In one night, while everyone’s eyes were focused on the outcome of the primary in Michigan, the GOP was delivered a potential one-two punch in their efforts to win the Senate. The first blow was the announced retirement of Olympia Snowe from her seat in Maine after her current term. Her announcement that she would not seek reelection came as a surprise and out of the blue. While many in the conservative community may be celebrating to chants of “good riddance” and “goodbye RINO,” he departure puts a serious dent in the ability of the GOP to win the Senate in 2012. Considering the fact that there is nobody waiting in the wings in Maine for the GOP with a filing deadline looming, the timing could not have been worse. Thus far, only a Tea Party activist named D’Amboise is running. He is the Maine equivalent of Christine O’Donnell, only without the witchcraft and masturbation side stories. Should either of the incumbent House members- Penigree or Michaud- decide on a Senate run (both are seriously considering that option now), it is all over in Maine. And the fact is that a Democrat would replace either one of them in the vacated House seat.
The second piece of bad news is reports that former Senator ad Governor Bob Kerrey- still fairly popular in Nebraska- is considering a run for the seat being vacated by Ben Nelson. Granted, Nebraska is not Maine and any run by Kerrey would be difficult. But, it would divert limited GOP resources from other races to Nebraska, once considered a slam dunk GOP pick up seat in the Senate. Considering the fact that Republicans will have to defend somewhat tenuous seats in Massachusetts and Nevada, the GOP must put forward the most electable candidate in other races in which the Republican currently holds the seat. In other words, instead of playing offense, the GOP is now in the uncomfortable position of not only playing offense, but now playing defense in states they never thought they would. That means that Republicans may just have to bite the bullet and return people like Lugar to the Senate.
Of course, a lot of this would be unnecessary had the less moderate voices in the GOP been nominated as candidates in 2010 in certain states. I specifically refer to Nevada, Delaware, and Colorado. There, the GOP shot itself in the proverbial foot by snatching an electoral loss from the jaws of almost certain victory. One could imagine the fallout had Lisa Murkowski not run in Alaska and Joe Miller lost that race to a Democrat.
And this goes to the core of the Republican Party. How long is the GOP going to be a slave to the ultraconservative, uncompromising wing of the Party? Indeed, they should have a voice, but voices speak words and words do not get elected. For all her faults- if being a moderate Republican is a fault- Snowe, like Mike Castle and others, was a lifelong Republican. The unfounded belief that the socially conservative, evangelical Republican is going to make a Republican from a blue state in their image is pure fantasy. They can try, but it will result in electoral defeat. Hence, for the greater good, there will have to be pro-choice Republicans at times and in certain places, or there may have to be Republicans willing to compromise with Democrats. For all the wailing about the Constitution and adhering to its principles by the Tea Party folk, that document is, among other things, a blueprint for compromise for the better good of the Nation. It is one thing to walk around, cite and brandish a copy of the Constitution and another to actually understand it. Sometimes, I think conservatives- not all!- fail to get that point.
It may just come down to standing on principle versus practicality. By this, do we hold a candidate to some mythical litmus test for inclusion within the Republican ranks? Its also a matter of degrees. To a resident of Utah, Orrin Hatch may not be all that conservative. But, does anyone really believe Orrin Hatch would win an election in Colorado, let alone New Jersey or California? And what makes Hatch “not that conservative” to someone in Utah? A vote on a certain issue, or some interest group rating, or some approval of a judicial nominee?
Some people have argued on these pages and others against the “big tent” approach to the Party. Unfortunately, the smaller tent may make one feel included in a select group, but does that guarantee electoral success? It may in certain states, but there are not that many “GOP at all costs” states out there. Not too many years ago, states like Arizona, Florida and North Carolina were Republican bastions. Can we say today? Does this mean that the GOP should change? That we should compromise our principles? Absolutely not. But, it should most certainly deliver a clear, concise and consistent message with the proviso that compromise- a constitutional imperative- is always on the table. Most importantly, lets stick to the true core values that affect everyone, not just the push button issues that appeal to the hardcore socially conservative base. Abortion and government-mandated access to contraception should be portrayed as incorporated within other basic values such as a smaller government and one where citizens decide those issues, not the courts. The bottom line is that fiscal responsibility, entitlement reform by moving Social Security and Medicare into the 21st Century, and true educational reform should be what defines the GOP, not the party monolithically against contraception and abortion in all circumstances. Should the government pay for contraception or abortion? Again, absolutely NOT! Should abortion in certain circumstances and contraception be available generally speaking? Yes! Instead, we see this rigid, socially conservative monolithic worldview dominating the conversation. It may play well in Utah or Nebraska, but certainly not Maine or Delaware and, I venture, not in Indiana either! Incidentally, in these areas, I fail to see the egregious errors made by Olympia Snowe. Is she pro-choice? It would, from some statements, she perhaps is. I also know that she has consistently voted against taxpayer-paid abortions whenever the opportunity presented itself. The point is that respect to many of these individuals, you may be able to point to a vote here or an interest group rating there, but I accnot wait for the day those in the party retire the phrase, “RINO.” Besides, who the hell is anyone to dictate what a true Republican is?