The year is 2003. Tom Ridge is chatting, explaining what's going on with Homeland Security, having a seemingly good time. His good natured counterpart in the conversation lets Ridge run with the conversation.
The other party in the conversation is Rush Limbaugh. Ridge had called into Rush's show.
Over the past twenty years Rush has been on the air, people like Powell, Ridge, and others have had no problem using Rush to air their policy views, defend themselves, and chat.
And in those twenty years, as anyone who has regularly listened to Rush can tell you, the substantive coverage of issues has increased, not decreased. As Rush has become better educated over the last two decades on issues, we all have too. But Rush's consistency of principle, conservatism, and humor have not changed.
Now, twenty years after Rush began, some Republicans who once fell all over themselves to get on the air with him, have decided he is too shrill, too conservative, and too harmful to the cause.
What they do not seem to notice is that Rush has not changed. They have. The ground has not shifted to the left. They have shifted to the left. They have become Vichy Republicans — not Republicans in Name Only. The difference is that they stand on their bona fides as Republicans, patted on the back by other Republicans of unquestioned party affiliation, to sell out the party by collaborating with the Democrats.
During World War II, the Vichy Regime arguable ran France as an independent nation, but were puppets of the Axis powers. In Norway, a similar situation occurred under the illegitimate regime of Vidkun Quisling. Today we use the word "quislings" to refer to those who collaborate with and help the enemy.
Call Powell, Ridge, etc. quislings, Vichy Republicans or whatever you like, but one thing is clear — these respected men have chosen to use their positions and media adoration to take on not Rush and Dick Cheney, but conservatives. Like Obama using various bank executives as a proxy to fight the free market, these men and others are using Limbaugh, Cheney, and others as proxies to fight conservatism in general.
Why? Because Cheney, Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Coulter, and others are burning down their potemkim village — their facade of being both reasonable and on the right.When Tom Ridge was in Congress, Arlen Specter had a higher conservative rating.
Ridge voted against every one of Ronald Reagan's strategic and national security initiatives. When Reagan was working to undermine the Soviet Union, Ridge rejected Reagan's plan.
When Arlen Specter was willing to defund the NEA and prevent government funds from supporting pornography, Ridge was opposed.
Despite his record over the past thirty years, the media would like to hold Ridge up as a man of the right to tear down Rush Limbaugh.
Same with Colin Powell, a man whose political leanings no one ever really knew when he served his country. His service was notable and laudable. But his political prescriptions for the Republican Party are as accurate and strategically bold as was his plan to leave Saddam Hussein in place after the first Gulf War.
"More moderates" will not win the Republicans a majority. That is not to say the Republicans will not need moderates. But that is to say the GOP does not need to become the party of moderates.
As I have written before, every exit poll in the last three to four Presidential elections shows that roughly 34% of the country considers itself conservative and 21% - 22% considers itself liberal. For a winning coalition, conservatives have to pick off less moderates than liberals do.
Based on recent polling trends, it is clear that, while Powell and Ridge are riding their elephants left, independents are running back to the right — now seeing Obama for who he is. It is worth keeping in mind that Obama is more ideologically aligned with Powell and Ridge than he is with the average independent American voter. Naturally, those two want to be more like Obama and think the game changer is for the GOP to do so too. 1 (There's also another factor: their rush to embrace the policies of the left is an effort to baptize themselves in media righteousness to wash away the perceived sin of working for George W. Bush, without publicly, directly repudiating him by name)
As Rush is apt to say, moderates stand for nothing. To actually win in this country, the political parties must stand for something. Moderates, because they have no guiding set of principles, look at each issue and form opinions on each issue — there is little consistency. Polling trends suggest independents are moving back to the right over Obama's reckless spending and destruction of the free market.
Let us not forget that the GOP lost a lot of these same moderates for heading in the direction that Obama is now going. Heading in the opposite direction will get them back and rebuild the conservative - libertarian alliance that put the GOP in power. The GOP only needs 17% of them to get a majority if, as exit polls suggest, 34% of the electorate leans toward the right to begin with. The GOP has the opportunity to pick and chose those policy positions that both represent core conservative principles and attract moderates to build a 51% or greater governing coalition.
We can conclude, had Powell and Ridge been paying attention, that the GOP needs to return to its roots of putting freedom first through fiscal responsibility, small government, and an end to government dependency in order to take back a majority — not to head left toward greater government dependence.
As Jim DeMint wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal,
To win back the trust of the American people, we must be a "big tent" party. But big tents need strong poles, and the strongest pole of our party -- the organizing principle and the crucial alternative to the Democrats -- must be freedom. The federal government is too big, takes too much of our money, and makes too many of our decisions. If Republicans can't agree on that, elections are the least of our problems.
If the American people want a European-style social democracy, the Democratic Party will give it to them. We can't win a bidding war with Democrats.
Freedom will mean different things to different Republicans, but it can tether a diverse coalition to inalienable principles. Republicans can welcome a vigorous debate about legalized abortion or same-sex marriage; but we should be able to agree that social policies should be set through a democratic process, not by unelected judges. Our party benefits from national-security debates; but Republicans can start from the premise that the U.S. is an exceptional nation and force for good in history. We can argue about how to rein in the federal Leviathan; but we should agree that centralized government infringes on individual liberty and that problems are best solved by the people or the government closest to them.
Ridge and Powell think the size of the federal government is not a problem, the amount of money it takes is justified, and its decision making for us is helpful. They are wrong.
They are, however, working the media as fast as possible to promote this view. They are doing so because they have only a limited window for success. Rush, Cheney, and others are tearing down their potemkin village — the one the Vichy Republicans built to make their undermining the GOP look reasonable. Increasingly, the public is seeing the flames and, behind the flames, the empty ruins of the failed ideas of the past 100 years that Obama, Ridge, Powell, and others have packaged as new.
The clock is ticking on the advance of socialism in America. Increasingly the public sees it and does not like it. That Rush and company are causing the change in the tide of public opinion is a danger to the Vichy Republicans.
It is like Meaghan McCain who voted for Al Gore, John Kerry, and publicly flirted with voting for Obama despite her dad running. She has no more credibility to tell the GOP how to run than Ridge and Powell.