Have most of the “old” media and the new media (including some here at The Moderate Voice) gotten it wrong? Did Tuesday’s elections, in fact. show that the GOP is now on a more moderate path than many would believe if they listen to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or watch cable political shows or read many conservative blogs on the Internet?
Time Magazine’s Ramesh Ponnuru makes a good case for the fact that the real story here may be how the two candidates who grabbed Governor’s seats away from the Demmies essentially ran moderate campaigns:
Are conservatives leading the Republican Party off a cliff? That’s what a lot of people concluded after conservatives forced the official Republican candidate out of a congressional race in upstate New York for being too liberal. That candidate, Dede Scozzafava, promptly endorsed the Democrat running for the seat — who then won an area that had been sending Republicans to Congress since 1872. Even some Republicans are complaining that a party purged of moderates would be unable to win elections outside the South. The party would be left with a hard-core conservative base, and nothing else.
But this narrative doesn’t hold up even in that New York congressional district, let alone in the rest of the country. Scozzafava was not a moderate Republican. Her support for same-sex marriage and her stance on unions put her to the left of many Democrats in Congress. Several moderate Republicans, such as former governor George Pataki, endorsed the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman. Anyway, Hoffman lost so narrowly as to suggest that a conservative could have won under slightly different circumstances.
Republicans would pay a huge price if they tried to run Doug Hoffmans in every race in the country. But they aren’t doing that. They’re running a slew of moderate candidates for the Senate next year.
Who were the big GOP winners Tuesday?
More important, a few Republican candidates have demonstrated that it is possible to transcend the party’s conservative-moderate divide. In Virginia, Robert McDonnell won a landslide — the first Republican win in a governor’s race there in 12 years — by running as a problem solver. Social conservatives know he is one of them. But independent voters strongly backed him too.
In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie — who beat a primary candidate running to his right — also won independent voters by big margins. The state has not given a majority of its votes to a Republican candidate for governor in 24 years. Christie didn’t break 50% either, in part because of a third-party candidate but also because he ran a vague campaign that left voters unconvinced that he offered real solutions to the state’s serious economic and budgetary woes.
He notes that voters turned on both moderate and conservative Republicans in recent years. The problem has been what, then?
. The problem has instead been that voters have not thought Republicans of any stripe had answers to their most pressing concerns. Addressing those concerns, rather than repositioning itself along the ideological spectrum, is the party’s main challenge.
Then he ends with this:
This year’s health care debate has helped the GOP, both by making independent voters anxious about the Democrats’ ambitions and by forcing Republican candidates to pay more attention to the issue. The Republican comeback could yet fizzle out. But it is happening, and die-hard conservatives aren’t the only ones taking part in it.
True enough and fair enough.
But the big story in coming weeks is going to be the big tug of war. Will candidates who don’t proclaim positions that are 100 percent conservative enough for the talk radio political culture Republicans find themselves being either challenged in primaries or not getting support in elections? If so, it could distract voters from Republicans who are trying to make the Republican name brand more than just opposing. Also: Scozzafava may be to the left of many Democrats in Congress, but she also most assuredly reflects some viewpoints held by some moderate Republicans (just check the Internet, including some posts written here on TMV by people who are Republicans but not members of the tea party protest movement).
Aside from that debate (which can go on forever), Time’s writer is correct: running campaigns that focus on issues, problems, and proposed solutions is a workable strategy. If in 2010 the idea is to send Ann Coulter, Michele Bachman, Sean Hannity, and others far and wide proclaiming the mid-terms a referendum on the tea party protests, conservatism and short-circuiting “Marxist” Obama (who was really born in Kenya) the GOP might fall short of its lofty electoral goals. If if appears to offer a serious affirmative, substantive verus reactive alternative it could benefit – particularly if, as now appears likely, voters remain restless and increasingly disillusioned with the nail-pace of change
In reality, however, the center has shifted to the right within the GOP since the 2008 election.
So the GOP moderates he points to would have been traditional conservatives a few years ago. Today’s conservatives? They’re not your father’s or grandfather’s conservatives. Will the GOP political prototype for 2010 be NY 23 or Virginia and New Jersey? Or a mixture of both?
Meanwhile: the big question is how all of this will impact the Democratic party — driving it further to the left to try and enact programs ASAP to shore up its own base and young people, or moving it further to the center and slow down more controversial components of promised change to try and stem GOP gains?
But the biggest question is this:
Which party will stick its hands in its ears and close its eyes and sing “la la la la la!!” and ignore the likely lessons of Tuesday’s votes?
Take your bets in Vegas now.
(Earlier version of this has been expanded and revised)
Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice