THE REPUBLICAN CENTER
Ironically, in light of the previous post, Christie Todd Whitman has an op-ed in today’s NYT imploring the Republican Party to remember the moderates.
When President Bush, arguably one of the more conservative presidents in recent history, is under attack from the right wing of the party for his proposal regarding immigration and migrant workers, is it any wonder moderates feel out of sync?
It doesn’t seem to matter to conservatives that moderates share their views on the vast majority of those bedrock principles that have always been the foundation of Republicanism: smaller government, the power of free markets, a strong national defense. Because we disagree on a few issues, most notably a woman’s right to choose, many conservatives act as if they wish we moderates would just disappear.
This phenomenon is not unique to Republicans. Many moderate Democrats also feel alienated from their party; Senator Zell Miller of Georgia has recently written a book about it. Party estrangement is, sadly, bipartisan, and it is destroying American politics.
While I don’t disagree with her larger point, her examples aren’t the best. Most of the “moderates” she refers to are simply people who by all rights should be in the other party.
Some might ask why Republicans should be concerned about broadening their appeal to moderate voters; many in the G.O.P. believe it already is the majority party. And it is true that we have done a better job than the Democrats of winning the votes of a larger number of the shrinking percentage of voters who actually go to the polls.
But that doesn’t mean Republicans have a lock on the electorate. We control Congress and the presidency, but a switch of fewer than 21,000 votes in two states in the 2002 elections would have denied Republicans control of the Senate. Had Al Gore been able to carry his home state, Tennessee, in 2000, today he’d be preparing for his own re-election campaign.
A true majority party should not be in such a potentially precarious position. We find ourselves in this situation in part because we too often follow the advice of political consultants to appeal not to a majority of the electorate but only to the most motivated voters– those with the most zealous, ideological beliefs. Both parties now concentrate largely on turning out greater numbers of their most fervent supporters.
As a result, candidates tailor their appeals to those who already agree with them. The inevitable outcome is rhetoric that precludes a sensible discussion of issues. Those with the most shrill voices are increasingly dominating our political discourse.
What too many Republican strategists seem to have learned from the 2000 election is that the states which voted for Al Gore–the entire West Coast, most of the Northeast, much of the Upper Midwest–aren’t worth fighting for. It’s the wrong lesson.
Of the 20 states that President Bush lost in the 2000 election, 15 either had then, or have since elected, a Republican governor. Of those governors, almost every one can fairly be described as a moderate Republican: George Pataki in New York, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, to name just three. In addition, polls show that in states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maine, voters are evenly split in their party affiliation.
Who is it, exactly, that’s arguing that the GOP should ignore the center because they have a majority locked up? Karl Rove and Co. clearly aren’t satisfied with simply squeaking by again as in 2000–even though reapportionment has moved several Electoral Votes from the blue states to the red. Surely, the bills or proposals to improve public schools, reform Medicare, ease Mexican immigration, expand the space program, and the like aren’t aimed at the conservative base? The early polling seems to indicate that Bush would pick up some of the states Gore won in 2000 if the election were held today. One would think that’s an indication that a sizable portion of moderates are pleased with his job performance.