Tom Ridge Torpedoes Tea Party at Log Cabin Dinner
Tom Ridge lit into the modern-day Republican Party in a fiery speech Wednesday night that called for the GOP to embrace inclusion or face indefinite defeat.
Speaking to Log Cabin Republicans at the organization's annual Spirit of Lincoln Dinner, the former Pennsylvania governor and first Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush said a "hard-core and shrinking base" of the Republican Party of today has alienated the voters necessary to win elections, and has pushed the party toward intolerance.
"For those who don't toe a strict party line - or have an unbending ideological line - or who dare to work with Democrats to get anything done - they're neither conservative enough, nor Republican enough for some within our midst," Ridge said. "For many observers, the GOP has become intolerant, judgmental and self-righteous - perhaps worthy of attitudes of the Pilgrims in 1620, but hardly attractive qualities for a political party nearly 400 years later."
While Ridge's speech touched on a number of topics, including Obamacare, abortion and some of the Republican Party's most iconic leaders - including Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan - the 15-minute speech was in many ways a rebuke of the Republican Party of the tea party era.
Ridge, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1983, said that a clutch of the GOP has come to believe unity must require unanimity on every issue, and that such a mentality has pushed away potential voters and Republican leaders, diminishing the party's chances of governance.
"In order to govern, we must win national elections. To do so the narcissists and ideologues within our party need to understand that Americans are more conservative than liberal, but are more practical than ideological and more tolerant and open-minded than judgmental. They are also looking for real, not rhetorical, solutions," Ridge said. "They are not attracted to a party that imposes an even more severe litmus test on its own members, projects an unacceptable rigidity and self-righteousness on social issues, and spends more time and energy objecting to bad law rather than proposing alternatives."
Ridge spoke to his evolution on marriage equality, noting that it did not happen overnight but came through the "seasoning of time and experience." Indeed, as governor of Pennsylvania, Ridge signed a state version of the Defense of Marriage Act, only for this past summer to sign on to an amicus brief filed in the Proposition 8 case before the Supreme Court calling for marriage equality nationwide.
He also lamented the way many in the Republican Party have exiled or excluded those who differ with the party on social issues. While insisting the Republican Party will always be the party opposed to abortion, Ridge added that the GOP's "narrow thinking on social issues" is one of the key reasons Democrats have won the past two national elections.
"Many Americans are outraged by the moralistic attacks on the gay and lesbian community from some within our party. Perhaps they should be more concerned about their own relationship with God," Ridge said. "As both Saint Matthew and Saint Luke taught us, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.' It is an important enough lesson to be mentioned multiple times."
"Let's face it, who's left to offend? Perhaps just white males like me, and you know I'm not real happy now," Ridge continued.
The annual dinner marked the first since last year's general election, which saw a series of defeats for Republicans after President Barack Obama won re-election by a large margin over Mitt Romney, who was endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans. But it was the events that have transpired since then, including landmark Supreme Court rulings, a growing majority of Americans who support marriage equality, Senate movement on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a Republican Party in the midst of soul searching that gave hope to many of last night's attendees.
"If we want to win, then we need a bigger tent. And we need to fill it," Ridge said. "If we want to win, we need to be a party worthy of the 21st century. A nonjudgmental party where all who support us are welcome. A party where diversity of view, race, ethnicity, gender and religion are relished and promoted and nourished."
"The times are a-changin'," said Ridge. "It's about time the Republican Party caught up."
Among the other attendees at last night's event was Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and it was hard to miss the significance of his attendance. Issa is the House of Representative's chief watchdog, chairing the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and one of the most high-profile members of Congress. He also has a voting record that is far from gay-friendly, having voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and against LGBT workplace protections.
Speaking to Metro Weekly, Issa largely shied from discussing his own views on particular LGBT issues, which have never been the main focus of his political career, but he, too, offered a vision of inclusion that unites rather than divides the Republican Party.
"The Republican Party has a challenge and it is the gay community is disproportionately registered Democrat and so we have to be appropriately welcoming to people who support Republican values who happen to be gay," Issa said.
Although Log Cabin Republicans have been lobbying Issa on ENDA, he said he has not yet taken a position, nor has he seen the bill. Issa added that a House version of the legislation would likely differ from a Senate version and that any law concerning workplace discrimination must not enable trial lawyers.
Asked if his views on marriage have changed since the U.S. Supreme Court returned marriage equality to California in June, Issa said no, but added that the country is witnessing a "march of time."
"I think we're watching a shift. That shift is not as far as the left would take it, but in fact it's very much like many other levels of acceptance where the laws over time follow," Issa said. "When I was a young man only some states allowed interracial marriage. People don't think about that in my lifetime those are the kind of laws that have gone away. So when you look at gay acceptance and gay marriage I think you're looking at something very similar in many ways. Slavery ended 100 years before 1965, but in 1965 not every state would openly do interracial marriages. I think we're moving a lot faster."
Added Issa, "I've never been one for special rights, but I've always been for equal rights."