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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

About Those “Green Shoots” of Moderation

Yesterday I wrote about the conservative effort to convince the news media and others that crazy people were being kept under control by the Tea Party Movement and the Republican Party. There’s an even less credible media narrative kicking around that was pursued the same day by Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times: Republican moderates are making a comeback!
If you understandably missed this development, here’s how Hook puts it:

With healthcare legislation mired in partisanship, “tea party” activists on the march and GOP leadership dominated by conservatives, Capitol Hill looks like a parched landscape for the withered moderate wing of the Republican Party.
But green shoots are sprouting in Washington and on the campaign trail. A small band of Republican moderates in the Senate broke a logjam on jobs legislation. They added to their ranks with the arrival of another New England Republican, Scott Brown. And several moderate Republicans are in a good position to win Senate seats in November.

The article is loaded with qualifiers of this dubious proposition, but not enough of them. The jobs bill where “Republican moderates”–including Tea Party favorite Scott Brown–offered a few votes for cloture was a vastly watered-down $15 billion measure that included a payroll tax credit for employers long beloved of Republicans (indeed, that’s why it was in the bill). Once cloture was invoked, 13 GOPers voted for the bill, including such decidedly non-moderate senators as Inhofe, Burr and Hatch. Indeed, the only reason the bill was even controvrsial for Republicans is that it was offered by the Democratic leadership in lieu of a much more expensive and tax-cut laden bill worked out between Sens. Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley that most Democrats intensely disliked. Anyone expecting this development to lead to an outbreak of bipartisanship or a breakdown of Republican obstruction is smoking crack.
Hook’s optimistic spin on “moderate Republican” prospects for election to the Senate is equally off-base. She cites Mark Kirk, Mike Castle, Charlie Crist, Tom Campbell and Rob Simmons as potential additions to the “moderate” ranks. Kirk moved hard right to win his primary, and is running even with his Democratic opponent. Campbell is best known at present as the object of primary opponent Carly Fiorina’s cult favorite “demon sheep” web ad; I’d bet serious money he doesn’t win his primary, and the winner likely won’t beat Democrat Barbara Boxer, either. Simmons is struggling against a well-financed primary opponent, and is trailing Democrat Richard Blumenthal by double digits. Crist is political toast. I’ll grant that Castle is in good shape, and has a quite moderate record (so far). But even if Castle and Kirk win, their election would no more than offset the retirements of George Voinovich and Judd Gregg in the less-than-loudly-conservative ranks. And Hook also doesn’t mention that at least two GOP senators who occasionally cooperate with Democrats, Bob Bennett and John McCain, could get purged in primaries.
As for the forward-looking optimism of Hooks’ “green shoots” metaphor, it should be noted that Castle is 70 years old; Simmons is 67; Campbell is 56; Crist is 53; and Kirk is 50. Even by the geriatric standards of the Senate, this group ain’t exactly the wave of the future. They also don’t look much like America.
Sure, if the Republlican caucus in the Senate expands significantly this November, it is going to include a handful of members who don’t regularly howl at the moon about “socialism.” But any suggestion that the ancient tribe of moderate Republicans is much more than an anthropological curiosity these days is just not credible. It says a lot of the direction of the GOP that the early 2012 presidential favorite of “moderates” appears to be Mitt Romney, who spent the entire 2008 cycle campaigning as the “true conservative” in the race.
If words like “moderate” have any real meaning, it’s not a word that should be applied to any major faction in today’s Republican Party.

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