Political Animal


November 08, 2012 11:26 AM Conservative Reaction To Election ‘12, Part III: No “Centrist” Renewal Project In Sight

By Ed Kilgore

It’s an obvious corollary to the general consensus in RepublicanLand that more, not less, conservative ideology is the answer to the party’s problems, but it’s worth noting for the record what we are not hearing: the kind of proposal for a “centrist” renewal project that rethinks those elements of conservative ideology that don’t seem to be working in presidential elections. Now by that I don’t mean the voices calling for a tweak or “new ideas” on isolated policy areas like immigration (part, though not parcel, of the GOP’s problems with Latinos)—or those suggesting new packaging or messaging for the same old bag of beans. So far the only prominent self-identified Republican I’ve seen crying out in the wilderness for a more fundamental reconsideration of conservatism is Christine Todd Whitman at Politico, someone who has about as much influence in the GOP as me or thee.

As someone with some experience with “centrist renewal projects” in the Democratic Party, at the much-reviled, now-defunct, but once-influential Democratic Leadership Council, I wrote a piece for TNR (published yesterday) comparing the circumstances in the Donkey Party of the 1980s and 1980s that, for better or worse, led to the DLC’s rise, with those in the GOP today. To make the long story short, there seems to be zero impetus for anything like it among Republicans. Yet mark my words: the MSM will indulge its false-equivalence tendencies once again in the weeks just ahead to blow up every tactical argument among Republicans into a deep soul-searching effort in which no stone is left unturned and no option undiscussed. But based on recent history and current developments, it just ain’t happening.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • mudwall jackson on November 08, 2012 11:41 AM:

    of course there won't be any soul searching within the republican party. apart from the fact that you have to have a soul to do that, the process lasted not a second more than 15 minutes in 2008 when they had their proverbial heads handed to them. this year, they came relatively close in the presidential election and still have the house. so they have some semblance of power (never mind that much of the house was the result of redistricting rather than voter acceptance their brand of conservatism. they're true believers. their ideology can't possibly be wrong; their approach can't be wrong. they can't be wrong. so more of the same please.

  • T2 on November 08, 2012 11:43 AM:

    at the end of the day, the GOP/Conservative party fielded a really bad candidate, one the Party didn't even like, much less the Crazier Wing of the Party. Why? Because he was the best guy they had. They provided very poor policies for him to run on, and made him lie repeatedly about those policies. Then they saddled him with Paul Ryan, a man whose policies were, uh, unpopular with most Americans over 40.
    In short, the GOP is made up of stupid people convinced they are genius. Karl Rove being the poster child.
    The good news for them is that Mitt Romney is gone for good. The bad news, as I said, is he was their best guy. Take a minute to consider the last three guys the GOP ran for president - George W. Bush, John McCain, Willard Romney.

  • Marvin on November 08, 2012 11:51 AM:

    I spent yesterday ODing on schadenfreude. I watched Fox. I listened to Rush and Glenn Beck. I learned that winning re-election has taught Obama a lesson. I learned that Obama is in a far weaker position now to negotiate a fiscal cliff deal. I learned that in the future no one will want to be a doctor, and the government will frog march people into the salt mines of the medical profession. I learned that young adults have "craniums full of mush." I learned that unmarried women are whores. Wow.

  • Ron Byers on November 08, 2012 11:53 AM:

    When you conflate political philosophy with religious belief you really paint yourself into a corner. I am afraid current wingers worship what they think is true conservatism. Don't expect them to ever understand that they have lost their way.

  • bluestatedon on November 08, 2012 11:54 AM:

    "... it just ainít happening."

    Not only isn't it happening, but the opposite is: the wood is already being gathered for the GOP bonfires of purification, and supposed moderates like Romney are going to be burned at the stake for their insufficient adherence to the inner wingnuttia of the Republican base. I can only hope that 2014 and 2016 see the continued influence of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and Steve King and Rick Santorum.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 08, 2012 11:57 AM:

    There was a pretty sane Republican voice of doom (for the GOP) on NBC on election night, but I forget his name. I wonder how hard they had to dig to find him.

    David Frum is in this category, and for that matter so is Andrew Sullivan, but they've been long since kicked out of the country club.

  • bluestatedon on November 08, 2012 12:01 PM:

    What was the Catholic Church's reaction to the Reformation? Inner reform with truly humanistic goals? Nope, it was the Counter-Reformation, which included the fun and games of the Inquisition.

