The revenge (betrayal?) of the GOP moderates

The last decade or so, Republican conservatives have faced a bitter uphill battle for control of Washington DC.  They’ve stumbled over their own ideological excesses, with candidates dragging issues such as ‘legitimate’ rape, birth control and the role of women in the workplace into the limelight.  One tea party-favored candidate found herself struggling to assure voters that she wasn’t “a witch.”

This political cycle, a lot of far-right candidates didn’t even make it to November.  They were toppled by establishment Republicans, who have shown themselves to be feistier, better prepared and more flexible than in 2010 and 2012.  Candidates who once quailed under the RINO label have been fighting back, building big war chests, tacking to the right themselves while working effectively to de-fang conservative and libertarian opponents.  There’s even talk of another Mitt Romney run in 2016.

But perhaps the most dramatic feature of this anti-conservative backlash has been the number of centrist Republicans who have actually abandoned their party altogether, running as independents or Democrats.   Often, but not always, they’ve made the jump because they’ve faced un-winnable primary battles against right-wing challengers.

What’s the matter with Kansas?

Moderate andidates such as Greg Orman, who is running as an independent in Kansas, could keep the GOP from winning control of the Senate in November. Photo: Greg Orman for Senate campaign.

Moderate candidates such as Greg Orman, who is running as an independent in Kansas, could keep the GOP from winning control of the Senate in November. Photo: Greg Orman for Senate campaign.

The latest in this trend is Greg Orman, a candidate in Kansas who has spent time as a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat.  Running this year as an independent, he’s managed to consolidate opposition to Republican Senator Pat Roberts in what has been a bright red Republican state.  He has a real chance to topple the GOP stalwart.  Democrats are backing him and dozens of moderate Republicans have also endorsed his campaign.

If Orman wins, it could well deny Republicans their long-coveted control of the US Senate.

Roberts isn’t the only GOP leader in Kansas threatened by friendly fire.  One of the conservative movement’s most prominent activists, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also faces a serious challenge from a Republican defector.

Kobach has emerged as a major national voice on conservative voter ID laws, and helped write Arizona’s controversial immigration laws.  But according to polls, he’s currently running behind Democratic candidate Jean Schodorf, who was a long-time moderate Republican before switching parties.

A moderate backlash in Alaska and Florida

The same defection trend could reshape the balance of power in the states.  Another former Republican, Florida’s Charlie Crist, is mounting a serious campaign as a Democrat to take the Florida governor’s seat away from Republican Rick Scott.

That would be a massive blow for the GOP.  Meanwhile, in Alaska, former Republican Bill Walker is running as an independent in a coalition with a former Democratic running mate in a bid to unseat conservative Republican Governor Sean Parnell.

This kind of backlash is nothing new.  Ever since Barry Goldwater’s conservative vanguard toppled the center-left Republican candidacy of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1964, the GOP has been shedding moderates and struggling to balance the party’s warring factions.   At two key moments, Republican defections have repeatedly put control of the US Senate solidly in the hands of Democrats.

The Jefford Effect

Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords’ decision to dump the GOP and serve as an Independent tipped control of that body to the Dems in 2000, just at the moment that President George W. Bush was rolling out his agenda.  In 2009, meanwhile, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter defected to the Democrats, helping to give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and providing the 60th vote for the controversial Affordable Care Act.

Many conservatives are thrilled to see their party purged of members who would even consider aiding and abetting Democrats in Washington.  But this is a delicate dance for Republican leaders.  First, they understand that Tea Party loyalty to the GOP itself is relatively thin, with right-wing activists willing to abandon candidates who don’t back orthodox conservative views.  Whole campaigns rise and fall on the support of fickle AM talk radio hosts and bloggers.  That’s a precarious position.

Also, establishment Republicans remain unconvinced that a tea party-libertarian agenda can attract enough loyal support to win long-term control of the Senate, or the White House for that matter.  The math is especially tough if planks of that platform continue to alienate women and Hispanics who are playing a bigger and bigger role in key states.  The math becomes incredibly precarious if Republican candidates and politicians continue to peel off at vulnerable moments.

How will moderates vote in a conservative-led US Senate?

This trend could well be back in the headlines even if Republicans do win control of the Senate in November.  If Mitch McConnell emerges as majority leader and roles out a conservative agenda — scheduling votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and making deep cuts to Federal spending — that will put immense pressure on GOP Senators in blue and purple states.

