Republicans have to find a way to get along better

Robert Houk • Sep 17, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Republicans are on the brink of obtaining unprecedented political control of Tennessee. The fall elections are expected to find the GOP adding to its already overwhelming majority in the state General Assembly.

These are indeed good times for the GOP in Tennessee. The party holds a majority of the state’s seats in Congress, and a Republican sits in the governor’s chair.

In less than a decade, Tennessee has become one of the reddest states in the nation. Meanwhile, Democrats in Tennessee struggle to find viable candidates for office, as witnessed by the debacle in August when the party nominated an anti-gay conspiracy theorist to challenge Sen. Bob Corker.

These are giddy times for the GOP, but there are party leaders who fear Republicans could soon turn on each other. One party official told me recently he thinks this is the time for Republicans to pitch a “big tent,” one that attracts independents and voters who are closer to the political center.

It will be difficult to accomplish that if Republicans find themselves divided. Earlier this year, GOP lawmakers clashed over a bill aimed at thwarting what the sponsor said was a plot by the United Nations to control land development in local communities. Most Republicans quickly sniffed this out as nonsense hatched by the tea party.

Tea party Republicans have also taken aim at Gov. Bill Haslam, accusing him of paving the way for Sharia law in Tennessee by employing a Muslim in his administration. (How that would be accomplished is never explained.)

Just as there are people willing to believe President Obama has falsified his birth certificate, there are folks equally certain that the U.N. and Islamic fascists are poised to take over the country.

A national sports talk radio personality may have recently hit on why some conspiracy theories gain so much traction today. In explaining why Southeastern Conference fans get so angry whenever he suggests they do play some good football out West, too, ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said: “People want affirmation, not information.”

He’s right, and it explains the reason some Americans will go to great lengths to find a cable news channel, website or blog that tells them exactly what they want to hear. Affirmation is much more gratifying than information.

That’s why so many folks are so quick to believe Sharia law will replace our current judicial system, or that the U.N. is trying to take over local governments. But thinking it doesn’t make it so.

That’s the challenge Big Tent Republicans face in trying to welcome everyone into their camp. There are those who will want to drag the party even farther right than it is today. It’s the same problem the National Democratic Party had when it was pulled far left in the 1970s before Democrats realized national elections are won by candidates who are closer to the middle.

If Tennessee Republicans are unable to stitch together a Big Top to hold all its varied interests, then the General Assembly will become even more of a circus than it already is.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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