BY TREVOR GARDNER
More than seven years after the presumed Republi-can Revolution of 1994, graduate students at Harvard University are plotting a new conservative movement, one that envisions an all-inclusive GOP intended to counter widely-held notions about the party’s lack of diversity. The vehicle created to spawn this change is the Bull Moose Republicans, an organization founded at Harvard Univer-sity.
While pondering the future of the Republican Party with a group of friends at the Bull & Finch pub in downtown Boston, Jonathan Freimann ’01 brainstormed the idea of giving a facelift to the GOP. He and a friend scribbled a few notes on the back of a cocktail napkin, which eventually led to the formation of the first Bull Moose Republicans chapter. The group is now rooted in 33 states. It has attracted the interest of numerous student groups, the GOP faithful and more than a few U.S. Congressman.
On February 27, the Harvard Bull Moose Republicans met for a happy hour at The House of Blues in Harvard Square. The group included graduate students from HLS, the Kennedy School and undergraduates from Harvard College.
Heather Thompson ’01, the Bull Moose’s director of election reform, maintains that the organization doesn’t intend to shape the political ideology of the GOP.
“We support the ideals of the Republican Party, but we think it’s not representative of the conservative population in the United States. We essentially see the party growing and changing, but [right now] the conservative message is not getting out,” Thompson said.
Thompson suggested that part of the problem can be attributed to the Republican National Convention policy where states that have a high percentage of minorities, like Michigan and New York, aren’t allowed the same delegate representation as racially homogeneous states like Montana, Idaho and Utah.
According to Freimann, this bias was institutionalized in 1920 through Rule 31 of the Republican Party platform. Moreover, the provision was specifically intended to diminish the participation of minority delegates, Frei-mann said. Presently, states considered Republican strongholds receive one delegate for every 3,000 votes, while swing states, which generally have more minorities, receive one delegate for every 30,000 votes. Freimann insisted that the rule remains in place because party members are ignorant of its historical significance. He also cited the rule as the primary reason the audience of the 2000 Republican convention appeared “white washed” despite the racially diverse speakers on stage.
President Bush fought for the image of a diverse GOP for the 2000 convention in Philadelphia; the Bull Moose Republicans hope to realize this vision of the party. Many critics dismissed the convention’s attempt at a new image as a shameless, but necessary, attempt to attract new votes from previously unresponsive circles. Freimann views the party’s new mantra of inclusiveness with far less skepticism. “It’s an idea whose time has come,” Freimann said. “We want to be able to hold our majority, considering the [present] demographics, and it’s generally the right thing to do.”
The Bull Moose Republicans are confident that President Bush is the right man to lead the party’s transformation. Yet despite predictions that he would garner more minority votes than any Republican before him, minority support for Bush fell substantially below party projections. Freimann believes that minority distrust of the Republican Party cannot be overcome in a single election. “Skepticism has been building for decades,” Freimann said.
During the 2000 campaign, the NAACP ran an ad opposing Bush’s candidacy, narrated by the daughter of James Byrd, a man killed in a Texas hate-crime. “The NAACP ad was disgusting and played to the worst in people. It didn’t help, but it wasn’t the cause for the failure,” Freimann said, referring to the lack of minority support for Bush’s candidacy.
The NAACP ad is merely a recent example of the long-standing rift between the Republican Party and minority communities, particularly minority organizations. Ties between the two sides have been less contentious as conservatives recognize America’s changing racial demographic and as minorities become disillusioned with the Democratic Party. To find common ground, Freimann calls on the GOP to be consistent in its message. “The Republican Party has to realize that this can’t just be something we advocate during the election cycle. We have to make [the effort] genuinely, and we have to make it ’round the clock,” Freimann said.
The rewards of the Bull Moose effort will likely depend on either the receptiveness of “communities traditionally not reached by the Republican message” – as the organization states on a flier – or the GOP’s willingness to adopt views not generally perceived to be within the scope of traditional conservative ideology.
Freiman insisted that Bull Moose is an umbrella Republican group with no intention of being perceived as a group of moderate conservatives or liberal Republicans. For Bull Moose, the primary goal is to stamp out any hint of exclusion. “We oppose people who want to exclude individuals based on the groups they belong to,” he said.
The looming question is whether homogeneity in the Republican Party can be attributed to the party’s failure to extend its conservative message to all Americans, or whether it is simply a prevailing lack of receptiveness to that message by groups at America’s cultural margins. Freimann is banking on the former.
“I believe that, in the marketplace of ideas, the Republican Party’s ideas will win. The issues we are bringing people are Republican ideas,” he said.