Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Republicans and Political Moderation: Must the GOP Find its Centrist Roots?

Christine Todd Whitman makes the case over at the Philidelphia Inquirer that the Republican Party's future lies in reclaiming the political middle:

Moderate Republicans paid a heavy price in the GOP's loss of control of Congress.

After the 2004 election, pundits were predicting the dawn of a generation of Republican dominance. Karl Rove was being hailed as the "architect" of this coming era. His strategy of solidifying the hard-right base of the GOP by feeding them a steady diet of extreme positions on social issues that would, in turn, motivate them to flock to the polls was credited with securing President Bush's reelection and retaining control of Congress.

This month, the limits of that strategy became clear. In more than a dozen House districts in which moderate Republicans had long succeeded, voters apparently decided they were no longer willing to empower the hard-right of the GOP by electing moderates who would contribute to a Republican majority....

Nationwide, all Democratic candidates for the House and Senate received more than six million more votes than Republicans did. That is twice the number of votes by which President Bush beat John Kerry in 2004.

Nearly two years ago, in my book It's My Party Too, I warned that the "danger Republicans face today is that the party will move so far to the right that it ends up alienating centrist voters and marginalizing itself."

Critics at the time dismissed my argument. Here's how one put it: "If the GOP was in such dire need of a political makeover, there would be a clamor from Republicans to find a winning formula. There isn't - they've already got one." The results of Nov. 7 suggest otherwise.

I believe, however, that within the results of this year's electoral defeats are the seeds of future Republican victories, but only if those seeds are planted in the center of the political landscape.

President Bush has to lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship.

The Republican minorities in both houses of Congress must also resist the temptation to play the role of obstructionists. Indeed, I suspect they will find areas where they can build strong bipartisan coalitions in favor of sensible action in such areas as immigration and stem-cell research, if they are willing to move back to the center, where the best policy-making often gets done.

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush showed that he could work with Democrats. By 1998, when he was up for reelection, his success in working across party lines had become the hallmark of his first term. As Governing magazine, published by Congressional Quarterly, said that year: "All governors have to compromise to get things done. But few of them look as good doing it as George W. Bush." Now is the time for the president to show he can be the "uniter" he promised six years ago.

The lesson the Republicans should take away from the midterm elections is that, over the long term, elections in the United States are won by building majorities that reach toward the center. That's not just the best way to win elections, but it's also the best way to govern.

For the sake of my party and the future of our country, the president must begin to reach out to the center of the Republican Party and the Democratic majority in Congress. If he does, the next two years could very well be the most productive of his presidency.

There's something to be said for the party moving back "toward its traditional, philosophical roots." There's a selective conservativism in this administration and certainly congressional Republicans lost their vision of smaller, better government after 10 years in the majority on Capital Hill. But Republicans are divided by their factional wings, for example, on immigration reform, where an elite-level globalist orienation collides with a culturally conservative grassroots resigning itself to the status quo of out of control borders. Can conservatives return to respect for the rule of law?

And don't get me started about fiscal conservatism! It's a laudable goal to expand prescription drug coverage for the elderly, but elderly entitlements are bankrupting the country. Perhaps conservatives could seek to inject greater market principles into the provision of social welfare benefits, promoting more personal responsibility over retirement and so forth,
which was an original goal of President Bush's "ownership society."

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