In particular, lawmakers Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) will face many of the pressures that previously confronted other Northeastern moderates, from Jeffords and Spector to Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican US Senator who now serves as the Democratic Governor of Rhode Island.

With the Senate still expected to be narrowly divided, even the small remaining cadre of GOP moderates could have a huge influence on the agenda and the debate next year.

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20 Comments on “The revenge (betrayal?) of the GOP moderates”

  1. Two Cents says:

    I have their campaign slogan

    “independents, the new useless party”

  2. Jim McCulley says:

    The Conservative/Republican stumbling block is the dishonesty in the media.

  3. Jim McCulley says:

    I also should have mentioned moderate Republicans are just Democrats. George Pataki is the poster child of moderate Republican ran as a fiscal conservative, property rights and low tax Governor. He spent like a drunken sailor. “spending during Pataki’s first seven fiscal years in office has risen almost twice as fast as it did in Mario Cuomo’s last eight years” When voters see no difference between the parties they vote Democrat. It’s also more hip and cool to be for everything than to analyze the failed policies of liberalism.

  4. Mr. Kent says:

    Great article. Well done. Congratulations.

    Progressive ideas and policies always win out in the end. Always. Women being given the vote, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, and now we see ideals of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment being taken up by States and Marriage being redefined. It is what we are, a Nation founded on liberal and progressive concepts. In their day those founding fathers were some of the most liberal and progressive people on the planet.

    And now National Health Care initiatives are in place. Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, call them any name you want, have already won the health care debate. Republicans no longer cry ” Repeal Obamacare,” they chant in unison ” Repeal and Replace.” Game over on that one. You did not hear the Republican party proposing anything on that issue as little as two years ago. It is an issue they have avoided for almost 150 years. Every time they chant that they are really saying ” Mr. President, you won.”

  5. slhancock says:

    Moderate republicans are those who run on the republican ticket because republicans win in their districts, not because they are adherents to the republican values. The leftists who took over the democrat party have started on the republican party and will not stop until they have a one party system. You apparently didn’t read those article a few years back. We conservatives are trying to take our party back, but the same corporations who support the dems are supporting the establishment republicans because they get the same things from them for their support. Our founding fathers never intended for this, but the votes go where the money goes, unfortunately.

  6. Jim McCulley says:

    Mr. Kent your wrong this nation was founded on a center right and a biblical foundation. Progressives win only because the media and our public schools lie to the populace. There has never been a progressive policy that works, and or cost what they said. Progressive are given high praise and accolades for good intentions. Since progressive are not result oriented (except when making a larger dependency class) their failures are never reported. Which ironically is all of their programs. Here in the Adirondacks we have a 50 progressive economic development agency. After 15 years of trying I have not found 1 person that can point to 1 success. I asked the reporter of this column if he could name a success of this operation he could not. I find it interesting how story’s like that are ignored, because everyone has good intentions. This just one example.
    Also the house past a repeal and replace bill to Obama Care at least 50 times. The do nothing Senate under Harry Reid blocked a vote on it.

  7. The Original Larry says:

    You liberals will miss the Tea Party when it’s gone! A moderate Republican (or any kind of moderate, for that matter) is a radical liberal’s worst nightmare. Speaking of nightmares, how’s the current radical agenda working out?

  8. Pete Klein says:

    It seems to me the Liberal, Progressive Democrats are becoming as intransigent as the Tea Party once was. This will open up things for the Republicans.

  9. Elaine says:

    We seem to have fallen into linguistic hell (and I’m not talking about the appalling grammar exhibited here). No, in this netherworld, once-respected words like “moderation” and “independence” have been thrown into the flames where other words, like “progressive” and “liberal” were hurled some time ago.

    In this hot and murky realm, it is impossible to understand what a “center right” political view could possibly represent. And what should we make of words like “common sense” or “traditional values?” My goodness, even the term “conservative” now requires a string of adjectives (“fiscal conservative” or “social conservative” or “tea party conservative,” for example).