  • troglodyte on November 08, 2012 12:10 PM:

    The true believers will assume that the midterm election of 2014 will be a repeat of 2010, and gear up for ideological battle. The problem with that strategy is that the economy will improve by then, and Obamacare will be implemented without disaster striking the faithful. The last time that the wingnuts took charge for a midterm election during which the economy was pretty good was 1998, and Bill Clinton thwacked them. The incumbent party usually loses ground in midterm elections, but dont expect a repeat of 2010.

    Steven Schmidt was the token republican on MSNBC during its election coverage, and I think he made a very good case for the GOP to return toward the center. Schmidt was also pretty gracious in the face of the expressed schadenfreude of the other MSNBC hosts. Schmidt may be treated as an apostate in some GOP circles for recognizing the reality of Sarah Palin during the McCain campaign, but he has more clout than Christie Todd Whitman. I would guess that there are many big-money GOP donors that would move toward the center if given the chance -- not all of them are obsessed with wingnut social and foreign policy priorities.

  • TomParmenter on November 08, 2012 12:24 PM:

    The unpopularity of Paul Ryan's ideas for people over 40 was providentially offset by the unpopularity of Paul Ryan's ideas for people under 40.

  • Monty on November 08, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Keep in mind that is has the current Republican mindset was systematically built over decades of incorporating massive amounts of bullshit, lies and false assumptions about the way the world works. I do not envy them the long, painful journey back to reality and don't expect many of them to even make the attempt.

  • BillFromPA on November 08, 2012 12:35 PM:

    McGovern/Nixon was my first election and after Watergate trashed the repug 'mandate', I naively thought, well they learned their lesson there, no more of that. Of course Bush the Dimwitted's Atty General demonstrated that what they learned was to appoint only toadies who who would swear on the Bible that they had no idea what went on in their department, couldn't remember ever discussing the most important matters of the day with anyone, and they got away with it.

    What's going to happen now is the GOP will change nothing except to educated their Tea Bagging candidates how to avoid discussing their theories about rape, etc., no change in their actual theories.

  • max on November 08, 2012 12:40 PM:

    I wish to associate myself with your remarks, sir! (And thanks for all the election coverage.)

    To make the long story short, there seems to be zero impetus for anything like it among Republicans.

    How could there be? If there were a strong radical movement in the Democratic Party once upon a time, that radical movement lost. (And won! Much that was once radical is now normal. But the notion of a hard left in the Democratic party is long gone, and I remember some of those folks.) Of course, the white/Dixiecrat South is gone for good as well.

    All that's left of the Dixiecrat party is the R party and the the R party is all radical all the time. (Granted, the true ultra-hard right wing is not particularly large, just as the communist left of the D party was never very large either.) The hard right Southern segregationists/racists won the fight for the R party and that's pretty much that.

    The old moderate right call themselves centrists now, and they aren't even in the party, so there's not much for them to do.

    As far as I see it, in 150+ years, the South has never ever given up on the same old, same old, no matter how many defeats they have been handed, so it would be silly to expect that to change.

    ['Once they trotted out those old and slightly revised secession proclamations, there was nothing for it but to fight it out.']

  • bigtuna on November 08, 2012 12:43 PM:

    I live amongst some of the reddest of reds, and there are many elements of what y'all state above that are true. Many of these folks, and they are really decent, nice people, do not see being a Republican as being part of a political process where they can offer a cogent set of alterntatives, try to solve problems, etc. They work with a completely different set of "facts"; their views of "us" are off base, etc. Thier way is THE way. Compromise is not an option. We are not dealing with a symmetrical argument here.

    I do really wonder about the stability of the Republican base. As I said yesterday, by 2016 or 2020, if AZ and NC are always "in play", in terms of presidental politics, and allow me to dream for a moment, but if maybe even Georgia could be fightable [Obama got 43% there] what do the republicans have? TX is the one big state, and then it is the rural south, the empty plains states, and the upper mountain states. Looks good on a map by area; not so great in terms of actual number of people. Kind of a red filled jelly doughnut, with blue and purple all around. Who is in the R farm team ? Rubio? Christie? Jindal? Haley? Ryan?

    Of course, it is hard to see an Obama like person in the current Dem farm team coming to the fore in 2016 or 2020 holding the same level of interest amongst the various groups he had in this election.

  • Thaumaturgist on November 08, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Me, I say double-down. If we can have skewed polls to compensate for over-counting Democrats, why can't we have unskewed election results?

  • T2 on November 08, 2012 12:46 PM:

    @max "150+ years, the South has never ever given up on the same old"
    maybe.....but consider this - in Texas all the major cities, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso, they ALL voted for Obama over Romney. It was the small town red-neck whites that voted for Mitt (who they hated as a rich Yankee).

