On the Disappearing Republican Moderates


Here is an interesting article on the demise of moderate Republicans by Alex Wayne of Congressional Quarterly but whch appears in the New York Times apparently (at least on the web).
I am quoted extensively in the piece and agree with Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, Executive Director of the Republican Main Street Partnership, that the strident right agenda of the Republican party is out of touch with the bulk of Americans and undermined many moderate Republicans.
The only thing that I would fix in the piece is the fact that the writer labeled me a self-identified moderate Republican. I am actually an Independent — whose sympathies are often with moderate Republicans like Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee but also with progressive Democrats. At this point, I have been working hard to move Democrats into office and into a similar “radical centrist” political space.
During my chat with Alex Wayne, I strongly criticized moderate Republicans for not fighting sooner and more effectively against the Tom DeLay machine and against the fundamentalist right wing to expand their turf. I think that the failure to get David Dreier into the House Republican Leader position also further punctuated the weakness of moderates against the Rove-supported right wing.
More later.
— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “On the Disappearing Republican Moderates

  1. della Rovere says:

    The demise of Republican moderates which is part of a broader realignment was hastened by the Bush gang giddy with the gains the Southern strategy provided.Our two-party system is inflexible and unyielding and its rigidity does not provide many options which progressives have felt for years and the extreme-right felt as well until they took over the Republican party lock, stock and barrel. Mr.Clemons and others have often extolled Mr. Chafee and we in the antiwar left have to recognize his courage in standing up to the Big Evil, on the war and occupation in Iraq. If he decides to change parties, I would hope he would be welcome; Mr Chafee is a lot more in step with much of the Democratic Party than some of its elected representatives and pundits. But whatever Mr. Chafee decides, as long the Bush gang and their cronies own the Republican Party, I hope the moderates who enable their power to go unchecked are defeated again and again. I do not understand why the two senators from Maine are not seriously challenged.


  2. David Noziglia says:

    Once again, I have to protest the reflexive, thoughtless labeling that people in Washington insist on. One is either a leftist/liberal or a rightist/conservative. Those are the only allowed options.
    Steve’s label as a “radical moderate” is then interpreted as taking “one from column A, one from column B,” and thus simply mixing the only two allowed options.
    But these are NOT the only two allowed options!!! There are more than 2.0 sides to a given question. Read Soros. To be different, read Postrel. Then read the common inspiration of these very different political animals, Karl Popper. If we are open, and allow open, critical thinking, then we should be able to find ideas and opinions that have not been retreaded thousands of times before, and think about issues in ways that don’t match the automatic, shorthand, essentialist/Platonic, thoughtless labels used by the chattering screamers on the “talk” shows, and come up with some — dare one say it — interesting ideas.
    But that would then challenge people to actually think, and it’s far easier to fit everyone into the common paradigm of politics as a sports contest.


  3. Alex says:

    I hope Lincoln Chaffee does switch to being an Independent or Democrat.
    Anyone that sticks their finger in the eye of the Bush Admin for the Bolt-on confirmation deserves success.
    He’s not finished if he doesn’t want to be.


  4. Vadranor says:

    By what defintion can David Dreier be considered a moderate? In 2005, his ADA rating was ZERO.


  5. Eric E says:

    Steve, I’m a little surprised to hear you putting out the “radical centrism” line because I believe you think pretty hard about your philosophy. Centrism is not a political philosophy, it is an alignment with respect to a political philosophy. Balance and moderation have their place, but they cannot inform what one should do, just how you should do it.
    This Democratic tsunami has 2 parts to it. One is a short-term reaction to extraordinarily bad governance over the past couple years. The second is the end of the anti-statist philosophy that’s powered the Republicans since Goldwater. Though they are still leery of big, intrusive government, I think people are once again ready to hear what government should do to solve social problems, from land use to global warming to health care.
    If the Democrats can articulate a vision for government’s role in solving these problems – keeping in mind the balance and moderation you espouse – I think they will find a receptive populace, and they can win back a lot of the folks who left for the shores of Reagan. My hope is that enough of the left has learned that direct state intervention is a blunt instrument to be wielded only when truly needed, and we should try subtler forms of incentivization first.


