Debate Highlighted GOP’s Far Right Turn

June 16th, 2011 at 10:01 am | 37 Comments |

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Watching the Republican presidential debate from Manchester, purchase New Hampshire on Monday night was, pills for me, health akin to a two hour dental appointment — without the benefit of “laughing gas”.

Although I remain a Democrat (leaning more and more toward declared political independence), I had hoped for—but didn’t much expect— something better than what I saw and heard in the discussion at St. Anselm College.

I admit to never having voted for a Republican Presidential candidate, and it is unlikely — but not impossible –I ever will. However, over the years I have crossed party lines several times in “down ticket races”, as first a resident of California, then Virginia and now the District of Columbia (talk about futile gestures!). I adhere to no specific or predictable — some of my Democratic friends would argue no discernible — political ideology.

I am devoutly pro-public education. I believe in equal rights for all citizens, and I consider myself a dedicated civil libertarian.

I also believe that government exists, in part at least, to do for the general public that which individuals cannot do on their own. At the same time, I am skeptical of “social engineering”, whether it springs from the left or the right. I am equally resistant to policy overreach, and I worry about unnecessarily zealous bureaucratic intrusion into various aspects of our lives and institutions.

I am hawkish on the federal budget deficit, and I support spending cuts and entitlement reforms to help balance the books. But I also know that increased revenues have to be part of the mix.

Therefore, I support the Bowles/Simpson and Rivlin/Domenici approaches, and I wish fervently that the President and Congress would embrace them; the failure to do so is inexcusable.

I am also an unabashed internationalist, and I support direct intervention (by military and/or other means) when the situation demands it (I put Afghanistan and Libya in that category). I worry equally about the Democratic left’s pacifist tendencies, and the isolationist sentiment that is growing in both parties. When Pat Buchanan and Dennis Kucinich are more or less singing the same tune, I conclude  we — and the world — are in big trouble!

Given all of that, I realize that in the context of today’s politics it is highly unlikely that any potential Republican Presidential nominee would share most (or even many) of my views or concerns. That said, shouldn’t a political centrist expect at least a nod or a wink in his or her direction from candidates in both parties? Don’t we deserve to feel that our votes ought to at least appear to be in play?

Apparently not.

Monday night’s debate represented yet another dramatically rightward tack by the GOP. Not one of the candidates hinted at any appeal to moderates. As the forum drew to a close I concluded that that the dynamic on display was not just about primaries and pre-nomination politics (simply a tactical ploy directed at an activist base), but rather it was an unvarnished expression of where the candidates actually place themselves on the political spectrum.

The 2012 Republican nominee, whoever it turns out to be, is likely  to position him or herself to be the most conservative candidate to seek the Presidency in my lifetime — more conservative, in fact, than Barry Goldwater was in 1964. As someone who is almost certain to vote for Barack Obama’s reelection, I should probably hail that fact; it will give him a lot more running room in the center of the field, where Presidential elections typically are won and lost.

But I don’t feel any giddiness whatsoever about that fact — not because I think Obama might blow it (I don’t think he will), but because real and vigorous competition for moderate, independent voters would mean a better and more enlightening campaign. One result of that would be an improved second term President Obama (and perhaps a more united America).

Sadly, it appears that Mr. Obama will have to do that pretty much on his own, without any help from a loyal and credible opposition, and maybe without critical leverage coming from those in the middle of an increasingly polarized electorate.

Recent Posts by Les Francis

37 Comments so far ↓

  • jg bennet

    trump was right, our leaders are clueless

    i too never vote for a republican pres but will absolutely vote for an independent if one runs.

    trump anybody?

    this was on hannity but worth a watch anyway and i agree with trump about the republicans and it is so good to hear someone that is from the GOP camp calling the republicans the idiots they are.

  • F.Citizen

    For all his pandering and flip-flopping, I do not consider MoMo-Mitt to be to the right of Goldwater (who unflinchingly supported a woman’s right to have an abortion). Chances are, he will be the eventual nominee of the Republican party for president. Setting aside the religious problem he may have with evangelicals, when the WSJ claims he is Obama-Lite, the stage is set for a intra-party split that could cost Republicans the presidency. Obama is weak as the economy is weak, but a divided Republican party is far worse.

