Our Opinion: Contrarian blocs challenge political parties’ platforms

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Twenty-eight years ago, Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater said the GOP is a big tent that can “house many views on many issues.”

Justin Banks hopes there’s enough room in that tent for people like him.

“I would rather be gay in a roomful of Republicans than a Republican in a roomful of gays,” the 19-year-old New Bern resident and college student says.

Banks will speak during a Tuesday meeting at the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters that may well be transformative. Hosted by the Triangle Urban Republican Network, or TURN, the session will explore how the GOP addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues — and whether gay people can gain mainstream acceptance in the Party of Lincoln.

“Needless to say, it’s hard to come out to anyone, especially parents,” Banks said in a statement posted to the TURN Facebook page. “I grew up in a Christian household and graduated from a Christian high school as well. All of this taught me life experience, as well as traditional family and moral values.”

The modern Republican Party is essentially a coalition of economic libertarians and social conservatives. As the latter group grays and its influence wanes, could socially tolerant small-government millennials be recruited to take its place?

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of LGBT conservatives, will be on hand for Tuesday’s talk. They hope to convince skeptics that the party should embrace personal freedom in all its forms.

Consider another contrarian pitch — the Democrats for Life of America group says health care should be a right and supports paid family leave, but also opposes legal abortion access, arguing the Democratic Party should “protect life at all stages.”

The DFLA is planning its annual conference next month in Denver to “take back our Party,” that is, to make the case that progressives are supposed to stand up for the underdog, and there’s no one more helpless or in need of defense than an unborn child.

Yes, there are liberal conservatives and conservative liberals. The Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of centrist and family-values Democrats chaired by U.S. Rep. Jim Costa of California, has 18 seats each in the House and Senate.

If you know how to spot them, signs that independent-minded factions are contradicting the left-right paradigm are everywhere.

From 1968 through 2016, 71 percent of American Jews have voted Democratic. Many Jewish people tend to identify as liberal, but the 7,000-member Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership is challenging left-wing orthodoxy on gun control.

The JPFO points to German gun-surrender and licensing laws that preceded the Holocaust as an obstacle that prevented Jewish victims from forming an organized armed resistance to the Nazis. Its founders say Jews most of all should oppose government efforts to disarm citizens.

Third parties are seeing a resurgence, particularly in North Carolina. The Libertarian Party gained ballot access in 2008, the Green Party was added this year and the Constitution Party is collecting signatures in an effort to enter the Tar Heel political conversation.

Likely due to a rise in individualism, many Americans just aren’t keen to march in lockstep anymore. They’re increasingly willing to espouse views once considered heretical within their respective parties, and if they can’t change the prevailing sentiment or at least win grudging acceptance, they’ll join a different group or form one of their own.

An a la carte approach to policy questions strikes us as healthy. Groupthink and tribalism are tiresome. Perhaps more voters abandoning rigid ideologies in favor of mix-and-match politics will lead to split ballots, more competitive races and less polarization.

As for party chairs and platform architects in the Democratic and Republican war rooms, a willingness to consider new viewpoints and welcome ideologically diverse candidates and voters might be the key to success in 2020 and beyond.

Someday soon, elections may be decided by which side has the bigger tent.