The Ripon Forum

Volume 40, No. 5

Oct - Nov 2006 Issue

A Key to Victory for Republicans this Fall

By on October 21, 2015 with 0 Comments

We must adhere to the principles on which our base was built

by TOM FEENEY

Our future isn’t about appealing to a particular base, triangulation, or some other political tactic.  It’s about placing principle above all else. 

Republicans became a majority by articulating and adhering to a set of principles. Campaigning and governing from principle furnishes order in the often chaotic political world. It develops a stable political base that supports you through thick and, more importantly, through thin. It fosters respect from those who don’t necessarily agree but respect leadership, strength, and confidence. Finally, it provides focus and discipline after one wins and then confronts the task of governing.  

Ronald Reagan (like Abraham Lincoln before him) taught us that lesson. Before Reagan’s Presidency, Republicans too often took a “me too but less” approach vis-à-vis our opponents. The American electorate appropriately consigned us to a permanent minority status. 

Reagan spent considerable time and study formulating his principles. Then the Great Communicator constantly and calmly articulated his “beliefs.” As one commentator observed: “Reagan gave the impression of speaking to the whole country at once, of saying ‘This is what I believe and I hope that a majority of you agree with it.’” 

Reagan endured more than his fair share of political challenges and setbacks. He also understood that politics is the art of the possible – compromising on the terms of the legislation but not on the terms of the debate. But ultimately he restored America’s vibrancy, won the Cold War, and charted a course for Republican majority status on a national and state level.  

Before coming to Congress, I served in the Florida House of Representatives through the 1990’s and rose from a minority backbencher to Speaker of the House.  Republicans attained a majority in this large, growing, diverse, and vibrant state by campaigning on and governing with these five principles, which represent the best in American self-governance:  

boy1. Less Government — Reducing government regulations and size of government. Eliminating entitlements or unnecessary programs.

2. Lower Taxes — Promoting individual responsibility in spending and reducing taxes or fees.

3. Personal Responsibility — Encouraging responsible behavior by individuals and families and motivating them to provide for their own health, safety, education, moral fortitude, or general welfare.

4. Individual Freedom — Increasing opportunities for individuals or families to decide, without hindrance or coercion from government, how to conduct their own lives and make personal choices.

5. Stronger Families — Enhancing the traditional American family and its power to rear children without excessive interference from the government. 

After coming to Washington in 2003, I added a sixth principle based on the federal government’s fundamental duty to protect its citizens: 

6. Domestic Tranquility and National Defense — Enhancing American security without unduly burdening civil liberty. 

Campaigning and governing from principle furnishes order in the often chaotic political world. It develops a stable political base that supports you through think and, more importantly, through thin.

These principles distinguish us from our opponents. Republicans are doers – men and women of action. We celebrate American exceptionalism – this country’s experiment in how individual liberty allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We are also instinctive protectors – guarding America’s 300 million citizens from predators and taking the fight to those who would harm us.

Democrats are talkers and theorizers – people entranced by theories bearing little connection with how the world really works. They’re enamored with transnational governance and approval by those overseas and thus distrust or discount the American people, American institutions, and the American experience.  They gravitate towards a large and intrusive government replete with interference in free markets, excessive taxes, rule by experts and an unelected judiciary, and a stifling “nanny state” scolding us on our behavior. They seduce voters into a cycle of addiction – tempting with taxpayer largess, buying votes with promises of greater paybacks, and creating freedom-robbing dependencies. 

As an American, I would hope that September 11 aroused protector instincts in all political leaders. But Democrats are increasingly defined by their radical appeaser wing. When confronted by predators, they instinctively consult the New York Times editorial page, blame America first, fret about how the Europeans will view us, and empathize with those threatening us – a distressingly similar approach they took to America’s crime wave of the 1960’s and 70’s. Until Democrat leadership stands up to this vocal and influential element, we cannot trust them to protect us. Who do you want at the end of your call to 911?

America and our party were born in the crucible of principles. Republicans changed history when we stood by our beliefs. When we deviate from our principles by pursuing raw power, following poll numbers, focusing on the trivial, or fretting about what the Washington Post says, we disillusion our core supporters and impress others with our disingenuousness and weakness.  

We can reaffirm the conviction of our beliefs or wander into irrelevancy. It’s time to campaign and govern with substance and meaning.  RF


Tom Feeney represents the 24th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as Chairman of the House Conservative Fund, the political arm of the Republican Study Committee.

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