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GOP Resurgence Needs More than Run to the Center

February 8th, 2010 at 12:01 pm | 11 Comments |

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Dennis, pilule I in no way intended to malign moderate Republicans as ‘milquetoast’ or suggest that there was anything wrong with moderate conservatism.  As you well know, I’m anything but a far right-winger.  Rather, I was trying to point out that simply bringing the party to the center is not enough.  Centrists can be just as disingenuous and unprincipled as their far-right counterparts.  Now, admittedly David was not suggesting that this was the only answer.  He suggested that competition was good for the conservative movement, and that a center-right conference could compete against CPAC and make everyone more honest – and I couldn’t agree more!  I would be the first to sign up for this hypothetical CenPAC.

Nevertheless, I think moderates make the same mistake that the purists do in imagining that their own brand of conservatism is the right way forward.  I would argue that neither the moderate or conservative approach is right or wrong, but rather that there are sincere, genuine and reasonable people representing both camps.  These people are the ones that moderate and conservative members of the Republican party should support, despite some political differences.

Furthermore, these distinctions become fairly muddy as we look at the plethora of policy positions that actual Republicans hold.  Take former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, for instance.  As governor he cut several hundred state jobs, tightened the state’s fiscal belt, and vetoed 750 bills – more than all other 49 state governors combined.  He was against both the TARP and the stimulus.  And unlike Sanford and others in the GOP who claimed to be against the stimulus before accepting very large chunks of federal cash, I think Johnson would have refused the federal dollars if he were still in office.  In this respect, Johnson might be considered very far to the right.  But at the same time, Johnson opposes the war on drugs, and believes that the billions we spend locking up non-violent marijuana smokers each year is an expensive waste of time.  Johnson has a legitimate shot at the 2012 Republican nomination for president if he chooses to run – but is he a moderate or a full-blooded conservative?  Or is he a libertarian in Republican clothing?  Does any of it really matter, so long as he is a principled, reasonable man with sound ideas about how to fix some of this country’s problems?

I fully embrace a reorientation within the Republican party, and personally I believe that reorientation should be toward the center – or at least away from dogmatic thinking and purity tests (and if Jonah Goldberg is correct, conservatism is after all an ‘unsettled dogma’ - but I believe the more important task is supporting good ideas and honest leaders willing to embrace those ideas.  In a political climate like the one we have now, this is no simple thing.  Perhaps a center-right conference to provide counter-balance to CPAC is one place to start.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    What matters is the GOP welcoming those who agree on basic principles, but who have sincere disagreements about specific policies.

    What also matters is the GOP not instituting litmus tests that are pass-fail, like: “Do you believe that life begins at conception? Yes or no?”

    There is one BIG difference between the right-wing and the moderate wings of the GOP: The right-wing of the GOP has been trying to purge sincere moderates out of the party, whereas the moderates have never tried to purge sincere conservatives. (What does the term “RINO” mean? It means excommunication of the unfortunates tagged as RINOs.)

    What about Scott Brown?

    Redstate.com had refused to endorse him, because of his pro-choice leanings on the abortion issue. They liked the fact that Scott Brown took away the Dems’ supermajority in the Senate.
    But they refused to work for his election or even ask their members to contribute to his campaign.

    Redstate.com has a firm policy: They only support 100% pro-life candidates. Not Scott Brown, not Rudy Giuliani.

    That’s what I’m talking about.

  • Mike at The Big Stick

    ED, your comments about Gary Johnson carry a lot of weight IMO. Johnson embodies what I believe about Republicans which is that all of these sub-labels are pointless. Yeah, he’s uber conservative on fiscal policy…but could be considered moderate to liberal on drug laws. So then how do you label the guy? And truly, what is the point? It goes back again and again to our old conversation about labeling positions rather than labeling people. This gets to the meat of the matter and allows politicians to be flexible and appeal to the widest group of voters.

  • E.D. Kain

    sinz – I’m all for Big Tent conservatism. That’s why Redstate just doesn’t work for me.

    Mike – I think Gary Johnson is great. I’ve started posting about him at True/Slant as well, and plan on following him (and writing about him) fairly closely. It’s premature, but I would plan on seeing me endorse him for the 2012 GOP nomination, and push pretty hard in that direction.

  • aDude

    It will be interesting to see what kind of Republican emerges in the race to fill the seat of the newly departed Murtha. Will we see a Brown/Christie or will this by NY-23 all over again?

  • mpolito

    In all fairness, moderates have to accept that since twice as many people call themselves “conservative” as call themselves “liberal” in this country, conservatives are, for the time being, going to be more important in the GOP than liberals are in the DNC. That does not mean conservatives alone win elections: of course they do not, at least not in most places. But part of the deal of being in a big-tent party is backing each other up. Dede Scozzafava, for example, was a moderate who stabbed conservatives in the back by endorsing the Democrat after dropping out! The RNC dumped tons of money into her campaign, and this was her repayment. I think conservatives should be willing to embrace moderates if they can expect to get a little back for doing so.

    • Shawn Summers

      Mpolito, while I agree with your overall point, that’s a curious reading of history regarding Scozzafava. She was bullied out of the race by a national smear campaign and a third-party challenger from the right. The RNC may have been behind her, but practically no one else in the movement was. Once she dropped out, the RNC’s money was lost, regardless of whether Hoffman or Owens won at that point. Would it have been better for her to have endorsed Hoffman and “rewarded” running insurgent conservative candidates against the RNC’s wishes? Considering that it was Hoffman, not Owens, who had ruined her candidacy, I can’t really blame her for being bitter about it.

  • oldgal

    I don’t care about the labels. I want to see candidates who show a good understanding of the problems the country faces , who entertain the ideas of others and who formulate well thought out solutions. Admittedly, this does pretty much rule out the ideologues of whatever stripe.

  • sinz54

    mpolito: <blockquote. But part of the deal of being in a big-tent party is backing each other up.
    “Backing each other up” works both ways.

    It means that the right-wing of the GOP should stop this crusade to purge so-called “RINOs” out of the party.

    It means that the right-wing of the GOP should have enthusiastically backed Scott Brown (look at how much Brown gained for the GOP), rather than refusing to work for his election due to his pro-choice stand on abortion.

    If another Scott Brown comes along (say a popular Republican running in VT or OR), the right-wing of the GOP must support him, not walk away from him because he fails one of their social litmus tests.

  • balconesfault

    sinz: It means that the right-wing of the GOP should have enthusiastically backed Scott Brown (look at how much Brown gained for the GOP), rather than refusing to work for his election due to his pro-choice stand on abortion.

    Ironically, that might have been just the thing to scuttle the Brown bandwagon.

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