Ronald Reagan often invoked what came to be known as his 80 percent rule: “My 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy.”
Reagan’s big-tent instinct seems to be lost on the leaders of the Idaho Republican Party, which has gone to federal court to overturn the source of its political unease. The state’s open primary, the party insists, allows Democrats to poison Republican candidates’ campaigns. As evidence, GOP leaders complain that conservative Republicans are losing too many legislative races to – moderate Republicans.
Reagan might have considered fellow Republicans with moderate views his 80 percent friends, but the powers behind the Idaho lawsuit consider them Trojan Horses, sneaking into the nominating process, concealing beliefs that, once unveiled, will dilute the far right’s ideological purity.
Never mind that Idaho, where Republicans have an unbroken half-century grip on the legislative reins, remains the nation’s most fervently one-party state. And never mind that all the Republicans in the Legislature vote more conservatively than all the Democrats.
Somehow, moderation is a threat.
A few definitions are relevant:
An “open” primary such as Idaho’s is not the same as the “blanket” primary that Washington state used before the courts invalidated it. A blanket primary lists all the candidates in all the races and invites voters on a crossover-voting frenzy.
Idaho’s open primary requires a voter to mark either a Republican or a Democratic ballot, without proof of party membership.
A closed primary, which the Idaho Republican Party seeks, requires a primary election voter to use the ballot for the party in which the voter is registered.
Idaho’s Republican leaders hate crossover voting for the same reason Washington’s political party leaders did. It shifts control of the electoral process from them to the people – and the people are less tightly shackled to partisan orthodoxy. Some of them even welcome moderation, and they’re not alone.
In recent years, responsible Republicans across the nation have resisted the polarizing interests that would guide the party of Lincoln away from the reasonable middle ground. They have called for a “big tent” that’s large enough to arrange individualism and diversity around a core of shared principles – fiscal responsibility, regulatory restraint, free-market capitalism.
A big tent is a sensible idea. A pup tent? Not so much.