  6. David Studhalter says:

    At the risk of reiterating the oft-stated, the reasons for opposing Chaffee, who is no doubt an honorable man and probably less conservative than some of the just-elected Democrats, is simple. He caucuses with the Republicans, and if he had been re-elected, the Republican leadership would control the agenda in the Senate. Sorry, but that is more than reason enough, and Mr. Chaffee should switch parties if he wants to have a political career as a centrist. The Republican party is, overall, so far right that centrists have little or no place in it.


  7. MP says:

    Now that Chaffee is free, what about putting his abilities to use as a mediator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? He seems to have the termperament, and he’s very interested in the issue.”
    Excellent thought!


  8. Carroll says:

    All the party analyzing gives me a headache.
    Let’s ask..
    Were the majority of americans fed up with the repubs?..yes
    Will the majority of americans become fed up with the dems if they don’t perform to our liking?…yes
    So what then?..
    I have an aquaintance..a ..er ..gladfly type to put it one way or prefectioness to put it another way …who is on her third husband…she always has her next candidate(s) warming up in the bull pen just in case. I don’t think we need to remarry any of our past failures..cull some prospects like Chafee out of both parties who are willing to be independents if the dems fail.


  9. marky says:

    Now that Chaffee is free, what about putting his abilities to use as a mediator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? He seems to have the termperament, and he’s very interested in the issue.


  10. David Noziglia says:

    I wrote the following on July 18 this year:
    I’m not a political junkie, and so I haven’t been spending every waking moment analyzing this year’s Congressional elections. But I have noticed a common theme in the coverage I have read that leads me to an interesting speculation.
    Although the Red State – Blue State division of the U.S. is now and always has been simplistic, it is true that one can order Congressional districts according to their ideological flavor along a spectrum. Thus, there are some districts where the die-hard, fundamentalist conservatives are the overwhelming majority, and their representatives reflect that fact; and there are some districts where a slight Republican majority is more flexible about social issues and economic policy, and have elected more moderate Republicans.
    The speculation I wish to raise is that it is the moderate Republicans who are the most vulnerable in the upcoming elections. Thus, regardless of whether the Democrats win control of the House, the ideological divide between the parties is likely to increase, with the Republicans becoming even more strongly controlled by the extreme wing of the party than it already is.
    There are a few cases of Wing-nut extremists who represent a more moderate electorate, and are likely to lose to their Democratic challengers. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is the most outstanding example of this group. But the great majority of Republicans who lose re-election and lead to a re-alignment of either house in Congress will be more moderate, reflecting their more moderate electorates to begin with.
    Thus, we can look forward to a Congress – in both houses – that will be, in the next session, far more polarized and antagonistic than it has been up to now, if that is possible. This may be even more true if the House is taken over by the Democrats, and the Senate remains Republican-controlled, as seems far more likely than a complete Democratic takeover of both houses. Even if the Republicans retain control, they will lose some seats, and the representatives who hold their seats are likely to be far-right extremists, rather than moderates.
    The unfortunate outcome from this scenario is that our representative branch will be even more moribund and ineffectual next year than it is now. Extreme positions held by extreme politicians will remove the possibility of compromise. Either a Republican Congress will continue to ignore the administration’s illegal and unconstitutional activity, or a Democratic House or Congress will be so engrossed in investigating and curtailing the Bush putsch – with die-hard true believers on the right fighting them every step of the way – that it will have no time for its other duties.
    Either way, the damage Bush has done to the American polity, society, economy, and security will continue unabated.
    Another interesting development will be to see how the corporate media characterizes this phenomenon. By the standards of the current Conventional Wisdom, after all, those who compromise in order to accomplish things are described as weak, and those who sacrifice the general welfare in service to their closed ideological dogma called strong. The question is, will the general population of the U.S. continue to be fooled?


