Does The Republican Party Need Its Moderates?
Amid continuing signs that the Republican party is stuck and unable to chip away at President Barack Obama’s election winning and potentially political-support sustaining coalition, once again the question has arisen: Doesn’t the GOP need its moderates?
To hear some conservatives say it, No way. Moderates are described as wishy washy, people who don’t have the clarity of vision to take a quick and/or all-the-way stands or they’re– using the ultimate insult term — “RINOS” (Republican In Name Only.)
But the key question has become:
Is it more desirable to be a RINO who might be looking for a new and different way out, or a “real” elephant who seems intent on making a sharp right turn towards the political graveyard?
This question becomes more even compelling when you ponder two tidbits.
The first, are these recent polls that show Obama’s popularity generally rising, many more Americans feeling the country is finally back on the right track — and indications from other polls that the Republicans are less popular than Venezuela, legalizing marijuana or China.
And, second, is this piece in The Politico which echos what we have repeatedly written here. I’ve noted in many posts that Obama has pieced together a coalition of (very satisfied) Democrats, (largely satisfied) independent voters and GOPers who are not into the current GOP’s prevailing talk radio political culture. Many of those would be Republican moderates — a species some say is vanishing but nonetheless symbolic of the party’s larger problem: George Bush is no longer in office, the party took a big hit on several issues such as Hurricane Katrina and the economy, and it can no longer afford to be a party that seemingly talks to and appeals largely to its own conservative political base. EARTH TO NEWT, ERIC AND MITCH: These people agree with you already so start trying to win over the others..
Some Republican commentators, including Karl Rove and Michael Gerson, have argued that Barack Obama is breaking his campaign promise to govern as a “post-partisan” president. But before they rush to criticize Obama, they need to put their own house in order. The GOP’s moderate wing has declined in recent decades, and the size of the Republican coalition is shrinking.
If the Republican Party is to reestablish its dominance in American politics, it must rebuild a national coalition that includes independent and moderate voters and elected officials. In the 1950s and 1960s, Republicans had a robust centrist wing typified by President Dwight Eisenhower, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and New Jersey Sen. Clifford Case. Influential think tanks like the Ripon Society proposed moderate policy ideas that proved to be both popular and effective.
A personal on that:
I’m a prime example of what Dallek is talking about. As a Baby Boomer. my hero was…Nelson Rockefeller when he was New York Governor and I was in high school. Somewhere in Connecticut buried in an old box there’s even a Super 8 movie I filmed of Rocky in 1968 as he delivered a speech at Yale, making a slight mistake: “It’s great to be here at Harvard again!” Even so, college students loved him — even though Republican primary voters and particularly conservatives didn’t.
I was a registered Republican for a while, and my favorite politicians were moderate Republicans but I never liked Nixon at all, and totally dropped my Republican party registration once Nixon embarked on his Vietnam-era divide and rule rhetoric — even though I had strongly supported the Vietnam war (until the invasion of Cambodia). For a while I became a Democrat (my favorite Democrat was Washington’s Sen. Scoop Jackson) but over the years voted for some Republicans…including Ronald Reagan and, in the 2000 California primary, John McCain (I even re-registered as a Republican to do that). For years I’ve been an independent voter who felt edged out of the current GOP. MORE:
Republicans were at times indistinguishable from liberal Democrats. They embraced elements of the New Deal. They were Republicans who believed in the efficacy of government power but stayed loyal to their party because their parents and grandparents had been Republicans.
While Rockefeller Republicans virtually died out in the 1960s and ’70s, other moderate Republicans — from the Midwest, the Mountain West and the Northeast — continued to influence internal debates about politics and policy and were part of a conservative-dominated, big-tent coalition. Their moderate policy prescriptions also held influence.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan generated support for their party by appealing to centrist and independent voters, thereby enlarging the GOP’s coalition and helping to make conservative Republicans the nation’s political majority. These presidents championed numerous conservative ideas such as tax cuts, but they also embraced more moderate policies that were important factors in the GOP’s ascendance.
Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, endorsed national health insurance and forged diplomatic relations with communist China. Ford treaded softly on social issues while Reagan raised taxes, negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and signed legislation strengthening Social Security.
There’s a lot more so read it in full.
