One of the top items of business for the Republican National Committee, as it gathers amid lagoons and pools at an ocean-front resort in the heart of this city this week, is to pass a so-called “purity” resolution being put forth by some of its more conservative members.
The resolution, named after former President Reagan, would require that Republican candidates agree on at least eight listed conservative positions – ranging from gun control to gay marriage to financing for abortion – or face a cut-off of party money and support.
The move has stirred opposition from some moderate Republicans, and some officials in the Republican National Committee, concerned that it would have the effect of shrinking the Republican tent at the very moment when Democratic stumbles appear to be creating an opening for the party.
And here is one question that is already percolating among Republicans as they move to debate the resolution: Would Scott Brown – the Republican from Massachusetts who just captured the Senate seat of Edward M. Kennedy, and someone who is a hero these days in the party – have passed the test?
If the resolution had been in place, would the national committee have been barred from doing anything to help Mr. Brown in his campaign against Martha Coakley, the Democratic attorney general?
The argument is clearly worrying proponents of the so-called purity resolution. James Bopp Jr., the conservative Republican Party leader who introduced the motion, sent an e-mail to committee members saying that Mr. Brown would pass the “Reagan test,” and is an affirmation of his argument that a conservative candidate can win election in competitive states (or in the case of Massachusetts, Democratic states)?
“We have argued that what the R.N.C. needs to do is be faithful to our conservative principles to be successful, rather than ‘moderate’ or abandon those principles, and that principled conservatives can win everywhere,” Mr. Bopp said in his e-mail to R.N.C. members. “Well, Scott Brown is a good test case for these claims. He is a principled conservative who passes with flying colors the Reagan test contained in the Reagan resolution and who won a convincing victory in Mass.”
Mr. Bopp pointed to votes and statements Mr. Brown has made, during his campaign and during his years as a state senator, to prove that he supports smaller government and lower taxes, one of the planks. Mr. Brown campaigned against Mr. Obama’s health care proposal, checking another of the boxes. He opposes cap-and-trade energy legislation, and supports tougher measures aimed at illegal immigrants, including opposing amnesty. He would not vote to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
Yet some moderate Republicans are circulating another e-mail arguing that in fact, a different reading of Mr. Brown’s record – a difference choice from his career of quotes and votes – could lead to a his failing the Reagan test.
As much as he opposed Mr. Obama’s health care plan, he voted for the law passed in Massachusetts that has provided the model for President Obama’s proposal – including a mandate on individuals to purchase insurance.
That would not seem to be in keeping with the spirit of one of the planks: “We Support Market-Based Health Care Reform And Oppose Obama-Style Government Run Healthcare.” And at one point, he urged Massachusetts residents to oppose a ballot initiative that would have eliminated the state income tax, which would seem not to be in the spirit of the cutting government and spending resolution.
In the end, this may end up saying less about Mr. Brown’s ideology and bona fides as a Republican and more about the complexities of trying to impose a test like this on candidates.
Conservative leaders who say, in the light of victory, that Mr. Brown passed the test may have easily found the grounds to make precisely the opposite argument had he lost the vote last Tuesday. This is one of the reasons why officials of the Republican National Committee are quietly lobbying to kill the Bopp resolution and trying to come up with an alternative by the vote on Friday.