Cook on Concord

Recently, both in New Hampshire Business Review and an op-ed piece in The Union Leader, Ed Mosca offered “A Modest Republican Manifesto.” In it, he placed blame on “Republicans in name only” (RINOs) or “Main Street Republicans” for many of the problems suffered by the GOP in recent elections.

By RINOs, presumably, he meant members of the GOP who do not adhere strictly to the right-wing agenda advanced by Mr. Mosca and those who believe that they know what position Republicans should take on every issue and who read out of the party those who do not toe their ideological line. As I am sure he would include me in that group — as one who has supported such radical candidates as Mayor Bob Baines in Manchester’s non-partisan elections and Governor-elect John Lynch — let me answer Mr. Mosca from the moderate Republican view.

(I write this as a person who has been a Republican my entire life, has never voted for a Democrat for president — although that is becoming harder — and was president of the UNH Young Republicans and counsel to the Republican State Committee, albeit years ago.)

In his “manifesto,” Mosca claimed that the functional majority of the New Hampshire House, the majority of the Executive Council and others who have to make government work on a regular basis are in the RINO category because they cooperate with others, and have failed to pass certain legislation.

He called Senate President Tom Eaton a “liberal” (that will be news to Tom), and proposed a GOP agenda including a constitutional amendment solving school funding and banning an income tax and a constitutional amendment defining marriage, blamed Governor Benson’s defeat on John Lynch’s taking the pledge and, finally, argued for the elimination of straight-ticket voting so that unsuspecting and uneducated members of his party would not accidentally elect Republicans of whom he did not approve. He even put our two Republican congressmen in the group of suspects for attending something called the “Tuesday Morning Group,” which dares to consider ideas offensive to the party mind police.

Remember, all these are people who were elected by their constituents and know how to win elections for real.

Mosca’s assertions are wrong and, if they are successful, will lead to the very result he fears — loss of political power by his party, for the following reasons:

1. The reason most of us are involved in politics and government is not to advance a party or person. Most of us have become involved to make New Hampshire or the United States a better, more secure and fairer place — not to insure the success of a party regardless of how flawed its candidates or policies. Put another way, I’ll take the best interests of my city, state or nation over the good of my party every time.

2. The United States has traditionally been governed from the middle, and compromise and pragmatism are the best way to govern. Successful conservatives like Ronald Reagan knew this and acted on it. Republicans of various opinions have made great contributions to this state and country, and one wonders how Mosca would have rated Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Rudman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jacob Javits, Howard Baker, John McCain or even Abraham Lincoln, applying his litmus test (or its equivalent at the time) to them.

3. Governor Benson didn’t lose because John Lynch took the tax pledge which Benson himself had taken; he lost because, in the words of The Union Leader’s John DiStaso, “he never really got it.” Do Bonnie Newman, Betty Tamposi, Walter Peterson and others fail his test, and would he write them out of the party because they put the good of their state above the re-election of a flawed incumbent? (I won’t even venture a guess about how he would rate Doug Scamman, the Republican recently elected speaker of the New Hampshire House with the support of Democrats, notwithstanding Scamman’s impeccable GOP credentials, service to the party and state.)

4. Social issues are valid matters to discuss. I suspect Mosca and I agree on several of the main ones. But to make blind adherence to them a test for party membership, or to claim that a position on such things as abortion or marriage is the property of one party or another is dangerous and ignores the complexity of the issues and the fact that there are differences in both parties on them. Consider how clouded things get when philosophy of government clashes with one or another strategy for supporting one’s belief on an issue—for example, when Sen. John E. Sununu voted against the federal marriage amendment as conflicting with his view of the proper role of the federal and state governments. Does he get read out of Mosca’s party, too?

5. Doing away with the straight ticket might be a good idea, although politically risky for the GOP in a state that still has more Republicans than Democrats or unaffiliated voters — even though some of them may not be to the liking of the ideology police. To propose doing away with the straight ticket option because it would keep RINOs from being elected seems to belittle the voters Mosca seeks and their ability to judge candidates.

6. Republicans, like Democrats, are members of a loose coalition of voters who share basic values. Everyone doesn’t share them all. I am a Republican (and assume others are) because I believe in individual freedom, a limited government, strong defense, private enterprise rather than government enterprise when there is a choice, intelligent leadership in the world putting forth democratic values supporting freedom and self-determination, fiscal responsibility and conducting governmental operations in an efficient, ethical and intelligent manner.

Taking appropriate positions on social issues because they are important is right, but to do so as a political strategy to get votes is cynical. To presume that those who have other values or views are “un-Republican” is unfair. It also conflicts with the assumed Republican value that a political party or government should not tell individuals how to live, absent an over-riding reason. This is, after all, the party that talks about valuing “freedom,” “individual rights” and “privacy.” I fear it is in danger of being the party of intolerance, rigidity and intrusion.

7. If all those Mr. Mosca would write out of the party as defective for one reason or another left it, he would be left with a small percentage of the electorate, all rigidly defending their positions, failing to compromise with others who do not share their views and having the comfort of purity and consistency — out of office and devoid of power, of course, because that is the recipe for losing elections.

As the state Republican Party elects a new chair, tries to reinvigorate itself and considers why New Hampshire became a “blue” state and fired a one-term governor, it should consider what works in politics, what is right in terms of welcoming those of various opinions on policy, strategy and program, and how new ideas can be fostered creatively. Otherwise, the many Republicans Mr. Mosca and his allies consider RINOs will not have to be read out of the party. They’ll be gone.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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