OCALA, Fla., May 9, 2014 — The Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis.
Followers of Ron Paul are storming the establishment’s gates, armed with a passion for libertarianism. At the same time, social rightists are struggling to remain the GOP’s dominant faction. All of this has left moderates more or less out of the picture.
During the years ahead, which path might the GOP take?
This question hangs high for Republican apparatchiks, activists, and somewhat disengaged, though nonetheless concerned, voters. While predicting the future seems an impossible task, it is more important than ever before to discern where the Party’s best path forward lies.
“Sadly the Republican Party seems determined to stay on its course of self-destruction,” career political operative Fred Karger told me last year. He rose to prominence by consulting on the campaigns of notables such as Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. His most famous cause, though, is not for a single politician, but an extremely divisive issue: same-sex marriage.
Karger brought much attention to the matter when he ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination during last year’s primaries. In doing so, he became the first openly gay candidate for the presidency. These days, he furthers the interest of not only LGBT rights but reasonable Republican politics as a commentator.
“Often it nominates extremely polarizing candidates who drive away young voters, mainstream conservatives and moderates,” Karger continues. “People become embarrassed to be a conservative or a Republican. Millions of reasonable people have left the GOP over the past 25 years and changed their party registration.
“Once they are gone, the pool of Republicans becomes dominated by the far right and the demise of the Republican Party becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“The best way to reverse this course is for a national leader to come along who will excite the country make it socially acceptable to once again be a Republican. In 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned, the Republican Party was a pariah especially with younger Americans. Six years later Ronald Reagan turned things around almost did so overnight. I have hope that this will happen again.”
Nonetheless, moderate Republicans are often vilified before getting the chance to articulate their message. In an already hostile political environment, this brings about many more unnecessary troubles.
One man who has seen this for himself is Mikey Weinstein, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s leader. His group, which advocates for the civil rights and liberties of U.S. Armed Forces personnel, has attracted boundless criticism from Christian conservative groups. Said criticism has led to Weinstein and the MRFF being smeared “radical atheists”, as well as no small number of serious personal threats.
Despite this, the criticism, sometimes brought about by figures like Religious Right kingpin Dr. James Dobson and delivered to large audiences by Fox News, seems unlikely to let up.
For all the conservative movement-related publicity that he receives, Weinstein’s career as a Ronald Reagan Administration appointee and Air Force Judge Advocate General goes unmentioned, along with him being a registered Republican.
He tells me that his being a GOPer “doesn’t fit” the “narrative” of his critics, also mentioning that his “family tends to be, in many respects, a very conservative family. Not all of us, but, I mean, this is not — the MRFF fight is not a political spectrum left or right fight, it’s a constitutional right or wrong fight….some of our best donors and supporters are extremely conservative Republicans. We have liberal Democrats, we have Greens, we have Independents.
“By gosh, the gentleman that ran for the presidency under the Libertarians — with the Libertarian nomination — former two-time New Mexico Governor — Republican governor — Gary Johnson, he’s a close friend, and he garnered almost 1.3 million votes in the last presidential election, and he’s on our advisory board.
“So, it doesn’t fit their narrative….I think that Fox and the Dobsons would love it if I could be viewed, or our foundation, as a tree-hugging, Northern California, Chardonnay-sipping bleeding-heart liberal Democrat, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re not, and my family has three consecutive generations of Military Academy graduates in it.
“Four of my own kids are Academy graduates — two are Jewish, two are Christian — we have over 130 years of combined active duty military service in my immediate family, and pretty much every major engagement the country’s been in since World War I to the current so-called ‘Global War on Terror’, and so this doesn’t fit their narrative, and that’s too bad because life is filled with aspects of stories that don’t necessarily flow in one direction.
“But with regard to [Fox News host] Megyn Kelly and the Dobsons, these are complete and total — it’s constant propagation and generating of lies and ad hominem attacks….I understand that, as a public figure, I’ve been taking it for ten or eleven years now. But I will not take it when these specific lies tend to prevent members of the military, and this is a Fox-dominated broadcast environment, from wanting to come and seek redress from the hell they’re going through or the inciting of already borderline people who want to try to physically attack my wife, my children, myself, our family or do other things.
“In the past, we’ve had all kinds of things happen. We’ve had the windows….shot out of our house, we’ve had crucifixes and swastikas painted on our house, we’ve had animals killed and put on the front porch of the house….tires slashed, and that’s just here in New Mexico. I just spoke in Los Angeles this past weekend, in the hours before I spoke, we had four telephonic threats that came in. I mean, we get all that stuff, but we’re not going to allow, anymore, this — Fox is to real news as professional wrestling actually is to real competitive sport, or I could say it in another way: Fox is to real news as gunpowder is to baby powder.”