by Jamie Barker
Most Republicans remember President Ronald Reagan’s popularization of the so-called “11th Commandment.” It goes something like: “Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” While he didn’t come up with it, our greatest President is credited with taking the phrase mainstream and spreading the good word.
The phrase was created after a period of big losses that many attributed to intraparty attacks during the primary. The attacks didn’t slow down once the nominee was chosen and were coopted by Democrats to ensure that fractured Republicans lost and remained divided amongst themselves. If Republicans could not convince each side of their divided party that they were in fact on the same side, then they certainly were not going to beat the Democrats – and they didn’t. People like Barry Goldwater (think Ron Paul with hipster glasses) lost landslide elections due to attacks that were ongoing from Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his more moderate, North Eastern wing of the GOP.
Arkansas became a Republican state very rapidly once it started moving away from the historic Democrat stronghold that had throttled the state. Due to this quick transition, everyone was still used to having to band together to even have a shot at winning elections. We had major primary elections with little to no contest because Arkansas Republicans were wanting to win in November and did not want to jeopardize that with a hard primary. In 2010, John Thurston became Commissioner of State Lands and Mark Martin became Secretary of State (both the first Republicans to ever hold their respective positions) without any primary opposition. In 2014, Tom Cotton unseated Sen. Mark Pryor without having to first win the GOP nomination over a conservative opponent. Even the gubernatorial primary that year was a very cordial contest between now-Gov. Asa Hutchinson and businessman Curtis Coleman. However, in 2018 we started hearing people say things like, “well, the real election is in the primary in Arkansas.”
This shift in thinking led to a much different tone in this year’s primaries. Candidates and their surrogates were much more direct in their attacks, and some even attacked without the ability to back up their assertions, no matter how ludicrous. This is not to say a more direct attack is a poor way to campaign or in anyway unethical. Sometimes candidates have voting records or personal problems about which the electorate deserves to know. The reality is though that the 11thcommandment was really written on the Republican tablets for situations just like this.
Arkansas Republicans should all agree that no matter their differences with their opponent or their candidate’s opponent, in virtually any instance they are much more ideologically aligned than they would be with whomever the Democrat opponent is in November. Look at the Republican race for the Secretary of State nomination. Rep. Trevor Drown and Commissioner John Thurston had their differences. Having attended many events at which they were campaigning, I can tell you it wasn’t always hugs and friendly handshakes. However, both men were totally qualified and legitimately conservative. Their opponent in November is far more liberal. While both Republicans supported voter ID, the Democrat nominee does not. Without going through every detail, that should tell Republicans who supported Rep. Drown in the primary that Commissioner Thurston is their guy in November. That’s obvious, right?
Perhaps it is the worst of the internet where loud voices create a misconception about what the average citizen thinks, but since Trump won the Republican nomination last year and the #NeverTrump Republicans sprouted, it seems that this kind of attitude has become a bit more prevalent. At the very least, people are now more vocal about it. Now that the primaries are over in Arkansas, we as Republicans need to remember that candidates who ran on the GOP platform are much more aligned with our policy goals than Democrats (the real reason we want conservatives elected). Republicans stand for less government, more individual responsibility, the sanctity of human life and lower taxes. Every Arkansas Republican should take a step back, take a breath and take a soul-searching look at the differences in the Republican nominees as compared to the Democrats. After all the years of blood and sweat given by so many Arkansas conservatives, we don’t want to beat ourselves – we should let the Democrats keep attempting to do that while we show them we aren’t tired of winning.
Jamie Barker is the communications director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s reelection campaign and serves as the Chairman of the Arkansas Federation of Young Republicans. He has worked for Sen. Tom Cotton, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Republican Party of Arkansas. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in Biology. Jamie is was born and raised in Smackover, but he now resides in Little Rock with his wife, Allie, and their three sons: Luke, Tucker and Tripp.