    Strangely, however, Kansas voters seem to be making their way through the obfuscation to detect “radical extremism.” Thus we observe Sam Brownback, Pat Roberts, and Kris Kobach falling daily in the polls. It’s just possible that Kansans have pushed past the shape-shifting language. They appear to have noticed the falling State revenues, the growing list of suspended voters, the dismal rate of job growth, the draconian cuts to public education, and concluded that “common sense,” “moderation” and “independence” might still mean something in the heartland.

  10. I think we need to stop referring to people as RINOs and DINOs, to any voter’s choice of vote as “betrayal”, to any candidate as “a spoiler.” A voter’s first loyalties ought to be to his or her country and conscience. Party affiliation should serve those two things not dictate them.

  11. Walker says:

    slhancock says “The leftists who took over the democrat party have started on the republican party and will not stop until they have a one party system.”

    Gee, is that the direction things are going? Really?

    From where I stand, it looks like it’s the Republican party that is going ever further to the right. Remember the Eisenhower administration? Think Ike could get through a Republican primary today? Even the right’s patron saint Ronald Regan would have a hard time today running on his record.

    I think you’ve got it backwards.

  12. OrlandoChris says:

    Vote Adrian Wyllie for Governor! Also, Bill Wohlsifer for Attorney General and yes on 2.
    Why vote between 2 known liars? Florida, we are fortunate enough not to
    be stuck picking one liar or the other this time. We actually have an
    alternative. Take advantage of the opportunity. Adrian Wyllie deserves
    my vote. He is a honest average Floridian just as you and I , that is
    willing to stand up and do something for the interest of all of us here
    in Florida. The other candidates both Republican and Democrat are owned
    and controlled by special interest, like puppets and will lie to your
    face to gain your vote, then continue the same old agenda that we
    complain about year after year. Time to get off this merry-go-round,
    election after election, thinking it will be any different. Take a
    stand, vote for the candidate that loves this state and is willing to
    take time out of his life, effort and money to SERVE the people of
    Florida and stop voting for these ‘paid for’ career politicians that are
    only out for money and fame and have zero interest in us Floridians.
    Even if it’s just for honesty alone, vote for Adrian Wyllie instead of
    the other two (Scott/Crist) which are proven liars. The choice is yours
    and yours alone, if you want the same old corruption and slap in the
    face, go ahead and vote for one of the two puppets (Scott/Crist) OR do
    what is right for our (yours and your children’s) future and vote for
    Adrian Wyllie. Support him by donating to his campaign, spreading the
    word and contribute to the super brochure program which I think is very
    powerful. Visit his website today

  13. Mervel says:

    The Republican Party will self adjust and is self adjusting. It will take some time and some loses at the polls. But there will always be a conservative counter-weight to the Democratic Party. The Tea Party types just don’t have the broad appeal needed for national elections. But they can win locally for quite some time. But even here the message of 100% obstructionism is not a long term winner politically, and we are seeing that in places like Kansas. The tea party types just yell the loudest, and that works for a little while then the actual base will finally be roused to push them aside. Besides at some point, you don’t want to be associated with incompetents who don’t even have a rudimentary grasp of the issues.

  14. dave says:

    Progressives win because of a conspiracy involving the media and teachers! Those Liars!!

    What about the Freemasons and Templars? They must be involved in some way too.

    And you wonder why there is a backlash against radical conservatives…

  15. Walker says:

    Jim McCulley says “There has never been a progressive policy that works…”

    Social Security and Medicare are failures? Wow! Who knew?

    As for the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation, I know next to nothing about them. But according to this, they made 34 business loans last year totaling $890,000, so I’d guess that there are quite a few North Country entrepreneurs who would think they’re a worthwhile organization, despite your inability to find a success story.

    As for those 50 votes to repeal Obamcare, it’s actually 54 votes now, and they cost us taxpayers approximately $78,300,000. And for what? What would be the point of the Senate voting on the measure? Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that it would pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate, anyone with a lick of sense knows that Obama would veto a repeal bill, which the Republicans would need a two-thirds majority to override– they don’t even have a majority. A fine expenditure of $78 million, eh?

    And as for results-oriented programs, how about those Bush tax cuts?

  16. The Original Larry says:

    “Social Security and Medicare are failures? Wow! Who knew?”

    They certainly expend a lot of money, but whether or not that makes them successful is open to debate. Social Security is a cruel deception and Medicare is socialized medicine at its wasteful worst.

