Why Moderate Republicans Suck
Note: The following is a blog post written in 2009 for the Moderate Voice. I’ve brought it over to Medium and Ordinary Times for archival purposes, but the message is still a valuable read today in the age of MAGA and NeverTrump. Be aware that because of the age of the post, many of the links used no longer work.
Okay, the above title might be a bit harsh. But even so, we moderates really are in a world of hurt.
The moderate/liberal movement in the GOP that once had the likes of Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower is barely alive these days. Some of that is due to the fact that social conservatives have driven moderates out of the party with their emphasis on issues like abortion and gay rights as litmus tests. As David Jenkins has reported, hard-right conservatives have done what they can to get rid of GOP leaders that are deemed not Republican enough.
So, one important reason that there is not a thriving moderate movement in the GOP is that the party has done a good job at trying to purge us from the party.
Many a writer tends to stop at that point and not ask any more questions. The belief is that the current Republican leadership, which tends to be made up of hard-right conservatives, needs to be more open to moderates. Of course, this is true. Even though the current leadership is far more conservative, they need to be willing to bend on certain issues, especially in those swing districts. What works in a Republican-dominated area, doesn’t work in all areas. This is what helped bring Democrats back into dominance: they ran more conservative Democrats in areas that were swing districts. It tended to work swimmingly for them.
But this is only part of the story. Bloggers and journalists tend to write what is the easy story: narrow-minded Republicans harassing their more moderate brethren. But there is another part of the story that tends to be missing, though some people do catch it now and then.
The missing story is the lack of a credible countermovement within the GOP, a movement for change. When one talks of Moderate Republicans, we talk of a loose group of individuals who are basically on their own. For example, take Senator Arlen Specter, who until recently was a moderate Republican. After he voted for the stimulus package, he received a fair amount of protests from Republican groups.
The image in the media was of a lone Republican Senator against a phalanx of hard-right groups. In the end, Specter decided to leave.
This image has been seen again and again. A lone, moderate Republican legislator is attacked, not by a collection of cranks, but by organized groups that have the money, and more importantly, the people to take down those who are not pure.
The lesson here is simple: the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the strength to march forward.
On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals. We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.
If the GOP is to moderate, then there needs to be an effective moderate movement within the GOP forcing change. Nothing will ever happen unless these collections of frustrated individuals come together and organize.
Hence, why we moderates suck.
What conservatives in the Republican party have done over time is to create a culture that could sustain them. Think tanks, magazines, organizations, and blogs have all been developed to foster this culture. Yes, it has been inward-focused and it does have its weaknesses, but what this conservative culture is good at is empowering people, making them believe that it is in their power to change things.
The reason moderates do not feel so empowered is that we have no discernable culture or movement to back us up and give us meaning. The result is that we feel adrift and powerless to make a difference.
There are many ways to help build a credible movement of moderate to liberal Republicans. I want to focus on a few areas where there is a weakness.
Blogs. There are many blogs on the far left (ie: Daily Kos, Huffington Post) and on the far right (ie: RedState, Hot Air) that cater to those parts of the political spectrum. Some have many readers, some have a few. But all of them have something in common: they reinforce a person’s political viewpoint. Now, many of these partisan blogs are more heat than light on the political issues of the day. They are more cheerleaders than they are trying to think about issues. In the past, I would have said that being a cheerleader is of little value, and to some extent, I still believe that. However, there is also a case to be made that a little cheerleading for your side can make one feel that they are part of a greater movement; that they are not alone in how they feel of think.
When one goes to look for blogs of moderate/liberal/progressive Republicans, you will tend to find a graveyard of blogs that were started with good intentions, but then died for various reasons. Take, for example, the Lincoln Coalition, a blog that states its goal as “a grassroots organization of current and former Republicans that is dedicated to building a party based on traditional Republican principles.” It has not published a new post in over two months. They had a wonderful description that talked about wanting to return the party back to its principles. They had a few months of posts and then…nothing.
It’s hard to try to rebuild a party when you aren’t trying to disseminate ideas.
There are other bloggers that have also stopped for various reasons. Go to Charging RINO, or Plain Talk GOP or the Liberal Republican (which has since been removed), and you will find blogs that are basically dead. Now, the internet is full of blogs that are no longer in use, and there are probably a good number of conservative and liberal blogs that are also on life support, but for some reason, the ones that I see that have become ghost towns tend to be moderate Republican blogs.
I’ve been blogging on politics in one form or another for a few years now. I don’t know how many people see my blog, but I do know it is important to keep blogging on the events of the day. And I do know that over time people do see your work and take notice. Blogging can be about yelling, but it can also be about sharing and presenting ideas to people. It can be about getting out a message and letting others know they are not alone in the political world. An active blog can also help grow a living movement. A dead blog can’t do that.
Lack of Strong Institutions. One of the glaring problems among moderates in the GOP is the lack of a counterpart to the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC describes itself as an organization that started to bring Democrats out of the “political wilderness. ” The goal was to moderate the Democratic Party and wrest it from the hands of the liberals who controlled the party and brought it to defeat. If you go to the DLC website, you find papers on various issues from immigration to health care, all placing a centrist Democratic spin on things.
There really isn’t a counterpart among Republicans. Yes, there is the Republican Leadership Council, and it has done some good by supporting moderate candidates. That said, it doesn’t seem to offer ideas in the way that the DLC does. The RLC does have state chapter, but the site doesn’t say a whole lot about what is going on.
That doesn’t mean that groups like RLC or Republican Mainstreet Partnership are somehow wastes of time. I think both groups have good and grand intentions, but they lack the people to help promote and fuel their agendas. If moderates feel disenfranchised and isolated, then trying to buck up worthy groups like these seem pointless.
Weak Web Presence. If you check out the website of Republican Youth Majority, you will notice that it hasn’t been updated in a long while. Go to their Facebook Page and you will find the same thing. If IanTanner is correct and the GOP needs to reach out to younger populations that are more moderate on social issues, this group should have a live page showing what they are doing. But instead, we find a very old website and Facebook page. I have no idea what they are doing.
Take a look at the California Republican League, a state moderate organization. Again, the website has not been updated since at least 2004. It does look like the group is still in existence because of it’s Facebook page, but other than that, I have no idea what they are doing and how they plan to help moderate the California GOP.
If an organization doesn’t bother to update its website, then it might as well not exist. The only way for a group to thrive is to have an active web presence getting its message out. Some groups like Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection get it, use blogs, and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and update their webpage.
Individualism. Maybe the thing that is most destructive to creating a moderate movement is that most moderates tend to see themselves as individuals and not part of a movement. Moderates are not one to just follow someone and while that can be commendable, it can also breed a sense of isolation, so that when the cold winds of extremism blow, they are easily knocked down and they leave the party.
There is an old saying from the civil rights movement that goes, “Walk Together Children, Don’t You Get Weary.” Maybe if we learned to walk together, to support each other in the hard times then we would see a stronger movement. Trying to change a party takes stamina and fortitude, but it also takes numbers and as they say, there is strength in numbers.
These are only a few observations. If people want the GOP to be a center-right party again, then it is up to moderates to make it happen. But we have to be able to do it as a team and make the long slog to change. We have to be willing to blog, create strong organizations, and use the web to get out the message of change within the GOP.
Then, Moderate Republicans won’t suck.