Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Lifelong GOP Reflects on the Future

We just got done with a rather heated primary election in Illinois. That's nothing out of the ordinary, but perhaps this one was a bit more heated than most. The stakes are huge.

Illinois' nickname is "The Land of Lincoln," and Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Through the years, control of the governor's mansion has see-sawed back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats. Many of Illinois' governors (out of both parties) have ended up in prison. Otto Kerner was a Democrat, Dan Walker was a a Democrat, George Ryan was a Republican. Rod Blagojevich was a Democrat. Since Blagojevich, Democrats have held the governorship. As far as the legislature is concerned, we have had both parties hold control of one or both houses, but in recent years the Democrats have held control pretty solidly. The presidential elections have also shown mixed results through the years, but the past few presidential cycles have seen Illinois in the blue state column. We used to be purple, but no longer.

I am not sure what the future holds for the Illinois Republican party. There is a chance that nationwide displeasure with Barack Obama may have coattails and help Republicans. My own perspective as a lifelong Republican is that "moderate" to liberal Republicans control the Illinois GOP, and they tend to dislike true conservative candidates for office—often working against them behind the scenes to hinder their election. I know several past and current elected officials—some are personal friends. I covered politics for years as a radio news journalist and director, so I am not making this statement out of thin air.

The past couple of election cycles have been eye openers for me. Former Congressman Don Manzullo, who then represented the 16th Congressional District in Illinois, had to fight the party establishment when he first ran for office. The party backed someone in the primary who talked conservative until he got elected, and then his "modified pro-choice" stance on abortion came out. He ended up losing to a Democratic candidate—and that was the first time the 16th District had been held by a Democrat since the 1800s. Eventually Don ran again, and won. He served the district well. I'll never forget he, I, and my late radio co-host laying hands on him after an interview and praying for him. Don knew what he'd be facing.

All this leads to what happened that got Don out of office. Party leaders in Washington historically are not supposed to meddle in primaries. Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment was "thou shalt not attack another Republican." The party backed Don's primary opponent, who went on to win the general. I have nothing against Adam Kitzinger, the one who represents the 16th now. But I don't like how the party handled it.

I'm watching us get ready for the November elections this year, and I don't like what I'm seeing. Numerous media commentators including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others have cautioned that the party needs, as Reagan argued, to run on bold colors and not pale pastels. The GOP can shoot itself in the foot and symbolically disembowel itself easier that any other party out there. They just can't seem to get it in their heads that you need to run someone on solid conservative principles—someone who embraces those principles from the heart—and someone who can effectively communicate it. I hate to be this harsh, but I wish they'd stop putting men forward as leaders who come across like embalmed corpses on camera. I wish they'd quit letting people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins etc. carry the day on what we do. Admittedly, Collins and Snowe are more liberal than Graham and McCain, but Graham and McCain compromise way more often than they should.

Remember, when you call conservatives too extreme and back the Democrats on the 20 percent, the liberal agenda advances three steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward, two steps back. Maybe the establishment is happy with that. I am not, nor are millions of others.

And a word to my more conservative friends. I am with you in spirit, but you also have to take care with who becomes your standard bearer. They need to be articulate, they need to know the issues and history, and they need to not be crackpots. They need to not be gaffe-prone. I don't know if they can do it.

In the end, God is in control and the leaders we get we'll deserve. I pray for mercy and grace, and I pray that it's not too late to rescue the country from what lies ahead if we don't change course.

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