How to Evaluate ‘Insider’ vs. ‘Outsider’ Legislative Candidates

Jul 15, 2022 by David Fowler

How to Evaluate ‘Insider’ vs. ‘Outsider’ Legislative Candidates
Early voting for state legislative primaries (and county general elections) starts today.  There are some Republican primaries in which the incumbent faces a challenger. Having been the out-of-nowhere challenger to a 26-year incumbent Republican committee chair, I hope my thoughts on the political insider vis-a-vis the political outsider debate are helpful.
Since Trump, Republicans of all stripes want to run as political “outsiders.” For a primary challenger the goal is to paint the incumbent as an “insider” and part of the swamp (yes, Tennessee state government has its own version of the swamp). If mostly Republicans in Name Only (RINO’s) support the incumbent, and if you don’t see those you think true conservatives bringing their support, it is likely the swamp has arrived to protect their own. 

On the flip side the outsider faces the argument made against me, namely, that my district would lose political power and the benefits state government could throw toward Hamilton County. 
But in my view, neither of these “qualifications” matters much if you care about the direction culture and civil government are currently headed.
The need for an incumbent who “knows the system,” “knows how to get things done,” and “has influence with the right people” is important if one wants more and bigger government. 
But that does not mean the challenger is the best option for going in a different direction. I have seen plenty of new, good people come into office wanting to change things and instead things changed them. Newcomers quickly learned from the caucus leaders that if they wanted to be “effective,” they needed to operate within the system.
Legislators who let the party or caucus leaders define what it means to be effective have bad-to-the-bone theology. You can read about that in my book, The Politics of Loving God-Courageous Truths for Contentious Times. A copy of the relevant chapter is at this link.
The important question is what issues the candidates are talking about and what drives and informs how they talk about those issues. 

Republican Candidates Who Treat You Like a Cog

The direction in which culture and politics are taking us will never change unless we have people in office who know and understand the nature of the conversation that is driving things. That direction proceeds on a world-void-of-God track (though God is using that to drive His own end and purposes!). 
But candidates knowing that is not enough.  They need to know how to contribute intelligently to that conversation, which is why I record the God, Law & Liberty podcast weekly. They also need to be willing to “not get things done” among their colleagues if getting things done means not talking about issues more fundamental than the economy. 
For that reason, I am disinterested in Republicans who spend most of their time and campaign money touting the economy or what they will do to improve it. Do they really think they have God-like control over everything that affects the economy (such as weather!) so that they, not God, are in the driver’s seat? 
That pretension, though, is not the worst of it. To me, their economic soundbites treat human beings like they are just cogs in an economic machine. 
The primacy of this economic engine mentality is also what drives most Republican soundbites about “improving education.” Education in the minds of too many Republicans is simply training human beings to be the cogs that supply power to the economic engine they think are creating. They aren’t interested in educated human beings in either a classical or Christian sense of the words “educated,” “human” or “beings.”  
From a Christian perspective, the idea that everything revolves around the economy and the possession of stuff is demeaning to human existence. Jesus and the Apostle Paul were both clear about that. Of course, those who do not know God as their Heavenly Father will give stuff an inordinate amount of focus (Matthew 6:19-20, 24-34). 
In my view, Republicans with these two talking points as their primary focus—whether insider or outsider—don’t have it in them—the statesmanship quality—to inspire us to lift our eyes higher, to stir our imaginations beyond the mundane and temporary. Those Republican candidates will not change anything. 

We Need ‘Solzhenitsyn Republicans’

We need Republicans (and more pastors behind them) who understand and are willing to repeat publicly what Alexander Solzhenitsyn told Harvard’s graduating class in 1978:
[I]n American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility ... [I]t would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.  … All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century’s moral poverty. … It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.[i]

Who Might These Candidates Be?

You want to know who among the Republican incumbents might have it in them to say and do what is needed?  Then look at the names at this link. It shows the incumbents who voted for or co-sponsored the Marital Contract Recording Act.
That one bill tells you everything you need to know about whether an incumbent believes there is a fundamental reality to our existence that human laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t create—called man and woman, matrimony, and family.
Because this point is so controversial today, you need only look at this link to see which incumbents think those fundamental things are important enough to publicly associate their name with that bill. They have stood up to say there is more to reality and more to life and meaning than stuff. They did not back down, as some former co-sponsors did, when liberals attacked the bill.
In my personal view, these incumbent legislators have shown they have the courage to talk about the tough stuff, the important stuff that could change the direction of things in a culture where the we-will-be-your-savior mentality pervades politics on both sides of the partisan aisle. 
An incumbent Republican candidate with the power of incumbency who doesn’t talk about the Marital Contract Recording Act or at least the importance of securing a place in our constitutional jurisprudence for the future of the family as God designed it is probably not a statesman or a change agent.  
On the other hand, if the incumbent’s opponent isn’t talking about the legislation or these fundamental truths either, then who is to say the “outsider” will prove to be any better.

The Bottom Line for Me

In sum, candidates—whether insiders or outsiders—unwilling to mention, let alone make important, the fundamentals of a truly human society—husbands and wives, married mothers and fathers, parents and their children—will not change the direction in which we are headed.
But maybe you like the course we are on.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.


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