When conservative political commentator and author SE Cupp visited campus in early April, she was asked by a member of the audience what her advice would be for the Republican Party. SE stepped up to the board behind the podium, took a piece of chalk, and drew two lines: “We need to stop judging our party leaders based on this,” she said as she pointed to a horizontal line, “and more like this,” she said drawing a vertical line.
Cupp’s horizontal line conveys the current state of the party. Candidates are judged based on how conservative or not they are regarded. On one end of the line is extreme conservatism, on the other end, alleged conservatism.
A glaring deficiency of the party is its lack of unity. Depending on district demographics, conservative politicians are either trying to “out conservative” one another or distance themselves from “those crazy Teabaggers."
For example, Republican leader such as John McCain and Chris Christie are called names like “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) because people believe that they are not true conservatives or conservative enough. Meanwhile, leaders such as Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul are viewed as crazy extremists. Even a politician who lacks qualities such as critical reasoning and effective public speaking can still be lauded as a good leader for toeing the party line (think Todd Akin).
Like Cupp, I believe that the Republican Party is tearing itself apart based on this measurement scale. The party is still struggling to define itself, much less effectively convey and market itself to independent and wedge-issue voters. The party is losing stamina, even without the help of liberals, because of negative party rhetoric from within. SE Cupp suggests that we reframe our conversations based not in terms of “on how many issues does this candidate toe the party line?” but “is he or she an effective leader”?
This is where Cupp’s vertical line comes in to play. It is a line that measures political effectiveness. One candidate will not necessarily be a more or less effective leader than another because he or she is more ideologically conservative. At the top of the effective list, Cupp places charismatic leaders such as Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. At the bottom, she says, should be leaders like Todd Akin. According to Cupp, we need to find the effective conservative leaders, promote them, and cut off funds from the ineffective leaders.
Cupp’s points are provocative because they evidenced themselves in the 2012 national election. During the primaries, Republican candidates spent so much time ripping each other apart that they lost a great deal of legitimacy in the public’s eyes. In terms of the horizontal conservatism scale, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann were pegged at one end as “the extreme conservatives” and Mitt Romney at the other end as “the rich moderate who may not be conservative enough.” They were criticized on where they fell on the conservative ideological scale, not on their effectiveness as leaders.
Laurel Conrad is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org