Political Animal

Blog

January 29, 2013 3:07 PM Can GOP Tolerate “Moderate” Wing?

By Ed Kilgore

I know I spend a fair amount of time criticizing David Brooks’ New York Times columns here, and for good reason. But his latest essay is interesting. After accurately describing the dominant movement-conservative tendency in the GOP as incapable of genuine “reinvention,” so gripped is it by an unreasoning anti-government ideology, Brooks calls for a “second GOP:”

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.

Brooks isn’t particularly clear on the ideology of this “second GOP,” aside from the suggestion that it would not view government as the inherent enemy of social and economic progress and “wealth-creators” as eternal saviors. Yes, he goes on to endorse a dual focus on reform of “sclerotic institutions” and on the cultural dysfunction he considers the cause of economic inequality. But how that translates into an agenda is a bit iffy to say the least.

The more immediate question is whether the first GOP that Brooks is now writing off as incapable of talking to “people who didn’t already vote for them” is going to tolerate a second GOP?

The regions he speaks of as the home territory for the “second GOP” do have a few heretics in plain sight, like Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine, though even they followed the “first GOP” in opposing Obamacare, that great testament to past Republican policy thinking. But Collins’ Maine also elected rabid Tea Partier Paul LePage governor in 2010. And Republicans in parts of the “upper Midwest” are increasingly indistinguishable from the South ideologically, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker (not to mention Rep. Paul Ryan). In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder campaigned as a moderate in 2010, but fell into line when conservatives demanded a state right-to-work law, that great totem of southern reactionaries.

As for the West Coast, Republicans in Oregon and Washington may be marginally more moderate than they are elsewhere. In the biggest state, California, Carly Fiorina disposed of reputed moderate Tom Campbell in a 2010 Republican Senate primary by depicting him as a “demon sheep” crypto-liberal, and Meg Whitman—who was at least pro-choice—bludgeoned state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner into submission with millions of dollars worth of ads calling him a big spender and an ally of “liberal unions.”

The supposed homelands of a second, moderate GOP leave a lot to be desired.

But the larger obstacle to a “second GOP” is that conservatives nationally have devoted massive resources to the argument that the Republican Party’s single biggest problem is the eternal perfidy of “RINOs” who are forever stabbing “true conservatives” in the back. So any effort to organize a significant band of moderates, even one based on the idea of letting Republicans in hostile territory hunt where the ducks are, will simply fuel the Right’s determination to stamp out dissent. And that is why, as I argued just after the election, there’s no real base for a DLC-style group of “centrist dissenters” on the other side of the aisle.

Brooks ends his column with a question he clearly can’t answer: “Who’s going to build a second G.O.P.?” Certainly none of the pols who spent the 2012 presidential primaries, and will spend the 2016 presidential primaries, attacking each other for insufficient fidelity to the “true conservative” cause.

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.

Comments

  • paul on January 29, 2013 3:15 PM:

    I think this may be a front for a variation on the No Labels scam. Get a lot of people to put time and money into folks claiming to organize GOP Lite, then regretfully find that you have no traction and throw your support behind GOP Full Loony.

    Because crossing the aisle to join forces with democrats could never happen.

  • FlipYrWhig on January 29, 2013 3:21 PM:

    And of course there IS a party that believes in balanced budgets, mobilizing the private sector, and mistrusting large-scale government intervention into economies and civil society. It's called the Democrats, most everywhere except in urban centers, which are virtually all the pockets of genuine liberalism left. Seems like Brooks wants the Republicans to be the party of Mark Warner, a smiley good-government pro-business technocrat, instead of the party of Ken Cuccinelli, a culture-warrior nutbar. But, you know, actual Republican voters and volunteers and activists actually like the party the nutty way it is. Too bad, Brooksie.

  • BillFromPA on January 29, 2013 3:35 PM:

    The problem with this solution, from the GOP's point of view, is that even in the 'moderate' states Brooks hopes to recapture with a new version of Your Father's GOP, is that there are Tea Baggers aplenty, and they make up a huge portion of the base even there. While such a creature as a Moderate repug might get elected in some of these states, one will never get past a primary.

  • bigtuna on January 29, 2013 3:39 PM:

    The impossibility of El Brooks idea is the following.

