Monday, December 11, 2006

Back to Basics for the Republican Party, Part II

Part II of my interview with Michael Zak, author of Back to Basics for the Republican Party.

MA: In Minnesota, there seems to be a push-pull struggle between the self-proclaimed conservates in the Republican Party and those who call themselves “moderate.” There were a number of legislators who jumped the Republican Party and ran as Independence Party candidates. There was one legislator who did win in her district as an Independence Party candidate, a former Republican. The Senate Minority Leader, Dick Day, threw his support behind these incumbents because they had caucused as Republicans, even though they had chosen to run as independents. Another example was Martha Robertson. She was denied the endorsement by our [senate district] caucus for re-election, she ran for Lieutenant Governor as an Independence Party candidate. My question to you is what do you make of this push-pull within the Republican Party between “conservatives” and “moderates?”

MZ: Minesota has a special history of an independent streak, with the Democratic Party being the DFL, the Republican Party has had an “independent wing,” and you have the Independence Party. Minnesota is one of the states where third party movements have always had a lot of strength.

The two-party system has always been a pillar of strength for our country. People align themselves with one or another party. It’s a tremendously strong integrating force in our country. In Minnesota, my guess is that these third party splinters from the Republican Party will return to the fold. I think they split off because they didn’t see a sense of direction, and they thought their own political careers would be better served by not having the Republican label, regardless of whether they are going to caucus with the GOP or not. But as we go forward, I think we are going to show a tremendous surge in ’04 as well, and generally these splinter groups are going to come back to the party.

MA: During the State Republican Convention in Minnesota, there was an epic battle for the endorsement for governor between Brian Sullivan and Tim Pawlenty, who tried to top each other as being the most conservative candidate. One of the arguments that the delegates fought over that night was who is the “more electable candidate?” From a party perspective, is it more important that we field a candidate who believes in Republican values, or is it more important to field a candidate who can be elected?

MZ: Let me quote Abraham Lincoln: “I’d rather the victory of some of my policies than the defeat of all of them.” Lincoln was a big fan of Henry Clay. In fact all his life he said that Clay was his all-time hero. I quote him in my book as saying, “He was the man for whom I fought all my humble life.” But twice when it counted, he didn’t back Henry Clay, he backed the more electable candidate. So the political father of our party was very much in favor of going for the winner, rather than going down with the ship with your first choice. I think we can all learn from that example. I think it’s very much in the Republican tradition to prefer the stronger candidate rather than the “honorable defeat.” I don’t think there’s anything honorable in handing power to Democrats.

MA: After the 2002 elections, within about a week after election day, the chair of the Republican state party, Ron Ebensteiner made a comment to the effect that Minnesota’s transition to a Republican state is complete. I thought that was a pretty bold statement.

MZ: No kidding! I don’t think that you can find a state in the whole country that’s a totally Republican state. You know, we can never be complacent, we can never say, OK, we’ve done enough, we won. The Democrats never give up, and neither should we. Just because we won some key races in Minnesota doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy in ’04.

I’ll tell you something: beyond political disputes about the current issues before the electorate, one of the reasons I wrote the book is to show Republicans the totally untapped resource of the truth, which we do not use because we don’t know it. Republicans way back when would put the Democrats on the defensive, always, by just telling the truth about the Republican and Democratic parties. Once they’re on the defensive and once they’re reeling back and starting to defend themselves because you’ve taken the high ground, then it’s time to talk about particular issues. But we mount every campaign on the basis of Democrat lies about the Republican party. We just assume them, admit them, and try to go forward. So I would urge Republicans to learn their own story. As everybody knows, knowledge is power. It will make the legislature’s disuptes and the disputes with the governor go so much easier if you can put the Democrats on the defensive from the get-go.

MA: Do you think that’s the reason why conservatives have been so much so successful at talk radio programming than liberals have? Just because conservatives and Republicans seem to be the people of ideas?

MZ: Well, that’s a big part of it. Also, we owe a lot of thanks to Ronald Reagan, because Ronald Reagan made the big push to repeal the Fairness Doctrine, where you had to give equal time to some opposite view. Well, who decides what an opposite view is, and who decides what equal time is? Bascially, the leftist government types controlled political speech on TV and radio. Because no matter what you did, uh oh, the FCC is going to come by and say you have to give equal time to this or that, so it just froze things, and only the Democrats would get their message out. With the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, people were free to say whatever they wanted on TV and radio. There are only so many TV channels, whereas with radio it’s just endless. The vista opened up for conservatives, a void opened up and Republicans rushed right in and availed themselves of it.

Now, you’re right, Republicans are the party of ideas, the party of progress. The radio format is so much more conducive to that: it’s more thoughtful, it’s more give-and-take, with mutual respect with the people who call in. It’s just not Peter Jennings or Tom Browkaw ranting at you. Even on TV when they have a few “talking heads,” it’s very structured, and they’ll have three liberals and only one Republican, and they’ll cut him off, they can structure it so even if he is on TV they can structure it against him. But the Limbaughs and the Hannitys, those are the big guys, but also the locals can say whatever they want, and freedom is our best friend. And so that’s why it’s taken off so much.

MA: Has President Bush read your book?

MZ: I don’t know if he’s read my book. He should! I know that some people in the adminstration are trying to get me invited to speak to the White House staff. Senator Fitzgerald of Illinois tells people it’s one of the best books he’s ever read. Clarence Thomas cites it in the Supreme Court. Jack Kemp likes it. The lieutenant-governor elect of Maryland, Michael Steele, calls it his favorite book. So there a lot of big hitters who love it. And I know it’s circulating around the White House.

MA: I think it would be great if President Bush would use his bully pulpit to rally the Republican Party not just to win elections, but to take a look at the party’s history and what that means for the future of the party.

MZ: Well, I’ll give you one small example. Rather than history I talk about the heritage of our party. The federal judge who sided with Rosa Parks and overturned the blacks-in-the-back-of-the-bus law in the South, and desegregated much of the public schools in the South, was a Republican. Not only a Republican, he had been Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign manager in Alabama. A giant of a man, a Republican, his name was Frank Johnson, and he’s completely forgotten by the Republican Party today. And I’m just saying that’s just one small little example of how we could take the initiative permanently from the Democrats by just knowing our own story.

MA: My last question is looking further into the future for the party. What can we do to invest in and strengthen the party by involving our young people?

MZ: They’ve got to learn the truth. They’ve got to realize that they’re learning what lefty professor types are teaching them, and the NEA-approved history books, when they get to college, lefty professors trashing the Republican Party, trashing the United States, and they’ve got to break free of that. I think the Republican Party is doing an excellent job reaching out to younger people and getting them involved as much as possible. But it’s hard with the media being so pro-Democrat and anti-American.

MA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

MZ: I just wanted to commend you for this, it’s a great thing that you’re using the newsletter format to educate Minnesotans about the Republican Party, past, present, and future. So congratulations to you.

MA: Thank you, and thanks for your time, Mike.

| |

No comments: