Ronald Reagan incarnate could not have united the 250 Republicans who gathered Wednesday night in Arden Hills to discuss the future of their party.
Billed as “Minnesota GOP: Where Do We Go From Here,” a panel of seven campaign professionals, bloggers, and consultants each offered a road map that would send the party in seven different directions.
The panel reflected the factions and frictions in the crowd at the Blue Fox Bar and Grill. Ron Paulites, Tea Partiers, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and one tri-corn hat-wearer alternately cheered and booed as panel members commented on the state of the Minnesota GOP.
“The Republican Party is an absolute disaster,” said Andy Parrish, a former Michele Bachmann chief of staff who helped direct the unsuccessful campaign to pass the marriage amendment. Parrish argued the party has abandoned its social conservative principles and suffered as a consequence.
Parrish’s position got a forceful pushback from writer Sarah Janecek. “Let’s get the hell off the social issues and focus on the fiscal issues,” she said.
She delivered several versions of that line, always met by a round of applause from the libertarian Ron Paul supporters, who made up most of the attendees.
Reaching out to minorities, using social media, appealing to independent voters and improving basic campaign techniques were some of the tactical suggestions of the evening.
But, one question from an audience member reflected the overarching concern: “How do we get the factions to work together?”
Like his panel colleagues, Mark Westpfahl, Republican chair of the 2nd Congressional District, couldn’t give an answer but he did sound a philosophical note.
“Republicans have always been a faction party,” he said. “It’s nothing new, but we pick up on it when we have big losses.”
Parrish took the bleakest view of his party’s future, suggesting the Minnesota Republican Party should file for bankruptcy and start over, a comment that elicited some nods of agreement.
The two-hour discussion ended as it began — with no unity on content of message, tactics or strategy but plenty of evidence that Minnesota Republicans are scattered well beyond the boundaries of the big tent.