has set down for all to see the fundamental American principle that there are certain rights held by every individual which no government and no majority, however powerful, can deny.
- We reject philosophies rooted in collectivism, particularly when coerced by the power of the state. Consequently, we reject racism, sexism and other forms of identity politics. We see men and women as individuals and judge them respectively. We seek to empower the individual and his voluntary associations, not as collective groups, but as an American citizen entitled to dignity and respect.
- We likewise reject any system where the wealthy and well-connected are allowed disproportionate access to our governments. Each American citizen, regardless of wealth or power, should have an equal voice and right to petition the halls of power without the corrupting influences of political favoritism, cronyism and nepotism.
And yet, conservatives do not presume to have all the answers, because they are not ours to give.
The collective knowledge of humanity, driven along by complex experiences good and bad, are far better teachers than any one movement, person or government could ever be. It was President Reagan who reminded us that his strength as a “great communicator” was always rooted in his communication of great things that came from the heart of a remarkable republic – our collective experiences, wisdom, and beliefs in the principles that have guided us for more than two centuries.
Perhaps there is no better description of our camp than an unyielding desire simply to be left alone. America’s greatness is derived from its free citizens, not the coercion of its government.
There is nothing radical about common sense, balanced budgets and the rule of law.
And if you wish to gain our support, be honest with us, then trust us to govern ourselves.
As we embark on an uncertain future, conservatives are confident in our principles and beliefs. But we are tired of politicians and disgusted by the lies and perpetual inaction on the part of so-called Republicans.
After my race against Thad Cochran last year, it took time for me to process the betrayal — not simply to me, but to the Republican platform and conservative ideas to which I had professed by loyalty and dedication. As part of my evaluation, the divide in our party became more apparent than ever before.
But also, my resolve was strengthened.
It became apparent that we conservatives are being targeted for marginalization by many within the party’s leadership.
Consequently, we must change our mindset by developing the spirit of reformers.
What does that mean?
Well, in 1902, William George Jordan published The Power of Truth. In it, he wrote, “Anyone can plant radishes; it takes courage to plant acorns and wait for the oaks. Learn to look not merely at the clouds, but through them to the sun shining behind them. When things look darkest, grasp your weapon firmer and fight harder. There is always more progress than you can perceive through your senses, and it is really only the outcome of the battle that counts.”
“And when it is all over and the victory is yours, and the smoke clears away, and the smell of the powder is dissipated, and you bury the relationships that died because they could not stand the strain, and you nurse back the wounded and faint-hearted who loyally stood by you, even when doubting, then the hard years of fighting will seem but a dream. You will stand brave, heartened, strengthened by the struggle, re-created to a new, better, and stronger life by a noble battle, nobly waged, in a noble cause. And the price will then seem to you . . . nothing.”
Perhaps, instead of conservatives, we are now simply reformers, pilgrims in an unholy land.
In any event, make no mistake, reform is coming.
This is our party. This is our republic. And despite the establishment’s money and power, we will fight to regain our rightful place.
As it was last year, so it is today: Now is the time.
Chris is a former federal law clerk, an attorney, conservative commentator and was a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014. He was lead counsel for the State of Mississippi in seeking to declare Obamacare unconstitutional. He is presently a two-term Mississippi State Senator. He resides with his family in Ellisville, Mississippi. Find him on Twitter: @SenatorMcDaniel and on Facebook.