  • F.Citizen

    Heh. Please ignore the fact that I partially refudiated my own argument. Even if the Kolob bound businessman is objectively more conservative that Goldwater, it will still not be good enough for the Republican base.

  • jg bennet

    i hope this is the year there is no R or D attached to the presidents name.

    i’m thinking if an independent wins the republicans/confederacy will go the way of the whigs and the know nothings.

    lincoln would have nothing to do with this bunch that calls themselves republican today. today’s GOP would be calling reagan a RINO if he were running. we all know that is true because he was (according to CATO) the most protectionist president since hoover.

    why is it that the republican platform resembles the confederate ideology? how can anybody vote for such anti americans?

    read this link it is the GOP all the way and before you roll your eyes and say “good gawd JG not again”, read it to the end and then decide :)

    oh and perry mentioned secession and he is a GOP star and a favorite pick by many GOP’ers on the right. .

  • jg bennet

    and speaking of goldwater and real republicans in the same cybersation you have to watch this video

  • Graychin

    Will any of the Republican candidates for president dare to criticize the positions of another as TOO extreme? Or will they continue trying to outflank each other to the right?

    I’m betting on the latter.

  • dgkerns

    As a Democrat, I also mourn a credible and loyal opposition. We have reached the point where Republicans oppose anything the Obama administration favors, even when Obama compromises over the objections of progressives and when he adopts ideas and legislation that were GOP favorites in the recent past. The country needs a vibrant and intellectually honest two-party system. Reflexive oppositional strategy and tactics, no matter the consequence, are a disservice to democracy. Yes, the D’s have fought Republicans on policy matters, but if one looks at the scorecard of congressional voting patterns and filibuster behavior, there is no equivalency between the parties. A major party that devotes itself in lock step to the failure of a presidency may endear itself to an angry mob, but is corrosive to a healthy competitive process in government.

    • tommyudo

      “Credible” and “loyal” are the two key words. The GOP is morally and intellectually bankrupt. The groveling that Reagan and Nixon did for the southern white vote has come back to bite them in the ass. Rove cynically catered to the so-called “Christian” fundies, while at the same time laughing at them behind their backs. The old segregationist vote and the religiously insane are now the mainstream of the GOP. They are an essentially rural and southern party with a shrinking and aging demographic at their core.

  • LFC

    As a former Republican and a fiscal conservative, I long since gave up on the Republican economic philosophies. Reagan flattened out tax rates somewhat, something I approve of, but went too far and did not do enough to try to get things back in balance, especially on the spending side. I voted for George HW the first time, but gave up on him when he effectively said that everything was just fine.

    Clinton stepped in and was immediately the fiscal conservative, raising taxes to a sustainable level and slowing the growth of spending. (Yes, that slowing occurred before the Republicans gained control of Congress.) In fact, he was the wall that blocked Congress from massive tax cuts that we all saw were a massive source of deficits under Bush, and a failure at achieving all the goals set out for them.

    When a Republican POTUS candidate steps up and admits that we can’t cut our way to a balanced budget I’ll be glad to look again. The GOP view now clings to this insanity that taking away the oil companies’ special giveaway tax break is an unacceptable tax hike. How do we get revenue to the level needed to run an effective gov’t and how do we simplify the tax code if every special deal given to pay off some company or another is protected?

  • jg bennet


    “The GOP view now clings to this insanity that taking away the oil companies’ special giveaway tax break is an unacceptable tax hike.”

    and they say nothing about this dollar GRAB. why? complete silence. or this…..Iran, will collect a third more in revenues because prices have averaged $111 per barrel this year. republicans say nothing…

    • PracticalGirl

      I get your frustration with OPEC, but beyond a pissing match what would you have Republicans or Democrats “say” about OPEC’s activities? Beyond developing our own sources of renewable energy, what can a non-member nation do to affect them and to stabilize revenues for their own country? Raving about OPEC while allowing our own oil companies a tax-pass is something certain politicians and entertainment figures might yet do but it’s nothing but talk. More yammering about nothing is something we can all do without.

      On the other hand, rolling back tax breaks for American oil companies IS something both Democrats and Republicans can get behind that will raise revenue for the US. Unfortunately, this approach involves very large campaign donors and might hurt some.

