The struggle to define conservativism in central Washington
Congressman Dan Newhouse is known as a solid business Conservative, who earns tops ratings from groups like the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the National Right to Life Committee, and the NRA’s political victory fund.
But Newhouse is now facing a primary challenge over his vote to impeach ex-President Trump, although it’s not exactly from his right.
The conflict within the Republican Party this year is over the meaning, and the future, of conservativism.
Newhouse represents the 4th District in central Washington.
When he broke with his party to vote to impeach President Trump, critics started to question his Conservative credentials. The state GOP condemned the impeachment vote, and Republican Party chairs in Grant, Benton, Franklin, Yakima, Adams, and Douglas counties demanded his resignation.
Next came the challengers. Former Washington Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp has hinted at a run. Culp claims the election in 2020 was rigged against him. He lost to Governor Jay Inslee by more than half a million votes.
In a recent broadcast on his YouTube channel, Culp lashed out at Republicans who were writing to accuse him of dividing the Republican party.
“The only fracturing in the Republican Party is from those who were exposed as fake Conservatives,” Culp said.
State Representative Brad Klippert — who is also a Pentecostal minister and a deputy in the Benton County sheriff's department — has officially announced a run against Newhouse.
“When Congressman Newhouse voted to impeach President Trump, I could not stand back any longer and do nothing, I had to stand up and step out,” he said.
What about certain concerns? Such as those expressed by some Republicans about potential for violence from those who believe the 2020 election was rigged.
“I answer that question with a question,” Klippert said. “Is there anything in your life, is there anything in America to you worth fighting for? Certainly, there was for George Washington. There was for Abraham Lincoln. There was for Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
But when it comes to the issues, Klippert doesn’t name a single vote or policy difference with Newhouse.
“As our congressman, overall, Dan's been doing a good job. That's why I did not choose to run until now,” Klippert said.
That said, there is a difference — their understanding of conservativism.
This year, Klippert sponsored four bills to improve “election security” in Washington, including one to get rid of the state’s vote-by-mail system.
“There's a lot here that leads me to believe that something's going wrong. But I don't have enough probable cause to make an arrest and say: You did it. And here's the evidence to support it.”
In other words, Klippert suspects a crime has occurred – election fraud. But he has no evidence that any crime occurred.
Many other Republicans, including Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman, do not share Klippert’s view that election fraud occurred. And others disagree that Dan Newhouse should be primaried over his Trump impeachment vote.
Benton County Republican precinct committee officer Josh Skipper said the call for impeachment is a “loyalty test to one person,” which is not "true conservativism."
“Conservatism is about adherence to the Constitution and a true set of ideals that were founded from Edmund Burke to Russell Kirk and beyond,” he said.
Skipper sees himself as an old school Conservative. He thinks our election security in Washington State could be tightened, but he doesn’t see evidence of widespread fraud, and he worries about Republicans spreading conspiracy theories.
“I don't fall into that group. I wish we would just go the route of rejecting conspiracy theories entirely,” he said.
Rationalists and intutionists
Eric Oliver is a political science professor at the University of Chicago, whose research has led him to believe the growing rift within the Republican Party is less about politics than about different belief systems.
“On one pole, are people we call 'rationalists,' who have kind of an enlightenment-style worldview. They believe in facts, reason, logical deduction,” Oliver said. “The other end of this spectrum are people we call 'intuitionists.' And these are people who have kind of a pre-enlightenment worldview. They rely a lot on symbols and metaphors, and gut feelings."
According to Oliver, there’s a very similar split among Democrats, where “intuitionists” have “high rates of vaccine hesitancy, and interest in natural remedies and natural health."
Oliver said the intuitionists in the Republican Party (including conspiracy theorists) are more ascendant for now. But he believes their electoral success will wane, and sooner or later the pendulum will swing back toward conservativism grounded in issues.
“Parties ultimately are organizations that try to build winning coalitions for candidates to gain office. And if you keep doubling down on these types of fringe candidates, or this fringe rhetoric without actually being able to provide meaningful policy opportunities for Americans, it's hard to see how that becomes a winning strategy,” he said.