Ideology, or partisanship? Which is more important for Republicans trying to win elections? For those concerned with such deep thoughts, last Friday was a day to behold. Within a span of just a few hours, three events occurred that signaled the supremacy of one vision and the failure of the other: at the White House, Robert J. Dole was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; on Capitol Hill, Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethics case was argued before the House Ethics Committee; and uptown, at the Renaissance Hotel, a new chairman of the Republican National Committee was elected to replace Haley Barbour.
These unrelated events highlighted the three different wings of the Republican Party - the presidential wing, the congressional wing, and the state and local wing - and their conflicting answers to the question stated above. The presidential wing has taken the view in the last two elections that simple partisanship is enough, and has failed; the congressional and state and local wings have taken the view that ideology is paramount, and have achieved historic successes.
To begin, Mr. Dole's award. Mr. Dole represents both the best and the worst of the Republican Party at the presidential level: the best, in that truly no man loves his country, and made more sacrifices for it, than he. But at the same time, he represents the worst of the GOP: the stoic, harsh image; the near-obsession with balancing budgets at the cost of all else (even if it means increasing taxes on a regular basis); the fuzziness about ideology and "the vision thing."
Mr. Dole's Republican Party was a party that offered only a cheaper version of the Democratic vision of bigger government, and one that would be paid for as we go along, thank you very much. It was a party that felt uncomfortable talking about the things that win elections - the social issues. And it was a party that lost the last two presidential elections.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, we were hearing the full charges against Mr. Gingrich. While the controversy over whether he took liberties with arcane tax laws (and his resulting fine) will attract the most attention, what was most significant about Friday's hearing was the defense offered by his counsel, Randy Evans, who gave a detailed explanation of the difference between the Party and "the [conservative] movement."
Critics of the Speaker, Mr. Evans stated, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of what the Speaker was doing in the early part of this decade. They focus on what they believe to be the use of tax-exempt charitable organizations to further a partisan goal - when in reality, he pointed out, it was precisely the other way around: the Speaker intended to use partisan organizations to achieve the supremacy of the movement and its ideological vision. Using charitable foundations was not a means to achieve a desired partisan end, to wit, Republican victory; rather, a Republican victory was the means to achieve the desired ideological end, to wit, conservative dominance over the intellectual and political life of the nation. …