  • think4yourself

    If Les Francis ever finds a party that reflects the positions he mentions in the first couple of paragraphs, I’m in.

  • jg bennet


    sounds to me like a big FRACKING problem :) have you heard about this? it is solomon’s which half of the baby do you want situations. pollution or economic survival…..hmmmm

    June 6, 2011
    According to a story published by The New York Times late last month, the area known as Eagle Ford in South Texas and other deposits around the state, could generate as many as 420,000 barrels per day by 2015. This represents possibly two or three times as much oil as in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska – the largest oil field in the nation – and could boost domestic production by as much as 25 percent. One oil expert interviewed by the Times noted this would be “like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020, except these tight oil fields are in the United States.”

    • kuri3460

      According to a story published by The New York Times late last month, the area known as Eagle Ford in South Texas and other deposits around the state, could generate as many as 420,000 barrels per day by 2015.

      So what? Right now the US used 20 million barrels of oil per day.

      Even if you could somehow ensure that those extra 420,000 barrels would be consumed only within the US, offsetting demand by 2% isn’t going to make any kind of meanginful difference in price or supply.

  • bluestatepastor

    I will second the conments of LFC and dgkerns here, and say that the author of this article is about as close to my own political position as anyone I’ve read here on FrumForum. I too watched part of the debate the other night; and I too mourn the lack of good sense and moderation in today’s GOP – not to mention the complete disconnect between the needs of the country and what they chose to highlight about themselves. I would be delighted to give Michelle Bachmann an award for her service to her community in taking in those foster kids; but I don’t see how they are a qualification for the presidency. It was sweet that Tim Pawlenty described himself as a husband first – sweet, that is, for Mrs. Pawlenty. Again, I don’t see how this is a relevant qualification for the presidency. If all we’re going to hear in these debates is a bunch of warm fuzzies designed to melt the hearts of conservative Christians, and no real policy, then I won’t be tuning in to many more of them.

  • jakester

    Their whole fan base is almost composed entirely of talk radio brainwashed FOX bots. What do you expect?

  • SteveT

    jg, Trump’s just going to break your heart again. Give it up.

    He’s not running. He did that already. Furthermore he doesn’t have the money to run. He’s not a billionaire. He’s also an extremely unpleasant person to watch/listen too. This would not go over well with the American public.

    A conservative candidate like Trump running would be to hand the election to Obama in a landslide.

  • shinnok

    The GOP is simply paying the price of absorbing all those racist Southern Democrats… the rest of the party is being dominated by Red State Nationalists more concerned with their own self-interest than anything else. We’ve already lost the Latino vote as a result…wait ’till the Christian Coalition realizes Ayn Rand was a self-interested, atheist whore who collected Medicare.

  • gmckee1985

    What’s the point of this article? A Democrat won’t vote for a conservative? This is news, why? Who cares. Plenty of conservatives throughout the country that more than offset your support for statism.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    gmckee1985, you are obviously too young to have heard of the phrase “Reagan Democrat”
    The Republican has to appeal to independents and some Democrats to win. I am a Democrat who voted for Reagan and Papa Bush, I voted for Clinton twice but liked Dole, I skipped 2000 (I was out of the country, still am, but now have absentee voting down pat)
    I was disgusted by the debate, the Republicans are becoming isolationist. When Bachmann said she couldn’t think of any reason to be in Libya no one said “how about the families of Pan Am flight 103″ Gadhafi was someone we should have got rid of then, but justice is never too late.

    Romney and Huntsman are the only 2 sane candidates in the bunch, this is the worst Republican field I have ever seen.

    • comanche five

      Frump wrote: “When Bachmann said she couldn’t think of any reason to be in Libya no one said “’how about the families of Pan Am flight 103′″ Gadhafi was someone we should have got rid of then, but justice is never too late.”

      Exactly…The silence was incredible. Amen, Bravo, Amen!

      • Rockerbabe

        Bachmann is almost as clueless as Palin. How she ever got through law school is a mystery. The woman would sell christ on the cross to get a leg up on whatever it is she wants. She is not to be trusted anymore than the male GOP candidates. All are a bunch of angry wolves looking to devour what little most Americans have.

