Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican
*Note to my hardcore conservative friends....please stay with me until the end before you decide to throw things at your computer screen.
If Republicans, and conservatives ever hope to regain their position of power in Washington they are going to have to come to terms with Rockefeller Republicans, RINOS, moderates, centrists etc. While they may not agree on everything, if they take a serious look, issue by issue, most will find that the so-called moderates are on board with conservatives on the weightiest topics of the day. In a nation essentially split between two competing ideologies, it makes no sense to crowd out all but the truest of true believers. If the GOP wants to become a majority party it needs to embrace all factions, even if only as the lesser of two evils.
The United States is always being pulled in two divergent directions. On the one hand there is a committed base of true conservatives who believe in a very limited federal government, low taxes and muscular foreign policy. On the other hand there is a base, no less committed, of liberals who believe that government offers the best hope for a just society and therefore a large federal government, complete with all that entails, is an objective good. These two sides are never going to "convert" each other. That would be like an atheist convincing an evangelical that there is no god- the two sides will never agree. (While I am sure there will be fringe cases of conversion, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.) Now neither side is unAmerican, evil, or stupid- they simply have drastically different ideas for what America should be. I for one am solidly in the conservative's camp, but that does not mean I think every word that leaves a liberal's mouth is inherently wrong; and therein lies the problem. I belong to that vast swath of citizens in the middle who are not "true believers" on either side, but who must find their way through the wilderness that is centrist America. Thankfully, the country is still "center right" so there is real opportunity there.
If you talk to a large number of average, everyday people you will find they do not fit into the ideological boxes that many political activists like to put them in. There are such things as pro-life liberals and environmentalist conservatives. Talk to enough people and you will see evangelicals who think the government should offer universal health care, and left-leaning teachers who think school choice is the best option to fix schools. This is where the political fight is. How can Republicans make a convincing case to this vast and fertile middle ground in America?
Let's take New England as a case study. There used to be a vibrant Republican base and community there. However over the past half century the Republican message has narrowed to the point where the traditionally moderate branch of the party that had thrived there is all but gone. In the vacuum left by the conservatives, liberals were more than happy to step in. In its place Democrats have been allowed to virtually indoctrinate citizens of the North East in liberal philosophy. So much so that now instead of a moderate Republican like Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Massachusetts is represented by the ultra-left Teddy Kennedy. Over the years voters have gotten comfortable with the Democratic party, to the point where a Republican has a hard time getting airtime each election cycle.
Today New England is left with only Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to represent the Republicans. I know there are plenty of conservatives who consider these two women to be Republicans in name only (RINOS). However, if they were to be defeated, who would be most likely to take their place? A Glenn Beck or an Al Franken? After 50 years of liberal indoctrination New England isn't going to turn into Sean Hannity's key demographic over night. However, the North East is an area that tends to be sympathetic to fiscally conservative candidates (Mitt Romney, Bill Weld) even though it is socially liberal. There is some common ground with the overall conservative movement there- if the GOP is willing to have a bigger tent.
So what should conservatives and the GOP do with this region? They should look for the lowest hanging fruit and try to install some moderate "Rockefeller Republicans" in New England. Over time people will get used to voting Republican, and the overall image of conservatives will change. In a region such as this, prejudices have built up over decades and it will take time to reverse the damage culturally. Right now there is a great opportunity to start this process with the implosion of CT Senator Chris Dodd. One can easily see a moderate winning this seat in two years. And four years after that maybe Lieberman retires and the chance of gaining another seat will open up. Over time the party can rebuild its image to the point where there is once again a vibrant moderate wing of the party with its base in New England.
Conservatives need to ask themselves. Do they want a minority party of ultra conservatives to act as a gadfly to the liberal left? Or, do they want to be a majority party that has some moderates on the wings that need to occasionally be placated? Both choices can be seen as valid, but only one will help America chart a more conservative course in the years ahead.
For more center-right news & views see The Rockefeller Republican