    On the dem side, since Dems are typical now for SOMETHING, various parts of the part are asked to / or are able to , settle for parts. IF some dems propose something, in the end most of their part gets something. Some fraction of 1 is still greater than 0.

    But the know nothing republicanism is essentially for nothing; or less than nothing. They want to remove women's rights to health care, reduce govt except as a benefit of the wealthy. They are against most things. Hell, they cannot even watch a movie with the President. Lacking enticements like pork, what is there to offer?

    So they are essentially about 0, or even less than 0. How does one bring different wings of the party together, when a fraction of 0 is still 0?

  • c u n d gulag on January 29, 2013 3:39 PM:

    The inclusion of the Dominionist Evangelical Christian, and their evolution within the Republican Party, to the point where they are now the dominent species, means that the entire party is now full of "True Believers" in the causes of Christ, Conservatism, Corporations - and, of course, have a whole army of the con-men who use those to their advantage.

    And, to remain in the Republican Party, you must remain 'true' to those 'beliefs,' or be labeled as a "Heretic."

    And we know what "True Believers" do to "Heretics," right?

    So, no, Bobo - not 2nd GOP.
    The party may splinter - but the part that splinters will be the ones the farthest to the right. They will want to go even further right.
    And that will only happen if some people DO try to form a 2nd GOP.
    And that will end the Republican Party as a national party, because the farther right group will run people as 3rd Party candidates, siphoning off votes from Republicans.

    See how that works, Bobo?

    If you're not sure how that works, Bobo, read up on the Catholic Church, and the Protestant movement in the centuries after Martin Luther.

    Or, Bobo, save yourself the history lesson, and take a look at the 2010 and 2012 Senater races, and the influence of the Teabaggers.
    The party is lurching further right, NOT towards the center. And I don't see that changing anytime soon, Davey, me boy!

  • Gandalf on January 29, 2013 3:45 PM:

    gulag you've summed it up pretty well. When you get right down to it most of the base of the republican party are what I like to call" the Rubes".

  • DC Mike on January 29, 2013 3:46 PM:

    Today's Democratic Party has staked out a pretty moderate, centrist position on most issues. It is already trite to point out, for example, that the Affordable Care Act far more closely resembles the proposals of the Heritage Foundation and the law sponsored by Governor Romney than the single-payer or even the public option proposals favored by many moderate liberals. To recapture a majority of the electorate, a new Republican Party would have to stake out a position reasonably close to the center that is now occupied by the Democrats.

    But Brooks seems to envision a party that is still far from that center -- one that "would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P." Do you think a substantial portion of the electorate "recoiled" at the speech or heard in its eloquent words "excessive faith in centralized power?" I'd like to know what portions of the speech evoked that reaction in Brooks, because I heard nothing that suggested "excessive faith in centralized power" -- only an appeal to keep searching for ways to provide for equal opportunities and to ameliorate the hardships and inequalities that result from chance and from government itself.

    Until Republicans stop seeing EVERY exercise of federal power as a step towards tyranny and socialism, they'll never catch up with the emerging center of the electorate.

  • Brenda Buchanan on January 29, 2013 3:53 PM:

    For what it is worth, Ed (and I think it is worth a lot) the only reason Paul LePage won the governorship of Maine in 2010 is because it was a three-way race where a Democrat and an Independent split the progressive vote.

    That said, I think Brooks' column is another of his fantasies that somehow the GOP can heal itself without dealing with the crazies head-on.

  • joeff on January 29, 2013 4:00 PM:

    What FlipYrWhig said.
    Also, the "stab-in-the-back" meme has been a reactionary staple for generations.

  • JackD on January 29, 2013 4:19 PM:

    Can't imagine why you describe Mark Kirk as a Republican heretic; he votes the party line regularly including the filibustering.

  • boatboy_srq on January 29, 2013 4:50 PM:

    Can GOP Tolerate “Moderate” Wing?

    Short answer: NO.

    Just ask Chuck Hagel, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, Bob Bennett, Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and the host of other once-hardline-conservative public figures passed by the GOTea in its headlong dash toward the loony edge (whatever has been said of Snowe recently doesn't diminish her standing as the one-time more conservative Senator from her state. See: Cohen, William).

