The GOP At Risk: A Symposium on the Big Tent Strategy—Ralph Reed

Ralph Reed

former president of the Christian Coalition, a political consultant

The pro-life stance has made the GOP a majority party; to downplay that stance would be suicide. Anyone who thinks that the Republican Party should back away from the fundamental civil right—the right to life—is making a serious mistake.

Republicans were virtually the permanent minority party from 1932 until the adoption of their pro-life plank in 1980. Since then they have won three out of five presidential elections; gained control of Congress for the first time in forty years, and then held on to it for the first time in sixty-eight years; and gained thirty-two governorships representing 72% of the nation’s population. All of this would not have happened if the GOP had not chosen to defend innocent human life.

The so-called “Big Tent” is anathema to Evangelicals, because most Republicans use it to distance themselves from defending life. It is not an effective political strategy. Steve Forbes learned this lesson in the 1996 campaign and has made changes in his rhetoric and strategy as a result; Christie Todd Whitman still has not. Forbes was uncomfortable when he addressed pro-life issues two years ago; now he is learning to integrate his pro-life beliefs into his political message. Whitman, by not signing the partial birth abortion ban passed by the New Jersey legislature, nearly lost the governorship to a unknown Democrat.

A more representative image of Republican strategy today is a patchwork quilt, where you build a majority coalition of disparate constituencies who don’t agree on every-thing but work together toward many of the same goals. As Ronald Reagan said, “An 80% friend is not a 20% enemy.” For example, I disagree with my good friend Henry Hyde— arguably the most important pro-life spokesman in Congress—on term limits and gun control, but I am able to work with him on other issues, such as abortion.

We must recognize that a political party is not a church. It is counterproductive to exclude people from our ranks who agree with us on 95 percent of our issues and agenda—that is, if we intend to govern. Nor should we try to win elections or govern by sacrificing our principles and waffle in our defense of innocent life and human liberty.

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