Commentary: What ‘Real’ Republican?

By Beacon Staff

In an about-face, the Montana Republican Party invited Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger to its winter meeting last week, a grudging acknowledgement that he is, in fact, a Republican.

This olive branch was extended just months after the GOP summer convention, when Bohlinger was told to stay away. At the time, party members accused Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s right-hand man of moonlighting as a fake Republican (Bohlinger’s penchant for bowties excepted, of course). Party Chairman Erik Iverson told the Associated Press that allowing him to attend would be akin to “Rob Ash, the new coach of the Bobcats, asking (Griz football coach) Bobby Hauck if he could come into the locker room at halftime and listen to his strategy.”

The football analogy wasn’t that far off. GOPers may have been reluctant to discuss Xs and Os if they felt Bohlinger was untrustworthy, which they obviously did. Yet this time around the only reason Bohlinger won’t be attending the get-together is because he will be overseas on his honeymoon.

It’s unclear why the GOP had a change of heart. Iverson said he wanted to drill the lieutenant governor about the policy differences his party has with the current administration. But I hope he also realized that the term “real Republican” means nothing.

Looking in a broader context, at the Republican candidates for president – the party known for staying on message – it’s clear the GOP is having as hard of a time as Democrats in figuring out exactly what they believe.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, leads national polls, but is often criticized for governing as anything but a conservative, or a Republican for that matter. He’s blasted for his record of support for abortion and gay rights and some forms of gun control. And many in his party say they will champion an independent if he gets the nod for the Republican ticket.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who once held a comfortable lead in Iowa (home of the first Republican caucus), is plagued by the same issues. He is a recent anti-abortion convert and, another sin, only recently opposed gay marriage. Both issues are hot-button GOP platform points that most Republicans believe their leaders should remain steadfast against.

Maybe that’s why former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has seen a surge in the polls. The Baptist preacher is certainly conservative on social issues. But as he’s garnered more press coverage, the more his record looks un-GOP. He raised taxes while governor and allowed children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition to colleges.

Fred Thompson acts the part, but his late entry to the race and uninspiring debate performances will make it hard for his candidacy to gain steam. He doesn’t excite people.

And long-shot Ron Paul – drumming up dollars on the Web and enjoying grassroots support in communities like the Flathead – certainly veers from the party line in regard to the Iraq war (he wants the troops home). But, as an indication of just how wide open this race is, Paul is making inroads in New Hampshire (home of the first primary).

If you cherry-pick these candidates’ views you could clone a Republican who supports abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, increased taxes, some rights for illegal aliens and opposes the Iraq war. That description looks more like a donkey than an elephant.

So, if the Montana GOP opts once again to shun the lieutenant governor from one of its private party meetings, it should stick to the argument that its members don’t trust him. Because, as evidenced by the state of their party nationally, accusing Bohlinger of not being a real Republican rings hollow.

So-called real Republicans are, in many ways, looking a lot like real Democrats.