Recently, many moderates have been wringing their hands over how conservative the Utah Republican Party has become. Their failed efforts last Saturday to persuade the delegates at the Republican convention to reform the party election process enhanced their frustration. Some are now threatening to initiate a petition drive requiring a public vote to mandate primaries, hoping to open up the political process to more moderates.
Even with a public mandated primary, the conservative base will dominate politics in Utah until the Democratic Party reforms itself and provides a legitimate alternative for the politically moderate. No forced reform will endure against a large, motivated, Republican base willing to fight and fight hard for its political principles and tactics.
Because the Democratic Party has been unwilling to reform itself reflecting the majority values in Utah, moderates have no alternative but the Republican Party. In its present form, it is socially unacceptable for most Utah moderates to be associated with the Democratic Party. The moderates may feel constrained into an association with the Republican Party they are not fully compatible with, yet the Democrats give them no better alternative.
Until the Democrats become competitive in the marketplace of politics, Utah will remain conservative, even "right wing" conservative. This is the real source of the moderates' frustration. Their lack of political influence in Utah will last at least the next 30 years unless it's the Utah Democrats that initiate reforms.
If moderates want to secure a political place for them in each party, they should not look to the Republican base to compromise but they should look to the Democrats to become competitive. Political competition inevitably balances parties, providing a more inviting environment for moderates.
Recent attempts to influence the Republican Party to compromise and change is the result of moderates' failed attempts for 30 years to get the Democrats to do the very same thing. Perhaps moderates could be more persuasive with the Republicans if there was a viable Democratic Party in Utah. Absent a viable alternative, conservative Republicans know they have nothing to fear.
The Republican base recognizes that no change is necessary for it to dominate the political landscape and win elections in Utah. The base knows it only needs a few of the moderates to win elections and with the present condition of the Democratic Party, it easily obtains the few and many more in most political contests.
In other words, absent political competition, the Republican base has no motivation to compromise its principles or change its tactics, particularly when it believes it has for a generation successfully safeguarded Utah from becoming like every other state that has succumbed to a national, liberal agenda. It believes it has advanced fiscal soundness, moral standards and liberties against national influences constantly trying to change Utah's way of life. Furthermore, it has grown while at the same time Utah Democrats reflected the national trends in their politics, causing a dramatic reduction in their membership and officeholders.
The real truth is conservative dominance has made moderates uneasy both because of public policy and their inability to be elected through the Republican Party process. Because the Republican Party has not voluntarily responded to moderate policies and candidates, they are trying to compel the party system to change. The Republican base demonstrated its confidence at last Saturday's convention that any attempts to manufacture a non-competitive solution designed to pacify the moderates against its valued principles and successful tactics will fail.
Stuart C. Reid is a Republican state senator representing District 18 and a former member of the Democratic Party.
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