The American Prospect's latest article on the centrist wing of the Republican party has given me the opportunity to reflect on the state of GOP moderates.
The steady decline in so-called Rockefeller Republicans, dedicated to fiscal discipline but openminded on social issues has been one of the defining characteristics of recent political history. The Republican base has shifted away from upscale, northeastern suburbia and into the deep south and west, a region whose bread and butter is social issues, not economic ones. What economic desires they do have tend to come in the form of pork barrel spending and military bases, all which the GOP has adopted whole-heartedly at the expense of budgetary restraint. Virtually all of the GOPs moderates come from Northeastern states that are considered Democratic locks for the presidency (Sens. Snowe and Collins from Maine, Chaffee from Rhode Island, Rep. Shays from Connecticut, Gov. Pataki from New York). I won't go so far to say this is BAD for the Republican party; I mean, the fact remains that the majority of their voters are red-meat conservatives now rather than the Rockefeller tribe, and that should determine where the party goes. At the same time, one has to wonder how long the beleaguered moderates can last in a party beholden to its fundamentalists.
My home congressional district, which is overwhelmingly Democrat, was represented for 16 years by Connie Morella, probably the most liberal republican in the house, until she was ousted by Chris Van Hollen in 2002. I knew she was in trouble when the primary argument given by her supporters in favor of keeping her ran along of the lines of "Who do you think will have more influence: A first term backbencher in the minority party, or a 8 term veteran?" The sad thing was, I think that it was honestly a push, because I knew that the GOP leadership in the house couldn't care less about its moderate wing. To Tom Delay, there isn't a difference between Morella and Van Hollen, despite the nominal party affiliations.
The GOP is teetering on the edge of disaster. If it loses this election, there will be a bitter civil war between the party leadership and the "new moderates" (such as John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska) dissatisfied with the fundamentalist social and reckless economic policies that have come to represent the Republican party (tellingly, none of these "new moderates" would be considered anything close to moderate under the old standard). My dream scenario is that disaffected Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats all follow Jim Jeffords footsteps and bolt to create a new party in the center. Can anyone imagine the havoc a McCain/Lieberman ticket would have on this election?