    You might ask Limbaugh and Beck as well: they've been leading the charge.

    The only GOPer who thinks there's hope for a moderate GOP is Brooks. And you'll notice that the only two people in today's world who really fit into Brooks' "moderate GOP" mold are himself - and Obama.

    If it's any indicator, this "moderate third" party idea is part of what spawned the UK's LibDems: they were the "centrist" alternative to Labor without going full Thatcherite Tory. Look how well that turned out.

    @DC Mike: TABMITWH. And every time he opens his mouth in public, good caucasian heterosexual FundiEvangelical-Xtian Conservatists' Galtian fee-fees get hurt just because he's allowed to speak in public, so they plug their ears and fantasize about all the uppity things they think he'll say. That's how they heard "excessive faith in centralized power."

  • Kathryn on January 29, 2013 6:50 PM:

    @ DC Mike........Bobo (thx Gulag) has to have at least one gratuitous anti Obama sentence or two in his columns to stay in the club IMO and boatboy_srq's last paragraph on this subject is right on target.

    Sometimes I wonder if this four year and continuing hatefest of Pres. Obama could have been tempered a bit if the first old fart carrying a stuffed monkey at a Palin rally or the first tea Partier with the bone in the nose poster had been chastised by the candidate or an elected senator immediately for the overt racist symbols, guess I'm dreaming. McCain had his.moment of decency and has been a bitter bastard ever since a dignified concession speech.

  • Bob M on January 29, 2013 6:51 PM:

    Trojan horse. It would take votes from the Dems, not the GOP.

  • Kansachusetts on January 29, 2013 8:37 PM:

    In what ways IS the Weston different from the Sheraton?

  • dweb on January 29, 2013 8:42 PM:

    GOP seems math challenged. They lose the election 51-47% and now Mr. Brooks is proposing that the party be divided up into Good Old Republicans and the ideological cretins who today hold such sway over their policies and politics.

    I been doing the numbers on my spreadsheet, pop up calculator and Hadron collider and every way I do it, I am told that even 100% of 47% isn't gonna beat 51%.

    But hey....if it makes you feel better.....go for it. I am sure a quick passage of an immigration reform bill will wipe out all the other reasons why Hispanics haven't voted for you.

  • Kansachusetts on January 29, 2013 8:42 PM:

    By which I mean, In what ways is the Westin different from the Sheraton?

  • mfw13 on January 29, 2013 10:47 PM:

    It depends on how you define the GOP.

    Is it everyone who claims to be a member of the GOP?
    Is people who actually show up to vote in GOP primaries?
    Is it elected GOP officials?
    Is is unelected GOP opinin leaders?

    I think that there are and always will be moderate memebers of the GOP, but unless they start mobilizing and organizing to win primaries, they will have little success getting elected and little influence on the party's policies.

    The right wing took over the party not just through ideology, but also because it played the game of politics much more effectively. It ran candidates for and took over local offices such as school boards and boards of supervisors. It ran candidates for public offices which nobody else could be bothered with. It ran candidates and took over the internal structures of the party.

    If the moderate want their party back, they are going to have to fight like hell....and so far they haven't had the stomach or organizational skills to do so.

  • JackD on January 29, 2013 10:54 PM:

    Apropos the allegedly moderate senator Kirk of Illinois, his vote today was nay on relief to the east coast for hurricane Sandy. Some moderate.

  • mfw13 on January 29, 2013 11:39 PM:

    It depends on how you define the GOP.

    Is it everyone who claims to be a member of the GOP?
    Is people who actually show up to vote in GOP primaries?
    Is it elected GOP officials?
    Is is unelected GOP opinin leaders?

    I think that there are and always will be moderate memebers of the GOP, but unless they start mobilizing and organizing to win primaries, they will have little success getting elected and little influence on the party's policies.

    The right wing took over the party not just through ideology, but also because it played the game of politics much more effectively. It ran candidates for and took over local offices such as school boards and boards of supervisors. It ran candidates for public offices which nobody else could be bothered with. It ran candidates and took over the internal structures of the party.

    If the moderate want their party back, they are going to have to fight like hell....and so far they haven't had the stomach or organizational skills to do so.