Principle or Victory?

by Joel Corbin

Too often it seems that Republican voters will refuse to vote just because "their guy" isn't the one running, or that they don't agree with the positions of the nominee. This attitude ensures division in the party, which then leads to election losses. The GOP is plagued by a "lose on principle" attitude, where the nominee may not have a chance to win, but was nominated based solely on principle. Winning elections has always meant compromise, and Republican voters are often unwilling to compromise in order to win. To see if you fit this category, place yourself in the following situation:

It's 1996, and the Republican nomination is up for grabs. Bob Dole decides he won't run, so Pat Buchanan wins the Iowa caucuses as well as the New Hampshire primary. However, at that point, Colin Powell decides he will run for the nomination. The following primaries are neck and neck, without the clear winner that usually makes later primaries and the floor vote at the convention irrelevant. But in this case, the two candidates are virtually tied, and the floor vote at the convention will determine the party's candidate.

As the floor vote nears its end, it becomes clear that the final state (of which you're a delegate) will cast the deciding vote. It is up to you to decide how that state will vote, and therefore the nomination is essentially yours to decide. Poll numbers show that Colin Powell would win by a large margin over Bill Clinton, giving the GOP the White House as well as an increase in its congressional majority. However, the polls show that Pat Buchanan would lose to Bill Clinton by double-digits. Assuming these polls are accurate (for once), for whom do you vote?

Let's complicate things further, and assume you believe Pat Buchanan's positions on the issues are more in line with the Republican Party as a whole. Given Gen. Powell's views on such issues as abortion and affirmative action, this probably isn't too far from the truth. Your choices are: Buchanan's more conservative ideology (with an electoral loss) or Powell's more moderate stance (with a victory). The correct choice: Vote for General Powell.

What this choice boils down to is whether you want to trade a certain amount of principle for a victory. Should Republicans stick to their guns and lose on principle, or should they undertake a moderation in ideology in order to win? This is a decision that often creates big problems for the GOP. If they stick to their base and nominate a candidate who is extremely conservative, then they risk alienating the more moderate "country-club" Republicans who are often large donors. On the other hand, a moderate candidate may turn off the conservative wing of the party, resulting in lower voter turnout.

This is one area where the Democratic party is more effective. Despite having a more fractured base, consisting of many one-issue voting groups, the Democrats are more skilled at getting these groups to play nicely, so their candidates can get elected. This is where the GOP can learn from our leftist friends. Right now it seems that too many Republicans are more interested in sticking to principle, even if it means losing an election. In today's political scene, winning is everything, while losing on principle is just that: Losing.

In the above scenario, a vote for Pat Buchanan stays true to conservative principles in virtually every issue and topic, and ensures that the Republican candidate is very much a Republican. But just because Colin Powell isn't as conservative doesn't mean he shouldn't be the nominee. He will undoubtedly support the GOP Congress on economic issues, the most important issues today. He should be the nominee because he will win, and that's the bottom line. Winning should be the most important factor in choosing a candidate. Of all those running, which candidate will have the best chance to win. Not who is most conservative, or who has served the party longest, or who is due for a nomination. The Republican party needs to realize that losing on principle is a terrible idea, and should rally its support around a candidate who can win.

This column will primarily discuss the internal policy of, and issues dealing with, conservatism in general, and the Republican party in particular. Please send questions and comments to me at jcorbin@indiana.edu.

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Joel Corbin

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