  • ottovbvs

    (leaning more and more toward declared political independence)

    Les: you think political independence is a more effective bulwark against these crazies than the Democratic party? The Dems have their weaknesses but at least they operate in a fact based universe. Just read some of the postings here from some of usual suspects and it’s fairly clear most of these folks are a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

  • comanche five

    This article on the GOP’s far right swerve is a fair, albeit sad, assessment of the abyssmal political landscape–and on both parties and spectrums. Like several here, I too am no ideologue, but rather a centrist much in agreement with this author’s opening statements. It appears from this GOP ‘leadership right-Lite’ display that we are not going to get or benefit from a substantive, informative discussion on the national & foreign affairs our country now faces.
    To both the GOP field & the Obama WH: keep playing ‘gotcha’ politics, the pit bull partisanship games of The Hill, offering up policies that fit on a bumpersticker etc, and you may win this next election; but nothing will have been done to advance our Republic, in our time and in this place. True, Mr. Francis’ description is accurate & commendable in its frankness; but both disappointing and tragic for the real and informative national discourse we need and deserve now.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    otto, it is a general truism that people become more Conservative as they age, so leaning towards independent status makes some sense for some aging Democrats.

    I strongly favor there being two rational and sane parties (at the fringes there will always be crazies) but it seems like the Republican crazies have taken over the party. What the hell happened to the party of Papa Bush, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and in NJ Tom Kean and Christie Todd Whitman?

    • ottovbvs

      otto, it is a general truism that people become more Conservative as they age, so leaning towards independent status makes some sense for some aging Democrats.

      I’m an aging Democrat (ex mild Republican) and I find as I get older I’ve become progressively more tolerant and liberal. Mind you I have no time at all for the some of the anti business, anti reality, nonsense I see coming from some liberals posting here. I assume they are very young and idealistic. For better or worse US politics is a two party system so you’d better decide which side you’re on. The Democrats with their admitted vagaries or the nuts on the right who want to wreck our great country. Independant status is a cop out. Who best expresses your inner sense and where the majority of the American people stand? Indy, Balconesfault, Jakester, Watusie… OR… nhthinker, nwahs, Willy P, Sinz, Jimbob, Carney, Smarg? The question answers itself doesn’t it?

  • valkayec

    I grew up in a pre-Civil Right era, Republican, military, WASP household. My parents voted for Nixon over Kennedy, even though I told my father (I was 11 when I heard their debate via the radio) that Kennedy would win. You couldn’t have found a more conservative, Republican family.

    As a youngling, I was very far left in my political beliefs while still viewing any intrusion into my personal life as voyeuristic or worse, but as I gained real world business experience, even running my own business, I moved towards the center politically. I realized that business and politics are impatient and often incompatible bedfellows. I also saw many Democratic policies that, while meant to address a serious problem, were complete failures. Which all goes to say that I too am among those whose views are consistent with the author’s.

    That said, I mourn the loss of a Republican party of new, innovative ideas. On the whole, it’s become hackneyed and closed minded. Yes, there are moments of brilliance at the national level, but they’re not consistent – or long lasting. They’re more like sparks that flash in the night to be quickly extinguished. I used to love watching and listening to Wm. Buckley, not because I shared his views but because he challenged my own. His intellect was such that he forced me think, logically and rationally, in order to defend my position. I don’t see anyone in the GOP today, or for that matter the Democratic Party, with that kind of force of intellect and the gravitas to challenge both the left and right. Yes, we have tribalism today but it’s from both sides of the aisle.

    Yesterday, I read an Op-Ed from a former GOP member of the House. He was among the freshman that ushered in Al Gore so you can imagine how far back that was. The thesis of the article is how to change the tribalistic, extreme activist control of the two parties into representatives that actually work for the good of the nation and its people first rather than party first.

    It’s okay to fiercely different points of view, but the goal should be putting the nation, not the party, first. This morning I read an article about a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. After the vote, the GOP members laughed and scorned the Dems on the Committee for having lost, like a bunch of pre-adolescents playing “King of the Hill.” That doesn’t say much positive about the people whom we’ve hired.

