Republican Moderates To Blame For Party's Troubles

November 05, 2009|By Chris Meekins

A familiar song is being sung after Tuesday's loss by Republicans in a special congressional election in upstate New York. It tells a story about how a moderate Republican was pushed out by conservative ideologues, resulting in a Democratic victory in what would have been a safe Republican seat.

Many in Maryland remember this song, as it was sung after the 2008 race in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. Conservative state Sen. Andy Harris defeated the incumbent, liberal Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, in the primary. Gilchrest supporters decried the Harris campaign as divisive because it had criticized the incumbent for voting with the Democrats on higher taxes, more wasteful government spending and bigger government.

Ultimately, 67 percent of Republican primary voters decided Mr. Gilchrest did not represent the party's values, but as is now happening in New York, Republican hand-wringers claimed Mr. Harris should never have challenged Mr. Gilchrest. When Mr. Harris lost the general election to Frank Kratovil by less than 1 percent, or 2,800 votes, they said a fiscal conservative just can't win in Maryland's 1st District. They ignored one key fact: "Republican" Wayne Gilchrest endorsed Democrat Frank Kratovil.

The same thing occurred in New York's 23rd District. The local Republican establishment nominated a fiscally moderate, socially liberal candidate in Dede Scozzafava. Democrats nominated a candidate claiming to be a centrist, Bill Owens. Doug Hoffman decided to run on the Conservative Party line because there had been no Republican primary, and he believed Ms. Scozzafava was not fiscally conservative. The national Republican establishment - the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - lined up behind Ms. Scozzafava and spent more than $1 million supporting her campaign.

Some notable national Republican figures - Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Fred Thompson - bucked the establishment and sided with Mr. Hoffman, boosting his fundraising and grass-roots mobilization, and even putting the third-party candidate ahead in some polls. That's notable given that no one has been elected to the House as anything but a Republican or Democrat since 1970.

When Ms. Scozzafava saw her poll numbers hovering around 20 percent, with no chance of victory, she withdrew from the race and the next day endorsed Democrat Bill Owens. Just like Frank Kratovil, Mr. Owens won the election without receiving 50 percent of the vote.

Without the so-called "Republican" candidates endorsing the Democrats, conservative Andy Harris and conservative Doug Hoffman would be members of Congress today.

Moderate and liberal Republicans have not only cost Republicans these two congressional seats, they also cost Republicans control of Congress.

The moderate and fiscally liberal Republicans who controlled the House in 2006 caused the public to lose faith in the Republican Party through their bigger government, higher spending and growing deficits. This is the same thing that happened when President George H.W. Bush moderated his stance on fiscal issues by raising taxes, causing him to lose the presidency in 1992.

In those elections, voters didn't vote against Republicans because they thought Republicans had lowered taxes too much. They didn't vote against Republicans because they thought the government was spending too little money. They didn't vote against the Republicans because they thought government wasn't intrusive enough in their lives.

History shows Republicans win when they run and govern as conservatives, and they lose when they moderate on fiscal issues. The fact that Ms. Palin, Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Thompson endorsed Mr. Hoffman shows Republicans are starting to learn this lesson.

The Republican Party can be a big tent, but there must be poles of core principles holding the tent up. When Ronald Reagan won the presidency, he attributed his victory to a three-legged stool: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy conservatives. These three areas should be used to evaluate candidates before they receive the Republican establishment's support.

Candidates do not have to be conservative on all three legs, but they must first and foremost be fiscal conservatives. As long as they are also either foreign policy or social conservatives as well, they deserve Republican Party backing.

The Republican Party will forever be in the minority as long as it keeps supporting fiscal moderates and liberals. The election Tuesday in New York, like the one in Maryland last year, proved that moderates and liberals will destroy the Republican Party. It's time to take it back.

Chris Meekins is a Republican political consultant who served as Andy Harris' campaign manager in 2008. His e-mail is meekins.chris@gmail.com.

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