As a delegate to the Texas Republican state convention I get regular mailings from state party chairman Tina Benkiser. Most of the time these are appropriate and informative, with a general thrust of asking for money to support the state party. Exactly what I'd expect to get from the state party chairman. I've heard some negative things about Benkiser in the past, but in my limited contact with her through these emails she's just been a professional doing her job.
Today I got another fundraising email from Benkiser, urging me to get my official Republican Party of Texas membership card and send in a nice donation to help fight the Obama administration. Sounds reasonable, but then she decided to fill me in on Obama's nefarious plans:
President Obama is already appeasing these far left elements that were the base of his support. Talk is that his very first executive order will allow homosexuals to openly serve in the United States Military.
Of all the things which Obama can do in the coming year to enact a far left agenda, this is the issue she chooses to focus on? What could be more backwards, more offensive and more ill-conceived?
At a time when the GOP is trying to reinvent itself and many of us want to go back to the root values of the party and restore some integrity, this is really the wrong issue to bring up. The Republican party was founded and built on a belief in individual liberty and the idea that all are created equal and should be treated equally. The party went to war to protect the rights of minorities. To pledge the party to taking a stand against minority rights is so wrong-headed that it boggles the mind.
It's also remarkably stupid on a purely political basis. In the years since Clinton instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for the military, it has become increasingly unpopular with virtually every segment of the population. It is seen as hypocritical, unrealistic and counterproductive. Hundreds of retired military officers have come out publicly against it, and a recent ABC News poll shows that 75% of the public in general, 64% of Republicans, 64% of conservatives and 76% of independent voters favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Not only is Benkiser's position bigoted, it's also politically foolish.
Benkiser has a track record of bad decisions and making enemies as chairman of the Texas GOP. In addition to her hostility towards gays, she's a rabid nativist and declared a culture war on Hispanics in Texas, a remarkably stupid position to take in a state with such a large Hispanic population. She's also hated by the grassroots of the Texas GOP and libertarian independents who are a great source for potential future recruits. She outraged many delegates and observers with her high-handed handling of party business at the state GOP convention and dictatorial practices and rule violations which resulted in a lawsuit and left many delegates feeling disenfranchised. She was also behind ramrodding through many of the worst elements of the reprehensible Texas GOP platform. She's an embarrassment to the Texas GOP and she's symptomatic of the failed politics of hate and exclusion which the GOP needs to purge once and for all. Her extremist beliefs have been divisive; she has damaged the party enormously, and her reputation is spreading nationwide.
Benkiser is hoping to move up in national politics as co-chair of the Republican National Committee with Ken Blackwell, who has committed to bring her with him if he wins, to satisfy the party's requirement of having a female co-chair with a male chairman. Unfortunately, taking the national job doesn't require her to resign from the Texas chairmanship and her term is not up until 2010. Blackwell has formed this alliance with Benkiser to appeal to fundamentalist christians who make up about 40% of the members of the Republican National Committee. The problem is that the 168 insiders who make up the RNC are not very representative of the party as a whole, and in winning over the extremists among them Blackwell may well lose the support of the grassroots and alienate potential new Republicans.
Benkiser's vision is of a GOP based around conservative christian values, a vision of a party which has a limited constituency and very little potential for growth. She would create an ideologically hidebound party which will never have broad national appeal and which would be doomed to permanent minority status. It is also a party which would have abandoned traditional Republican values of limited government, economic prosperity and individual liberty and replaced them with a theocratic statism which is contrary to the constitution; unappealing to the general population and to many elements within the party. Benkiser is symptomatic of the wrong turn which the GOP took after the presidency of Ronald Reagan and which ultimately led to the nationwide losses of 2006 and 2008.
Promoting her to a higher position in the party when she really ought to be sent home to Houston in shame, is incomprehensible. Under no circumstances should she be considered for higher office, and Ken Blackwell ought to be rejected as well if he continues to support her. I had held out some hope for Blackwell based on an excellent speech I heard him make at the Americans for Prosperity conference in DC last fall, but his alliance with Benkiser along with his endorsement from the bigots at Eagle Forum has made me realize that all of his talk about building a better, stronger and more principled GOP and returning to the core values of the party is just hogwash; he’s willing to sell out to the worst elements in the party to get elected.
Tina Benkiser offers nothing but a future of failure for the GOP. It's time for a return to traditional Republican values and a renewal of integrity and principle. Embracing the failed policies of hate and bigotry of the religious right instead of the principles of individual liberty, small government and economic prosperity is a mistake which the Republican Party cannot afford to make if it wants to have a future. Blackwell should repudiate Benkiser and reaffirm his belief in real Republican values. If not, there are plenty of other good candidates running for RNC chairman.