Monday, May 25, 2009

On the Republican Ship, Am I a Valued Passenger or Relegated to Steerage?

Over the past several years, the core of my Republican ideology has undergone a shift. Fiscally, I’m still extremely conservative, but I have become much more moderate when it comes to consideration of many social issues. So naturally, in the midst of the ongoing debate among the two wings of the GOP, I began to wonder – depending on how many more moderate members are driven out in the weeks and months ahead – what place there would be for me in the “big tent.”

A few days ago, I posed that question to an acquaintance that is much more conservative on every issue than me. This is the response I got: "What you're saying doesn't make any sense. You're either a Conservative or, you're a Liberal. You are for sale to the song & dance that makes you feel warm & fuzzy."

This was not at all the response I expected, and I certainly didn’t think that he would take that opportunity to insult me and accuse me of being for sale. The positions I hold were ones that I developed after a lot of careful thought, not because it was the “cool” thing to do. What this person did do, whether he realizes it or not, was reinforce to me the difficulties that the party is facing – and will face well into the future if certain self-proclaimed party leaders continue to drive folks away. Rush Limbaugh is certainly not the person to whom I hold allegiance, and it had come to the point where I was really feeling a great deal of sympathy for what Colin Powell has been put through in recent month.

The future of the party was a big topic of discussion on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, some of which I am still in the process of weeding through (thank God for iTunes and podcast subscriptions!!). However, I was pleased to see Secretary Powell, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and Newt Gingrich all address the issue directly. Here are excerpts from their remarks:

Powell: I have always felt the Republican Party should be more inclusive than it generally has been over the years. I believe we need a strong Republican Party that is not just anchored in the base but has built on the base to include more individuals. And if we don’t do that – if we don’t reach out more – the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. And you can only do two things with a base: you can sit on it and watch the world go by; or you can build on the base. And I believe we should build on the base.

Ridge: It’s a matter of language and a matter of how you use words. It does get the base all fired up and he’s [Rush] got a strong following. But personally, if he would listen to me and I doubt if he would, the notion is express yourselves, but let’s respect other opinions and let’s not be divisive.

Gingrich: The Republican Party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country. To be a national party, you have to have a big enough tent that you inevitably have fights inside the tent.

Powell also raised some important points, some of which the right-wing of the party tends to be overlooking.

  • Lost the presidency by 10 million votes.
  • Both houses of Congress are more solidly under Democrat control.
  • Whole areas of the nation that were traditionally Republican have switched Democrat, including Virginia, Florida and Nevada.
  • The GOP is losing ground in every demographic: north; south; east; west; men; women; black; white; Hispanic.
  • The number of those who identify themselves as Republicans has fallen into the low 20s, and many of those are moderates and right-of-center Republicans who are concerned about the right wing of the party.

I recognize the fact that those who are looking to take the GOP further right are no less committed in their ideologies than I am in mine. What they seem to be overlooking, however, is that the harder they work to move the party to the right and exclude more moderate Republicans, the less relevant the party will become in the years ahead. Powell is right: the party does need to take a hard look at itself. I don’t think that flashy new public relations campaigns and listening tours are the way to do it; if party leadership was listening, they would already know where the concerns can be found and who the ones who are concerned are.

There are occasionally rumblings of a third party comprised of the moderate/independent segment of this country developing in the not-too-distant future; if this is the attitude the hardcore conservatives are going to take, then the creation of such a new party would not surprise me in the least.


  1. You have articulated how I've felt throughout the Karl Rove years. He was a genius to motivate the base, but where do us old school fiscal conservative/socially moderates end up?

    I keep hitting the Evangelical wing whenever I talk about the future of the party and get shut down very much like you did. This is not a zero sum game. Where can we talk about the legalization of drugs since the drug war has failed? The failure of fiscal discipline? The protection of the second amendment? My desire to keep my life private? E-Voting and how it is not auditable?

    Most of the issues above crosses many political "boundries". The big tent is going to find itself empty. I've already moved my voter registration to Independent. The two party system is broken and we need to look to the future to figure out where we are going to end up.

  2. Label me as one of those "right-of-center Republicans who are concerned about the right wing of the party". I have major concerns about squawk tv/radio loudmouths who paint conservatism is an very divisive light. I love what Joe Scarborough is saying about needing the tone, as well as the conservatism, of Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a lot of class and attracted a lot of moderates.. the squawking head have very little class and are chasing those folks away.. gotta remember that Limbaugh came in on the coattails of Reagan and never really embraced the demeanor of Reagan.

    The sad story of course is that the GOP had it all for 6 years and literally gave it away. The GOP needs to jettison the folks that brought us to that place and find people who can move it forward.. I doubt that Steele is the guy to do it.. and neither is Powell or Gingrich.. not sure about Ridge.. he would probably have a problem with the base because of his pro-choice position.

    Any ideas Matt? How about Gen Petraeus?

  3. Of course maybe the solution is not in a party at all.. maybe it is just to always vote against the incumbent.. eventually all the career politicians would be gone and the fabric of our government would be different - I know.. I am dreaming.