There is an excellent new book out titled Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. The book asks professing Christians a tough question: Are you a true follower of Christ or just a fan? Idleman classifies those who sustain their beliefs through good times and bad, those who are prepared to sacrifice for their beliefs as true believers. Fans, on the other hand, are those who fall away from the church the minute their faith requires anything of them; be it sacrifice, perseverance, or cost. It struck me while reading this book that a similar question could be asked of conservatives. In fact, at a time when key leaders in the national Republican Party are recommending the abandonment of conservative principles as a way to broaden the party’s base, this is a perfect time to ask those who profess to be conservative the following question: Are you a true believer or just a fair-weather fan?
Idleman defines a fan as an enthusiastic admirer but not a true believer. I like that definition. It applies to conservatives in the same way that Idleman applies it to Christians. In Not a Fan Idleman uses the example of an ardent football fan to illustrate the difference between a fan and a true believer. Every weekend during the Fall you can see ardent fans in the stadiums across America supporting their favorite college and professional football teams. The ardent fan paints his body in the colors of his team, owns a jersey bearing the name and number of his favorite player, collects team-oriented memorabilia, and never misses a game in good weather or bad. But let his team go into a slump and struggle through several years of losing seasons, and the fan’s enthusiasm will wane. If the losing record persists, the fan will lose interest in the team and transfer his enthusiastic support to another team, one that is winning.
Conservatives have historically held to such core principles as limited government, low taxation, individual liberty, personal responsibility, free-market economics, and Constitutional sovereignty. People who are true conservatives cling to these principles in good times and bad because they know that in the long run these principles will point the ship of state in the right direction. Unfortunately, many professing conservatives are beginning to show their true colors. People in key leadership positions in the national Republican Party are turning out to be fair-weather fans of conservative principles rather than true believers. They are ardent enthusiasts who—because the Republican Party has lost two presidential elections in a row—are suddenly willing to abandon conservative principles in the name of broadening the party’s base.
These fair-weather conservatives never seem to consider that a better way to broaden the Republican Party’s base would be to make a compelling case for adopting conservative principles to Americans of all stripes. Rather than abandoning foundational principles, why not persuade the ill-informed of the efficacy of those principles? Weak-kneed Republicans respond that it is too hard to make a case for conservative principles—that such an effort would take too long and the results would be mixed at best. The reason some Republicans find it so difficult to make a compelling case for conservative principles is that they don’t believe in these principles themselves. It is difficult to be passionate about or to defend principles you adopted out of political expedience rather than true belief.
The Republican Party is experiencing an identity crisis that could leave Democrats in power for the next 20 years. A party that does not know who it is and what it stands for cannot compete in presidential elections, nor can a party that strays from the beliefs it has held to for decades. Ronald Reagan won by enthusiastically running on traditional conservative principles, values he never shied away from regardless of the audience. In short, President Reagan was a true believer in conservative principles, not a fair-weather fan. Yet he managed to broaden the Republican Party’s base beyond anything old-guard Republicans could ever have imagined. There is a lesson in his success for wobbly Republicans who are fair-weather fans of conservative principles rather than true believers in those principles.