Just How Big Should Our Tent Be?

Should the Republican Party be a "big tent"? Arlen Specter, among others, recently claimed that the tent was getting a bit tight for him to stay inside. I don't know that anyone is actually arguing in favor of a "small tent," but some do believe that we are better off with a smaller yet more focused Republican Party.

Yet a Republican Party narrowly focused on social conservatism will have a tent so small that few converts will come inside. I fear that it would be like a much larger but still too tiny to matter Libertarian Party -- from which emanates some bruising and pointed arguments between the "incredibly small tent" and the "infinitesimal tent" activists.

A Republican Party that stands for almost everything will be like John McCain's campaign, with similar results -- the base had little enthusiasm, except for Sarah Palin.

But do we really need to make a choice? Sometimes. But now we should focus more on common ground.

Let's look at abortion. The "big tenters" insist that pro-choice Republicans should feel comfortable here. The more pure factions? Pro-choicers dilute the message and make pro-lifers less inclined to work for Republican candidates. Well, I have a startling piece of news from a recent Gallup poll: there are actually very few pro-choice Americans of any party.

If you look only at labels, it appears that Americans are pretty evenly split: 51 percent call themselves "pro-life" and 42 percent say they are "pro-choice." But when asked if abortion should be legal under "any circumstances," "only under certain circumstances," or "illegal in all circumstances," only 23 percent answered "legal under any circumstances." (That position is actually quite extreme even compared to Roe v. Wade, which granted substantial authority to the states to regulate second and third trimester abortions.)