Ten Miles Square


September 24, 2012 12:44 PM The Person Is Not More Important than the Party

By Hans Noel

This week, Michael Charney, a moderate Republican, floated the idea that Romney’s attitude toward the 47% who pay no federal income tax perhaps indicates that the Republican nominee is not up to the task of running the country. And so Charney now says he is rethinking his vote in 2012:

Just to be clear: That doesn’t mean I’m not a Republican anymore. But, for me, the person asking for my vote is just as important as the party demanding it.

From the MOF point of view, I want to say, no Michael, don’t give in. You want a Republican administration, so vote for the Republican. The person is not even close to as important as the party. Not even close.

Why? Whoever is at the top of the ticket matters a lot, sure, but you can be sure that the rest of the administration will be filled with people from the same party. A party is a coalition. Just as finding the “real Romney” is a fool’s errand, so is insisting that the personality at the top of the ticket be the most importand thing you care about. You have a choice in November between two broad coalitions. One is left-leaning and will pay some attention to progressives but will also bring in moderates of various stripes. The other is right-leaning and will be responsive to the Tea Party and to moderate Republicans. That’s your choice in November. It’s so true that if some wizard blinked and Obama was the Republican candidate and Romney the Democratic candidate, I would switch my vote to stay with my party.

Now, Charney and others may respond, reasonably, that they think the orientation of the parties around their current ideologies is too messed up, and so fighting that orientation is job number one. Charney likes the term “consiberal,” which I think is a muddy concept, but I guess what he’s getting at is that he doesn’t want a Republican Party that is orientated around “conservatism” as an ideology, but something else. Which is simply to say that he (and many others) want a Republican Party that is a coalition with slightly different members, or with a different balance of power among those members.

And if you want that, there are two things you can do:

First, you can try to shape your party’s coalition, most prominently in the choice of its presidential candidates (but also all the way down the ladder). Because pace what I said three paragraphs up, if the top of the ticket is important. It’s even worth fighting over, because it defines the direction of the national administration, if nothing more. But the time for fighting that fight has passed. The choice in November is not about the balance of power within the party, it’s about which party you want.

Second, you can rethink whether the coalition you have long considered yourself a part of is not the coalition you want to stick with. That’s harder. But if the problem is that a candidate who thinks people who pay no federal income tax are moochers just doesn’t represent what you want, then maybe the Republican Party is not for you. After all, it’s not that Romney had an extreme record before running for office. It’s the party that is pulling him to this position. 

So I take it back. Maybe Charney should change his vote, precisely because the party is more important than the person.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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Hans Noel is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University.


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 25, 2012 2:05 AM:

    Interesting and well-argued piece. I eventually figured out that MOF probably refers to your blog, but they're probably not initials every reasonable reader is familiar with so you might want to clarify that meaning.

  • Anonymous on September 26, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Toeing the party line is the reason we are in our current mess. Protecting the power of the party has taken precedence over trhe interests of the people. The GOP has clearly stated their #1 priority is ensuring Obama is a one term president. This attitude has cost veterans benefits and a jobs bill that would have passed if it were not for GOP obstructionism, who are apparently supporting the troops with lip service only. Vote Gary Johnson if you want fiscal conservativism without the side of gaffes and idiocy.

  • Jeff H. on September 26, 2012 11:02 AM:

    My two cents ...

    I think Charney's view is pretty typical of the average independent voter. They weigh the person and the party election by election, and don't get attached to parties for the sake of tradition.

    Perhaps that's where Charney is headed, he just isn't quite there yet.

    The switch to independent registration is of course a growing trend in the electorate and, insane Republican Party of today notwithstanding, a clear way average voters can gain leverage in the democratic process.

  • John Duncan Yoyo on September 26, 2012 12:35 PM:

    The problem of more moderate people fleeing the republican party is that it just serves to concentrate the wingnuts and hard right ideological types. The republican primary electorate gave us the Romney bot and insists that he can't be a moderate.

    The Tea Party's bait and switch on offering economics and giving us social conservatism may have doomed them.

  • CoffeeNotTea on September 27, 2012 8:14 AM:

    Mr Charney is concerned that the Republican candidate is not fit for office and is considering changing his vote to the other candidate. Mr. Noel argues that the Party is more important than the candidate. Both are right. Mr Charney simply did not go far enough. In truth, the Republican Party is not fit for office. It has been taken over by ideologues and profiteers. Moderate Republicans have gone along, pleased with the success of Republican candidates across the country. They should, in fact, be repulsed by the tactics that have led to that success. Any party that is willing to sacrifice the people of America in exchange for success at the polls is not deserving of success at the polls. Tea Party (and its Christian right forebearers) success at the polls has led to the current state the Republican Party because moderate Republicans were willing to trade their souls for power. Only the failure of all Republican candidates at all levels will allow more reasonable Republican voices to be heard and for the Republican Party to return to its traditional fiscal conservative role.