The bottom line is this: The Republican party can’t win unless it’s entire strategy IS to wait for a big, fat Obama failure and it actually does happen — or if it becomes proactive in search of victory, and expands its present seemingly shrinking tent to genuinely bigger one by inviting more people in. People who might not totally agree with those already there.
Here lies the key dilemma for the GOP:
By its very nature, talk radio is a genre that must attract an audience, excite it, keep it, expand it and then deliver a specific, often narrow but potent, DEMOGRAPHIC of listeners to advertisers. In recent years — accelerated at warp-speed pace after Obama’s election — the Republican party has seemingly been influenced by talk radio political culture in policy and in the way it and its partisans communicate its positions to the American public.
But most of the American public is not in that narrow demographic. Limbaugh may have some adoring Republican moderates, independents and Democrats, but that isn’t his the prime demographic that he attracts day after day with his takes on issues that are cause his listeners to say “Ditto!” The GOP has become fixated on — and distracted by – the excitement of talk radio, deferring to its hosts, and reacting in fear when talk radio fans flood the Congress with calls and emails when hosts want Congress to vote a certain way. Dallek notes all the moderate Republicans who have vanished from holding office in recent years, then adds:
The decline of moderate and independent Republicans, according to historian Vincent Cannato of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, “is only part of the problem” confronting Republicans today. Still, “just as Democrats needed to reach out to Blue Dogs” to build their coalition, Cannato said, “Republicans need to find out who the moderates and independents are in the country — and try to figure out how to appeal to them.”
As Cannato — author of “The Ungovernable City,” about liberal Republican New York City Mayor John Lindsay — also points out, the GOP has been “unfairly tainted as the party of Southerners.” In recent years, this image has hurt their chances in other regions of the country, especially among suburban voters.
A rough road lies ahead for Republicans hoping to rebuild their party. They must recruit candidates that fit their districts, reach out to Hispanic voters among other crucial constituencies and find policies that appeal to a broad cross section of the country in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s unpopular presidency.
And the prospects? Every day there is a new sign that the GOP is moving further to the right and further away from American’s current mainstream, not just in terms of ideas and style of rhetoric, but in what appeals to younger 21st century voters.
The latest news?
A faction of the RNC is pressing hard — a conservative faction, of course — to have GOPers brand Democrats as “socialists” with one member even suggesting that partisans start calling the Democratic party the “Democrat Socialist Party.” Can you guess how that will go over with Democrats who MIGHT agree with the GOP, or independents (like me) who MIGHT find themselves unhappy with Obama but detest demonization, or Republicans who already find their party becoming too extreme and drama-prone for them?
The problem: some in the GOP know what needs to be done, many outside the GOP know what needs to be done — but there are some powerful voices within the GOP who greatly influence the party’s powerful base that will always argue why it shouldn’t be done.
And until it is done — unless Obama stumbles badly — the GOP may find that when it argues it deserves a return to significant power, or to take control of Congress again, the prevailing political coalition that includes independents and non talk show radio political culture Republicans will feel THAT shouldn’t be done.
FOOTNOTE: On The View. Meghan McCain once again seemingly expressed the view of many independents and perhaps some Republicans about Karl Rove, the GOP strategist whose approach to politicking was not so much about coalition building but about mobilizing his party’s base because if i Republicans got 50+1 that was enough to prevail. She also came out swinging on how the party has treated moderates:
If Karl Rove thought Meghan McCain might soften her views on his use of Twitter when she cohosted “The View” today, he tuned in for nothing.
He may be employing today’s technology, McCain said, but he’s still yesterday’s news.
“You’ve had your eight years,” she said. “Now go away.”
…..She did say she specifically cited Rove “more as a metaphor” for Republicans who think that just embracing contemporary technology will bring people from the Twitter generation into the party.
The problem isn’t technology, said McCain. It’s ideology – specifically, the party’s reluctance to welcome “moderates” like herself. “We should become an umbrella party,” she said.
“Stop telling me I don’t have a place.” McCain, who campaigned extensively for her father last fall, looked generally comfortable on “The View,” though her comments at times became a little rapid-fire.
UPDATE II: Be sure to read pollster Stuart Rothenberg’s post here at RCP titlted “April Madness: Can GOP Win Back the House in 2010?” His analysis includes some of the same points in our analysis above about the GOP’s problem and what it needs to do.