The GOP at Risk: A Symposium on the Big Tent Strategy—Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Is a “Big Tent” sensibility compatible with the concept of a political party built on principle? The answer is a strong “yes.” The Republican Party, from its birth, has been a party based upon moral principle. In fact, it was founded on two fundamental issues—free land and opposition to slavery. Anti-abolitionists, however, were a critical part of that first coalition. Thus the balance between economic freedom and moral sentiment is at the very root of what it means to be Republican.

Our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, recognized this. In fact, the morality of his actions—and the actions of the country at large—was never far from his thoughts. Yet, he also realized that transforming a country founded on freedom and a balance of powers demanded a pragmatic approach to resolving the moral problems of the day. In 1854, he declared, “Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved, just as I would consent to any great evil to avoid a greater one.” Was Lincoln abandoning principle in favor of expedience? No. He recognized that the greatest possibility for political and moral change was through the continued existence of the Union.

Although Lincoln led a party that was primarily against slavery, he also realized that some citizens continued to support it and that others were noncommittal. He could not risk turning these good Americans against him, solely to enforce his legitimate moral belief. The essential policy was to keep the Union together, as there was a greater possibility of eradicating slavery through the powers of a union.

Today’s Republican Party faces a similar conundrum. We are a pro-life party; individuals of strong moral conviction comprise a critical part of our coalition. We are also a party that has an overall philosophy of smaller government, less regulation, and low taxation. We are the party of freedom.

The Republican Party must never forget that it is a party of principle. However, holding onto principle does not mean that those who differ on certain moral questions should face expulsion. The Republican Party needs its entire coalition. In turn, the party’s political effectiveness remains the greatest hope that its individual members will see their moral conviction transform society.

I am proud to call myself pro-life. I am honored to be a member of what is, philosophically and predominantly, a pro-life party. The Republican Party remains the prime vehicle for those who wish to see respect for life gain a stronger currency within our society and within our culture. It is not some random coincidence that, through the legislative process, the first Republican Congress in forty years passed the first ban on a specific abortion procedure. We will continue to speak out forcefully to encourage the president to sign the partial-birth abortion ban or, failing in that, to encourage members in both the House and Senate to override the veto. That is how a party of principle uses the political process to realize its vision.