Last night I was at the Night of the Rising Stars hosted by the Republican Party of Iowa. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who is now chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was the keynote speaker. It was a great speech on party building. He was resonating with the audience. Then when he discussed unity he made a statement where I believe he lost the majority of the audience.
The Iowa Republican had a pretty good summary:
Barbour also talked at length that the party needs to grow and be more inclusive. He said, “Party building is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.” He said will the issue set changes with every election cycle, we must find ways to apply our principles to all the issues of the day.
Barbour also used the line, “If someone agrees with me 80% of the time they are my ally, not my enemy.” He went on to say that, while he is pro-life and has signed a number of anti-abortion bills in his home state of Mississippi, not everyone is a Haley Barbour Republican. Knowing that, Barbour believes that it is the state party’s responsibility to manage all of the coalitions to make sure they are working in concert together.
Barbour also told a story about how the most liberal Republican Governor in American was challenged and defeated in a convention in the state of Minnesota. That governor came back to win the primary and become the party’s nominee. That governor, Arne Carlson, went on to win, and while he was pro-choice and a liberal Republican, he also helped elect conservatives down the ballot. Barbour’s point was that, at the end of the day, pro-lifers need to vote for pro-choice candidates and vise-versa if we are to win elections.
He didn’t have many people clapping along with him. There was an awkward silence. What could have been a homerun speech, sputtered. At that point I wrote on Twitter.
Disagree with @haleybarbour on voting for pro-choice Republican for unity sake not w/ a pro-life option. #risingstars
I understand what he was saying from a pragmatic point of view. I was just surprised that the Governor of arguably the most pro-life state in the country would say something like that floored me. Why did he choose that issue? Was he asked to address that in particular? It seemed pretty inconsistent with the videos of our rising stars, as well as, talking about the message we want to present.
The Iowa Independent jumped all over that saying “Barbour: GOP must resist quest for purity.” They quoted Barbour from the event saying:
There are tens of millions of pro-choice Republicans that are just as good Republicans as I am, and we need to support them,” he said, adding: “That’s what party building is about, and don’t think that is giving up your principles.
Sure it is if you mindlessly vote for somebody because they have an “R” behind their last name. I can’t think of anything that better describes “giving up your principles.” I get what he is saying, and I agree with the Ronald Reagan quote he used that somebody who is 80% with me is an ally, not a 20% traitor. There are points of commonality. I understand that.
Frankly though the pro-life issue is so near and dear to me that it is my top issue. It is a matter of life and death. I’m sure there are some within the party that will take issue with what I’m going to say, but if I’m forced with a choice between a pro-choice Republican and a pro-life Democrat (provided that person would vote against their party) – I’m voting Democrat.
Now that is rarely the case. Typically if we have a pro-choice Republican on the ballot he or she is running against a pro-choice Democrat. If that is the case I’ll look at other issues. But I’m not going to sacrifice my principles for a party vote. Craig Robinson at the Iowa Republican pointed this out:
While I understand what Barbour is getting at, I think that the only people who can operate in that type of fashion is a party person. Most people are not involved in politics because of the party anymore. They are motivated by a number of issues, and asking them to compromise on their values and principles simply will not happen…
While Barbour’s party building speech contained some excellent ideas, strategies, and ideas that the Republican Party should work to implement, his comments on the life issue will only exacerbate the on-going debate within the party about whether or not Republicans need to moderate to win elections. (emphasis mine)
Also I wonder if he would have made this statement at a Club for Growth meeting (remember how they loved Huckabee, but yet supported Mitt Romney whose social conservative credentials were and are iffy) if we were talking about a social conservative who isn’t quite fiscally conservative enough for them? Somehow I doubt it.
There is a point where some of this will go on, but when there is a pro-life option don’t expect pro-lifers to toe the party line. Governor Barbour if he plans to run in 2012 needs to be very clear about his commitment to the right-to-life movement if he wants to win in Iowa. Ask Governor Mitt Romney.