Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Conservative Backlash Against Moderates

In continuing with my advocacy for moderate conservatism, I point to this article by Liz Sidoti that I found at the San Fransisco Chronicle:
Races in all corners of the country raise the question of whether moderate candidates have a future in a party imposing ideological purity, and whether the GOP can attract moderate voters. In Senate races in Florida, Arizona, Utah, Kentucky and New Hampshire, conservatives backed by tea party activists are challenging more centrist candidates largely preferred by the party establishment in Washington.

Such bitter primaries are threatening the GOP's fortunes even though, by nearly every other measure, the political winds are blowing against Democrats ahead of this fall's midterm elections. And ramifications of the GOP family feud could extend beyond November, to the presidential election in 2012.

The Republican Party already is facing declining membership and a diminished geographic foothold as it has moved further to the right over the past few decades.

If the GOP ends up driving middle-of-the-road candidates from the party, how can it attract moderates and independents? Do those voters, already the most likely to be turned off by politics, simply stay home? Or do they turn out for independent candidates, making the two-party structure less relevant?

Neither result would be good for the Republicans.
I have been constantly pointing out this ideological schism, referencing the senate race in Florida between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, but this article points to other examples around the nation, such as moderate Republican Arlen Specter, who had said of the right's recent shift that he had found himself increasingly in line with the Democratic party. Sidoti writes of these other instances involving conservatives purging moderates from their ranks:
  • Arizona Sen. John McCain, a four-term senator with an independent streak who was the GOP presidential nominee just two years ago, is in a tough primary battle against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk-radio host embraced by tea party activists. 
  • Utah Sen. Robert Bennett, one of the most conservative members of Congress, is facing a serious challenge from his right, with his vote for President George W. Bush's bank bailout drawing the wrath of conservatives. 
  • In Kentucky, outsider Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is picking up endorsements and crucial support against Secretary of State Trey Grayson, causing consternation for the GOP establishment, especially Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. 
  • Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, who national Republicans trumpeted as a top recruit, is trying to beat back challenges from conservative Ovide Lamontagne and another candidate, Bill Binnie.
Sidoti also writes that Democrats are not quite free of internal conflict, and points to the backlash against moderate Democrats opposition to the health care bill, but in my opinion, Democratic dissatisfaction with their own party does not compare to that of the GOP, where despite claims of being a "big tent" party, Republicans are constantly trying to redefine their party in a more conservative light.

Obviously, not all Republicans are ultra right-wing conservatives, but Republican leadership has traditionally had strong holds over their own, and with the fringe of the political party placing pressure on the upper echelons, it appears the only direction to move would be to the right, because as we have seen in the split amongst Republicans, any acceptance or alignment with any Democratic principles or beliefs will result in the wrath of the Tea Party.

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