  • jsjiowa on November 08, 2012 12:50 PM:

    The people I've talked to who voted for Obama often did so because it was a conscious choice and rejection of the extremism the Republicans were offering. Surely if they did some non-partisan polling of voters this theme would have emerged. Of course, given the current anti-fact, anti-data mindset, even evidence like that would be explained away, probably like Bill O'Reilly tried to rationalize the results as people just wanting more free stuff from the government. No, they need some people who get outside the bubble on a regular basis, who don't see liberal or moderate ideas as evil or the end of America, and who respect facts and data (like Nate Silver). But currently, they don't have any leaders who can speak for any of these principles. They've chased those people out as heretics. I big part of that is conservative media. Moderate Republican politicians shouldn't have to be afraid of disagreeing with the talking heads on Fox or talk radio. A big part of their future may be convincing Roger Ailes (and to some extent, Rush Limbaugh) to moderate their messaging. Whatever happens, it's going to take awhile. And it's not going to be pretty.

  • Ronald on November 08, 2012 12:59 PM:

    @jsjiowa brings up a good point-
    In all the analysis, is there any count of how many people voted Romney vs. how many people voted _against_ Obama...the two are not mutually exclusive

  • SecularAnimist on November 08, 2012 1:01 PM:

    OK, Ed. That's three posts on "conservative" reaction to the election.

    Now how about one -- JUST ONE -- on PROGRESSIVE reaction to the election? About the EXCITEMENT and POSITIVE THINKING among progressives today? About what the various coalitions that got Obama reelected are going to do now, to act on this great big MANDATE for a PROGRESSIVE AGENDA?

    Because the message I am getting from you is that, whatever the outcome of an election, what matters is WHAT THE REPUBLICANS THINK ABOUT IT.

  • DRF on November 08, 2012 1:15 PM:

    We're not 48 hours past the election and you've already decided that there isn't a Republican centrist movement? That's premature.

    Pretty clearly, there are senior political figures in the GOP who would like to win some future elections and see the problems with the current GOP position. Just the morning after election, I heard both Mike Murphy and Newt Gingrich on shows acknowledgeing that the Republican party has to move to the center. Other party leaders--Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, McCain, Jeb Bush, Portman, Jindal, Barbour, Karl Rove, Boehner appear to get it.

    I would expect that sometime in the next few months, some of these folks, and undoubtedly others, will be meeting and talking, probably under the radar, to discuss how to regain control of the party's agenda. I don't know if they can prevail over the current extremism and unreality of the GOP, but I have no doubt that there is going to be an effort made.

  • Michele Maschtall on November 08, 2012 1:16 PM:


  • manalive on November 08, 2012 1:24 PM:

    I suppose that they could dust off the old 'Know Nothing Party' moniker. It definitely fits.

  • George on November 08, 2012 1:29 PM:

    I'm a Republican by nature, I would have voted for Huntsman, well I did in the Republican primary. Evolution-Check, Women's rights-Check, Pro Small Business-Check, Gay Rights-Believed we shouldn't be in the personal busines, 2 percent of the vote...
    So, until the Republicans come back to the center, find it harder and harder to like them (even when I am one).

  • beejeez on November 08, 2012 2:11 PM:

    George, this is an intervention ...

    "Evolution-Check, Women's rights-Check, Pro Small Business-Check, Gay Rights-Believed we shouldn't be in the personal business 2 percent of the vote..."

    ... You are not a Republican by nature.

    I'm not sure Huntsman is.

    Get out while you still can.

  • bigtuna on November 08, 2012 2:46 PM:

    Really. George. We are here for you. 24/7. It is ok. Call the hotline. You are not a repbulican. Jon Huntsman has been evicted from the tribe. He is now at the Brookings Institution, and was disinvited to the Repub. Nat. Convention. Hell. he doesn't even live in Utah any more.

  • BJ smith on November 08, 2012 3:54 PM:

    A majority of this country will never vote for an extreme candidate. we just found out they would not vote for someone who lied about not being extreme, but picked their most extreme person as VP, who actually partnered on legislation with Akin.

    That same majority is growing by leaps & bounds. They seem to like things like fairness in all things. They know who crashed our country. They hate obstruction & do not want it repeated. As simple as it sounds they want a fair shot, just a few short years ago they thought everyone thought that,imagine that! Magically they know different now.

    We need a two party system, but the current Republican one needs to rethink or be left behind. You can only fool the people for so long & this one has overstayed their welcome. Big money, big mistake, continued obstruction even a bigger one. Simply stated, but is it?