    I did not watch the GOP debate in NH, but did catch some later excerpts. I was heartily disappointed by everyone’s failure to posit not only new ideas but a clear understanding of the challenges facing the US as a result of globalization. Rehashing or expanding ideas from pre-globalization eras won’t solve the challenges the US is facing today. It became abundantly clear that no one in that stage understood the problems facing the US economy and its middle income working people. And that’s a shame.

    If a solid GOP candidate with new ideas and global perspective (who did not fear a backlash from the extreme right wing) came forward to challenge Obama, we might very well have better policies and decisions being made that could actually lead to increased growth. A contender of this sort would challenge Obama to defend his policies or create new ones. Not only would Obama be forced to stay in the center, but he’d be forced to think outside the box rather than relying on old ideas.

    And believe me, what we need right now are new ideas. Lots of new ideas from people who have a global perspective and understand the global economy. I would heartily welcome that debate, rather than one centered on a closed loop of who is most concerned about women’s freedom of choice in family planning (especially when we already know from global studies that when women control their family planning, poverty decreases) or who’s going to give the uber wealthy the greatest tax break.

    Sad to say, I just didn’t see that kind of conversation in the debate the other night. Nor do I see it in the House or the Senate. And for that, we are all the losers.

    • mikewaz

      I may be from a different generation (end of Reagan’s first term), but I grew up in a very similar family. My parents are both Republicans, my dad was a lifetime military member until he retired at 60, and they are both observant Catholics. Oh, and my dad’s brother has been a Catholic priest for over thirty years. Suffice it to say that I was pretty conservative when I was in high school; had I been a year older in 2000, I probably would have voted for George W. Bush.

      My political views started to change once I started college for two reasons. One was my encounters with individuals different from myself on campus. My high school was exceedingly white, and the few non-whites there did nothing to dispel the stereotypes. I thought people were simple and that the rules for living a good life were simple. I met several international students and hundreds of students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Most importantly, I got to know them as unique and good individuals. Just because they were different from me didn’t make them bad people. The differences between us became things to be celebrated, not condemned as immoral perversions.

      The other was my dad’s actions during the 2004 election (though I didn’t realize it until much later). John Kerry was an officer on a Swift Boat during the Vietnam War, just like my dad. My dad also happened to believe that several of the military commendations Kerry earned during the war were illegitimate, and his fervor for Bush’s re-election campaign led him to help set up the Swift Boat ads bashing Kerry’s military record; he still treasures his author-signed copy of Unfit for Command. Once I started researching John Kerry’s record for myself a couple of years later, I figured out that many of the claims by the group were stretches at best, and some were outright lies. This also happened to be the time I figured out that the economy was in really bad shape and that the GOP under Bush had caused many of the problems that led to the economic collapse. I realized that politics was not about winning arguments, but about making the country a better place for myself and my future children.

      The current incarnation of the GOP, with its holier-than-thou morality, uncompromising and confrontational nature, and strict adherence to advancing the concerns of the super-wealthy, has become a distinctly non-conservative party. They’ve become wildly authoritarian. I can’t get behind a party that tells people we absolutely must listen to God and the rich if we want to lead a good life and excommunicates individuals who don’t walk in lockstep with the party line. I CAN actively support a party that advances novel solutions to new problems that weren’t around even a few years ago. I suspect that’s why I like people like Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, Bruce Bartlett, Reihan Salam, Fareed Zakaria, David Brooks, and Andrew Bacevich. They’re willing to buck the establishment, and their standard for success is functioning policy, not unanimous consent from the party base. Until the GOP starts resembling these people rather than the Christian-corporatist block, I plan on voting for the Democratic candidate in just about every national election because there isn’t another legitimate choice for somebody like me.

      • abj

        I understand where both of you are coming from. For my part, I grew up in a conservative but staunchly Democratic family in the rural South. As far back as I can remember, my parents told me they could never support Republicans because they “only care about the rich,” a characterization I never thought was fair.

        I reached voting age in 1998, so my first presidential election was 2000. I voted for Bush. Out of frustration with both the Iraq war (which I always opposed) and Medicare Part D, I voted for Kerry in 2004. I would describe my political orientation as center-right: conservative with regard to economic and foreign policy, liberal on social issues.

