"Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican," declared the newly elected Republican governor of California more than four decades ago. "Within our tent, there will be many arguments and divisions over approach and method and even those we choose to implement our philosophy. Unity does not require unanimity of thought." Ronald Reagan had just revealed his "big tent" philosophy that later led to his election as president of the United States. And if indeed the Republican Party fails to elect Mitt Romney president in November, it will be because we lost sight of Reagan's vision of a unified party.
As I was traveling recently, I picked up a campaign brochure in which the candidate described himself as a "Constitutional Republican." The implication was that his fellow Republicans were somehow not "constitutional" that they cared little about protecting the God-given rights delineated in the U.S. Constitution. Over and over again in the recent primary election campaign, candidates touted the Constitution as if they were the only ones who loved, honored or understood that great document. Such rhetoric is not only demeaning but dangerous.
Although dedicated, intelligent people can sometimes disagree on the precise meaning of specific provisions within its pages, they are united in their reverence for the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution is an inspired declaration of government by the people. Its 4,543 words stand as a model of cooperative statesmanship and American pragmatism, providing the framework to create and preserve a more perfect union. Citizens across the political spectrum share in their desire to uphold the Constitution. Devotion to it is not limited to an elitist few who believe they have a monopoly on its interpretation. Thomas Jefferson reminded us that "every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle."
Some Republicans would have the race go to those far removed from their core beliefs rather than embrace a fellow Republican that does not meet their litmus test. Ronald Reagan provides his advice to such wavering colleagues: "Here is my challenge to you. It is (your) duty and responsibility not to further divide, but to lead the way to unity. It is not your duty, responsibility or privilege to tear down, or attempt to destroy, others in the tent."
The world is watching to see if segments within the Republican Party will divert its success. The threat is no less real than it was when Patrick Henry stood unsteadily, clasping his hands together, and proclaimed: "Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs."
Hill, a Republican from Rexburg, serves as president pro tempore of the Idaho State Senate. This guest opinion originally appeared in Thursday's Idaho Falls Post Register.