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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Politics and Party Purity

In one nonpartisan state race this year, my county GOP endorsed a Republican candidate with a criminal record. I fought against this choice and lost. All my arguments fell on deaf ears. My opponents on this issue (essentially everyone else in the county party) cited only the candidate's greater experience in his favor. I objected that endorsing this candidate would taint our recommendations in other races with stronger candidates. The race is now over. There is no evidence that our endorsement tainted our other recommendations. In a large field, the flawed Republican candidate edged out a Democratic candidate by a few thousand votes. If our county GOP had endorsed my preferred candidate, the Democrat probably would have won. I prefer a flawed Republican to a liberal Democrat; should I therefore be glad that I was unable to sway my colleagues? I am still unsure what lesson this experience teaches. Contending lessons include:
(i) My political intuition is much poorer than my colleagues.
(ii) When my colleagues say 'experience', they really mean 'electable.'
(iii) My colleagues' political sensibilities are much closer to the general electorate's than mine are.

I was not upset this election cycle to see the GOP risk losing a few races nationally by discarding some experienced candidates who were all but indistinguishable from liberal Democrats. I think the long term health of the party is better served when it represents strong principles rather than a desire for power. Unfortunately, the line between supporting party principles and pursuing self defeating ideological purity, is not well marked on any map. In my nonpartisan state race, my objections were to a character flaw rather than a disagreement over principles; hence, I doubt the GOP (and therefore the public) would have been better served by a liberal Democratic win. On the other hand, my Republican colleagues now tell me that the losing Democrat is not particularly liberal and may, in fact, have been better qualified for the nonpartisan position in question.

As politics moves from the national to the local level, issues and the meaning of party labels become much fuzzier.

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