Friday, November 14, 2008

Moderate Republicans Take Their Heads from the Sand: Get Kicked By Party

Today we see some moderate Republicans putting forward the statistically self-evident proposition that hard-core social conservatives are driving away voters. They argue that this gives Republicans strong motivatoin to start moderating their party. The argument today comes from two camps, including former Governors such as Christine Todd Whitman and moderate Republicans who recently beat the odds to win reelection.

Predictably, these arguments are receiving a heated rejection from the True Believers.

Here's the problem, though. Republicans are starting to see that the "all or nothing" fire of the social conservatives has reached a tipping point - and all indications are that a coalition of the bubba base in Arkansa, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi and the Mormon states is going to continue to get smaller and smaller.

No one says that Republicans should become Democrats. But right now, the harder they cling to the idea that people like Sarah Palin are the future of the party, the more they look to become the Know-Nothing party of the Twenty First Century. Democrats and Independents won't be won over to hard-core social conservative positions, and Republicans won't win national elections any more without the middle. You would have thought they would have learned this lesson back in 1992, when their fear-mongering convention lost them that election too. But the temporary success of Rovian politics made them think they could ignore the demographic trends forever.

Until Republicans are ready to have a "Sistah Soljah" moment and convince the party to get past its two most alienating issues (anti-science and anti-gay rights), it's going to be consigned to increasing irrelevancy, as younger voters are already lost to them on these two issues alone.

But let's imagine another alternative. A Republican party that embraced gay marriage as part of a conservative tradition that values marriage (after all, gays are arguing right now more forcefully than anyone about the importance of marriage, and you don't see Republicans doing anything to ban divorce); and a Republican party that embraced a belief in science (including stem cell research, compromises on abortion, climate science, and strengthening of science education) as the core of a healthy economy and educated populace supporting a realistic foreign policy. To even approach these issues would require that Republicans have a long heart-to-heart discussion with it's base about the nature of a secular America; about how respect for religion doesn't mean ending our foundational separation between church and state. But if it could have such a heart-to-heart and see its way past these two issues alone, it could come back a majority party again. It'd be nice to have a party like that at the table, to argue real issues about economic and foreign policy tactics with Democrats.

But judging from the way it ran this last campaign, and the scary anger of the True Believers, I have no illusions that the Whitman's or the to Collin's will have much sway over their party any time soon.

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