  11. kent williams says:

    I live in Iowa 2nd Congressional District, and voted straight Democratic. If I had to do it over again I would have voted for Jim Leach. The only reason I didn’t vote for him was the ‘R’ after his name — the good work he’s done both for our district and the country in the last 30 years makes it a shame he can’t keep doing it. He has always been a careful and thoughtful legislator.
    Unfortunately, he got swept away by the anti-Republican tide. If he’d switched party affiliation — to Democrat or Independent — he could have carried the 2nd District with 70%.
    Iowa’s delegation is now 3 Democrat, 2 Republican. More important to us locally, is the fact that for the first time in … forever? We have a Democratic Governor, Sec’y of State, Sec’y of Agriculture, Congress, and Senate. This is in a state that went for Bush in 2004. Iowa is, for the moment at least, as Blue as Minnesota or Connecticut.


  12. johnny d says:

    Now I get it; “radical centrist” is some mythical nonsense that you use to describe your own politics. Good luck with that. It’s a good start that you are not bothered by oxymorons.


  13. Zathras says:

    You can’t account for the demise of moderate Republicans (and before that, of conservative Democrats) without taking note of all the people who don’t vote.
    This isn’t magic. As less committed voters vote in smaller numbers, the relative importance of more committed voters increases (the importance of organized interest groups also increases, though there are other reasons for this as well). In most of the South and part of the West, this means voters motivated by religion. In other parts of the country it has meant people motivated by specific causes or antagonized by individual politicians. Intensely motivated voters will have the greatest impact in elections with the lowest overall turnout — the primary elections used in most states to choose general election candidates. This is one reason why when moderate to liberal Republicans retire or are defeated the GOP generally replaces them with conservatives.
    The business of the permanent campaign, which has so completely overwhelmed much of the business of government today, is in large measure a matter of understanding the dynamics of low-turnout elections. In most cases — and this will be more true the longer low-turnout elections are prevalent — the alternative to Republicans with very conservative attitudes and Democrats with very liberal attitudes will not be candidates of either party with moderate attitudes, but instead candidates committed to the specific agendas of organized interests with the ability either to deliver voters to the polls or provide the money required to sustain expensive campaigns.


  14. Prabhata says:

    I’m impressed by the voters of RI. The November 7 vote was not about the Democrats winning, but about breaking the Bush regime agenda, and the voters of RI understood that. Chafee should have become an independent a year ago because unless the Republicans stop catering to the Southern right, the Republicans are doomed to lose the support of the very populous Northeast and West.


  15. Reader says:

    Lincoln Chafee would still be a United States senator if he had had the cojones to join the Democratic Party as late as September, 2006.


  16. Alex says:

    They’re not disappearing Steve.
    They’re Democrats. Just like Clinton was (who I say was more influenced by Winthrop Rockefeller as Gov of Arkansas than by JFK).
    With the sweepout of the current set of extreme Reps and the diminishing of the evangelicals, maybe the moderates will make a return in the next 10-20 years.
    But they had no place in the current Rep party since Reagan. That’s why Nelson Rockefeller disassociated himself from the Reagan Rep party and didn’t contribute anymore money after his tour as VP under Ford.
    Btw, what are the odds that the Gates nomination for Sec of Def will get shot down because of his Iran-Contra involvement?


  17. Roger says:

    Funny you mention a third party, MP. THis election showed that there is a viable third party alternative. We’ll just have to wait and see who has a solid enough commitment to principles to cross over to the Connecticut for Lieberman party.


  18. MP says:

    But Steve, HOW would they have fought back?
    What weapons did they have?
    They were VASTLY outnumbered–and the right were absolute in their insistence on loyalty and their ability to enforce it.
    Now that the Republicans have gone down to defeat, the moderates have reality on their side, but what did they have before this?
    That’s why I suggested a third party option…something they could do on their own that would be bold and might give them some power.


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