The purge-driven ayatollahs now currently atop of the Idaho Republican Party have resurrected a flawed idea from the past in sending candidates a demand letter on their positions on party platform issues.
But this time, some common-sense conservatives are pushing back. Good for them, Let’s hope the “purge” effort fizzles.
Demanding party loyalty on platform issues was a flawed idea years ago when first tried by some GOP rightists. Many GOP legislators weren’t comfortable then, but didn’t want to stoke internal partisan fires, so they just went along. “What’s the point,” asked one at the time.
But in the very nature of human nature, this acquiescence had only emboldened the oppressors. As President John Adams wrote, “When clear Prospects are opened before Vanity, Pride, Avarice or Ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate Philosophers and the most conscientious Moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves, Nations and large Bodies of Men, never.” (Adams letters, Dec. 17, 1814)
This time, the pushback is more vocal. In early April, a group of mostly eastern Idaho GOP party members wrote a respectful letter to state GOP chair Raul Labrador stating “How can rank and file members of our party feel like they can identify with a party which holds to a very strict litmus test? Surely, there is room in our party for conservatives who may disagree with interpretations of the platform.” (Idaho State Journal, April 2)
That’s the essence of it. GOP rightists want to purify the party by driving out other voices. To them, it’s worship the GOP platform or you’re “out the door.”
The current litmus test letter starts warmly enough, with “Dear Candidate.” It refers to a GOP platform plank called “Integrity in Affiliation.” Labrador’s letter (March 16) then raises the GOP platform with the Idaho Constitution. It makes no mention of the U.S. Constitution as the “Supreme Law of the Land” to which we all pledge allegiance.
The party platform and the two constitutions are very different in tone and intent. The Idaho Constitution dates from statehood in 1890 and outlines the structure of Idaho government, its duties and empowerment. It also specifically states that Idaho is part of the United States and shares affinity with the U.S. Constitution, 1787.
By contrast, the party platform document has an implicit assumption that government is evil by nature and implies that Idaho Republicans can ignore both constitutions at will.
It’s really nothing more than the long-discarded “state sovereignty” argument, a common theme among the befuddled who use it to hide their intent to willfully disobey laws they don’t like. This “nullification” argument was, in theory, ended by the Civil War. Now, some current nullifiers in the state GOP openly want to resurrect it.
The platform, for example, deals with non-Idaho issues like the United Nations, demands a return to a gold standard currency and an end to direct election of U.S. senators.
These diatribes reduce the GOP platform to nothing more than a sheaf of polemics, passed at selected gatherings by narrow margins of stacked, right-wing activists and crank-nuts who then pretend that they are the “voice of the people” above the constitutions and the legitimately-elected legislators of House and Senate. In short, it’s been debased to right-wing ire and rants, little better than a poorly-reasoned high-school term paper.
Notice how these oppressors always put “their” own rights first; no room for the common good. It’s always about what’s good for them. They want unlimited individual rights, but draw the line at common values. “Just leave me alone.” “You guys fix the roads, educate the children, help those in need? Protect all in a medical crisis? Nah, not me.”
How did Idaho politics of the Republican Party get to this point of such extremes? It began when rightist, ideological individuals began taking control of local central committees.
Having defeated Democrats throughout the state, they then turned their constant social anger against their own members, with internal “purges” through RINO callouts, social media smears, false position blames and similar tactics. This happened in several Idaho counties and is still occurring today.
The new effort apparently stems from Labrador and vice-chairman Bryan Smith, an arch-conservative lawyer from Idaho Falls, as well as the Beck brothers, Rod and Doyle. These are so-called “libertarian” politicians who apparently hope to undercut duly-elected Gov. Brad Little, who defeated Labrador in the 2018 primary. They snipe at both Little and the Legislature, fed by fake-ratings from the Idaho Slavery Foundation and assorted media blabbers.
Party loyalty oaths have long been part of American political history, and they usually play out negatively. First, they drive centrist, common-sense members to the opposition. Democrats in Idaho, for example, have driven away thousands of voters with their environmental extremism and pro-abortion positions.
Those pushing litmus tests for GOP purity in Idaho today are either defeated also-rans in primaries, or self-inflated media and extremist partisan puff-ups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman, who couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, yet continually rails on government “tyranny.”
This is of course, nonsense. By all measures, Idaho is among the freest states in the freest nation on the planet. The real tyranny here is the tyranny of thought control these anarchists want to impose on others.
No “Big Tent” party for these guys. If you’re not signing on to the platform, you’re not a “pure” Republican. This is indeed horse-puckey. Idaho citizens and voters value their real freedom too much to assign it to such a “diktat” Politboro of whiners and malcontents.
When he was picked as party chair by only a three-vote margin, Labrador promised he would reach out to the whole Idaho Republican Party. A “litmus test” demand takes the party in the opposite direction.
Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” This column was first published in www.idahopoliticsweekly.com. He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
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