The Republican primary has been frustrating for a lot of people. Candidates and voters alike have often looked at the polls and winced, or shaken their heads at comments by one candidate in a debate. “How can [that one particular candidate I hate] be doing so well, and my guy is so far behind?”
For many, that candidate has been Donald Trump, but many conservatives are also annoyed to no end by the simplistic fortress-America attitude of Rand Paul, the prudish cultural criticisms of Mike Huckabee, the contrived seriousness of know-it-all Chris Christie, the holier-than-thou compassionate conservatism of John Kasich, or some other pretender who deserves our contempt. It’s annoying, alright, but, as the Democratic debate and its fallout has illustrated, it is much better than the alternative.
The Republican Party, after all, has a real debate going on about what is the best way forward for America. Now that Jim Webb has dropped out of the Democratic primary after getting ignored and disrespected at the debate, the Democratic candidates now have no major disagreements with each other on any key issue. It is now just a race to the Left to see who can express the most radical version of the same left-wing positions. The Republican Party is the real “big-tent party.”
Consider the GOP Candidates’ Variety
It was a little astonishing to see Trump say at the Republican debate that socialized healthcare works great and then hold the lead afterwards. Then again, the GOP did nominate the man behind Massachusetts-style socialized healthcare the cycle before. It just goes to show how a wide range of positions are welcome in the Republican Party’s assorted ideological and interest groups.
On the debate stage, there have been spirited discussions and arguments about taxes, Social Security, immigration, drug policy, criminal justice, and a wide range of issues. At the CNN debate, they went at it for close to ten minutes in a heavy debate about drug legalization. Paul made the strongest case anyone in either party has made for decriminalization, Jeb Bush admitted to his past marijuana use, and Carly Fiorina raised the personal costs drug addiction has had on families like hers who had to bury a child.
The pot debate eventually transformed into a debate about criminal justice. Here, too, the Republican Party exhibits a diverse scope of opinion. Even Christie, who promised to enforce federal drug laws in Colorado, has taken up criminal justice reform on the stump, bragging about setting up “drug courts” in New Jersey for some non-violent drug offenders. Fiorina expressed support for criminal justice reform in the debate, and Paul has made it a big issue. Lindsey Graham cosponsored the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would cut the length of mandatory minimums. Kasich was out in front of the pack, having signed a sentencing reform bill in Ohio in 2011, but it only applied to non-violent offenses.
However, some Republicans think a recent spike in crime in big cities means we should proceed carefully. Ted Cruz voted against the Senate’s sentencing reform bill in the Judicial Committee after an amendment he proposed to maintain mandatory minimums for crimes committed while in possession of a gun was defeated.
The Party of Diverse Ideas
On entitlements, Christie got into a tiff with Huckabee at the Fox News debate over how to keep Social Security and Medicare solvent. Noting that they make up 71 percent of federal spending, Christie proposed raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security. Huckabee insisted those reforms would break a promise and that Social Security can be funded with a Fair Tax. On the Democratic side, no one will even admit that there’s a problem.
Speaking of taxes, there are a lot of ideas there, too. Ben Carson and Kasich have both expressed support for a flat tax, as have Paul and Cruz. Bush and Trump both unveiled progressive tax plans that would raise taxes on carried interest. Meanwhile, Democrats have a “solution” ready to fund any government program they can think of, as voiced by Hillary Clinton: “I know we can afford it, because we’re going to make the wealthy pay for it.”
Even on issues retaining broad support among Republicans, there are 15 shades of grey. Besides George Pataki, none the candidates have been in favor of allowing gay marriage. Yet now that gay marriage has been ruled legal by the Supreme Court, there is a vibrant discussion on how Republicans should respond. Christie says the government should follow the ruling as the law of the land even if they disagree with it. Huckabee has said the ruling is illegitimate and championed Kentucky protestor Kim Davis. Cruz has promised a constitutional amendment to allow states to decide. Marco Rubio has opposed such an amendment.
Now Look at the Monochrome Democrats
Contrast the diversity of opinion within the Republican Party with the narrow set of views considered acceptable by Democrats. Webb sounded like the lone voice of reason on a stage with every other candidate trying to one-up themselves over who was the most virtuous progressive.
When Webb dropped out, the Daily Kos’s Markos Moulitsas wrote that he was “at odds with Democrats on climate change and affirmative action and women’s rights and gay rights and guns and abortion and fossil fuels and MORE.” But he supports abortion rights and voted against bills to defund Planned Parenthood and to ban minors from crossing state lines for an abortion. How radical must the Democratic Party be for Webb to be “at odds” with them on abortion?
He also expressed support for the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, although in October 2014 he said it should be decided at the state level.
On energy, it is more clear-cut that Webb is at odds with the party. Specifically, he supports Americans having access to affordable and plentiful energy. Such a common-sense position isn’t accepted with the Democratic base.
Webb said “we have to respect the tradition” of people using guns for self-defense, while Bernie Sanders bragged about his “D-” rating from the National Rifle Association, and Clinton said even that wasn’t liberal enough. The Democrats didn’t even want to hear that all lives matter.
The radical positions on show in the Democratic primary exclude most of the country. They even exclude a decorated Marine veteran who served as secretary of the Navy and who agrees with the party most of the time, just because he’s a little too moderate on a few of the issues. No wonder individual Democrats are having a hard time differentiating themselves from a socialist.
The Republican Party may have three rings with a clown out in front right now, but at least they’ve got a big-enough tent to fit it all.