        I remain a Republican despite my frustration with the party’s current trajectory because the Democratic Party doesn’t represent my interests, speak to my concerns, or offer workable policy solutions. While I might disagree with the GOP 60-75% of the time, I disagree with the Democrats 80-90% of the time. Hence, from my perspective, the only choice is to stay in the GOP and try to improve it.

  • sinz54

    Francis: “I admit to never having voted for a Republican Presidential candidate, and it is unlikely — but not impossible –I ever will.”

    The GOP debate–and the primary process–aren’t aimed at you.

    In a previous article of yours, you said that you loved Obama’s speech on the deficit, because it “gave the Democratic base what they wanted to hear. ”

    The GOP debate and the primary process aren’t aimed at the Dem base.

    Now that the bloom has come off the “hope and change” rose, the Dem base in 2012 will consist of blacks and liberals. And the GOP shouldn’t even try to win those folks over.

    Nor you.

  • ottovbvs

    Now that the bloom has come off the “hope and change” rose, the Dem base in 2012 will consist of blacks and liberals.

    Er …this has been the Democratic base for 40 years at least. If the turnout is around 130 million as it was in 2008 this base and a majority of the independants who are scared/dismissive/entertained by the increasing insanity of the right will comfortably re-elect Barack Obama…and you know it.

  • Bunker555

    Ayman al-Zawahiri, named as the new leader of Al Qaeda, is an Egyptian surgeon considered the brains behind the global terror franchise but bereft of the potent charisma of Osama bin Laden.

    The 59-year-old eye doctor, who grew up in a comfortable household in Cairo before he turned to dissident politics and then terrorism, is now cemented as Washington’s most-wanted terrorist with a $23.6 million reward for his capture.

    In an online statement, Al Qaeda said that under Zawahiri it would pursue jihad (holy war) against the United States and Israel “until all invading armies leave the land of Islam”.

    Not too different from the Christian Jihadists that were on stage on Monday (except for perhaps Ron Paul) Looks like Mitt (the cream of the scum) has the Big Mo and will wrap up the nomination early.

  • Raskolnik

    Mitt Romney’s implosion will be as spectacular as it is predictable. In contrast to some of the views expressed here I actually do believe Mitt to be a fundamentally decent man, I lived in Massachusetts while he was governor and can personally attest that he was generally (and often genuinely) well-liked by “Taxachusetts” Democrats. That will be a liability, though hardly his biggest one, in his inevitable defeat to the well-prepared incumbent.

  • ottovbvs

    I actually do believe Mitt to be a fundamentally decent man,

    I essentially agree but there are two problems aren’t there? Firstly the personal one of constantly changing his positions to pander to various rightwing constituencies. Now I’m not being starry eyed about this, I’m well aware that politicians constantly shade or shift positions to reflect changing circumstances (particularly when in office) but the breadth and scale of Romney’s flip flops has been breathtaking. And this goes to character. Secondly, given the ideological extremism of today’s Repblican party, and any Republican elected to office is going to implement the party’s program, is it wise to entrust the govt of the country to their care. Look what happened last time. I don’t think Bush personally was a bad guy (although he was in way over his head) but the Republican agenda he adopted produced one of the most disastrous presidencies in US history. Do we really want to repeat the experience?

  • Rockerbabe

    Ditto! I used to, on occasion vote for a republican, but not any more. Those folks haven’t a clue about what is needed to get this country going again, except to deny women their rights and take formula and food out of the mouths of babies and small kids. I would be ashamed, if my parents ever held such beliefs and then have the audicity to call themselves christian.

    I am no real fan of Obama, having only voted for him after Hiliary asked us to. But given, the hatefulness of the GOP candidates, towards anyone who isn’t rich, well, I guess I am stuck voting for Obama.

  • Diomedes

    “I don’t think Bush personally was a bad guy (although he was in way over his head) but the Republican agenda he adopted produced one of the most disastrous presidencies in US history.”

    Correction: “produced THE most disastrous predency in US history”

    Maybe I am biased, but I cannot think of another president on this scale of idiocy. Beyond just his clueless nature, his certitude and religious piousness created a vacuum of logic and reality around him. He simply just did not see the nature of his own stupidity and that is truly a dangerous thing. This was of course exacerbated by the fact that he had Cheney and Rove nearby, who are actually TRULY evil. And they played the boy-king like a puppet.