  17. Walker says:

    Larry, Social Security may be payments may be cruelly low (mostly because the cap on wages taxed), but it beats the heck out of being old, unemployable and totally broke.

    And Medicare wasteful? While there is certainly waste, generally acknowledged to be in the 8-10% range, compare that the 20% rake-off of private insurance companies. And you don’t think private insurance funds plenty of waste and fraud too? I’ve known people who tried to report a doctor’s fraud to their insurance company, and found that they didn’t want to know. There’s just not that much to be gained when you can just raise your rates to cover your costs.

    Face it– the magic of the marketplace just doesn’t work in our present health care kludge. Administrative costs in Medicare run somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of operating expenditures. Even defenders of the insurance industry estimate administrative costs as 17 percent of revenue.

  18. Two Cents says:

    “As for those 50 votes to repeal Obamcare, it’s actually 54 votes now, and they cost us taxpayers approximately $78,300,000. And for what? What would be the point of the Senate voting on the measure?”

    so they can ostensively avoid doing ANYTHING else.
    we are all rubes to them.
    we’re using terms like:
    right of center of moderate; and; right of the left of center of liberal conservative radicals….
    please, after enough dividing lines are drawn through a circle, it’s just a solid block of crap resembling a hole.

  19. myown says:

    Brian’s examples of Republicans becoming Democrats or independents are just more proof of how far to the right the country has moved during the past 40 years. Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan wouldn’t have a chance to get the Republican nomination for President today. We have a Democrat President who acts like Dick Cheney when he decides he has the unilateral power to assassinate American citizens with no due process of law or drop bombs in any foreign country. And “Liberal” Democrats like Schumer call Snowden a traitor and back the NSA industrial spying complex.

    The majority of media today is corporate owned with a conservative bias. Even the NY Times leads the drum beat into war like the Iraq disaster. Both political parties are nothing more than tools of their corporate masters and billionaire buddies. Government has become just a thin veneer that obscures and legitimatizes the corporate looting of the Federal treasury. Corporatocracy has become our form of government.

    At the same time we have outfitted every local police department with military equipment more suitable for invading a foreign country than dealing with a simple robbery. This is, of course, to protect the One Percent (ie. the violent police effort everywhere to crush the Occupy movement while law enforcement can’t seem to find the time or money to investigate the criminals in the Wall Street corporations they are protecting).

    Our government does not represent the average citizen or his/her interests. The majority of politicians distract voters with emotional messages about race, religion, guns, gays, immigrants, fear of attacks and absurd economic theories while voting for policies that have destroyed the middle class. The political “middle” has become a right wing corporate cesspool full of both Democrats and Republicans. Today Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul have more in common with each other than they do with the two major parties.

    To clear the stench of Washington, at a minimum we need to:
    Require public funding of political campaigns with limits on spending.
    Overturn Citizens United.
    Require all states use independent commissions to determine Congressional boundaries.
    Impose meaningful restrictions on the back and forth flow of executives between government and corporations.
    Stop the Bush/Obama expansion of unlimited Executive powers.
    Rollback the NSA spying/surveillance apparatus and restore the right to privacy for US citizens.
    Reign in the military industrial complex.
    Restore the separation between commercial banking and investing and reduce the size of any bank until it is not too big to fail.

  20. Mr. Kent says:

    No Mr. McCulley, there has been no comprehensive health care bill put forward by the Republican controlled congress. In their repeal bills they have attempted to alter parts of the AFCA. If you believe I am wrong, then please direct me to the sight where I can read the ” Replacement” you claim they made.
    As I stated earlier, the game is over and President Obama and the Democrats won that issue. We do now hear GOP candidates talk about a ” single payer” plan. It is just voter grabbing garble as of now with no hard evidence to back it up. Nothing has been written for the people to see. The GOP days of going back to the health care system we had are long gone.
    Yes, there have been successful progressive ideas that have worked and worked well. You do not care to hear it. Title IX is one example, and Voting Rights Act and civil Rights Act were badly needed. Maybe you were not around in the mid 60s and watched our cities burning-I was. There are others, but you only see the negative.
    We do know that the conservative mantra of ” lower taxes, and deregulate business and financial institutions” brought our Country to it’s knees when implemented by the GW Bush Administration with it’s neo-cons running the show. Sadly, that is the same formula the GOP uses as it’s platform.
    It is sad to think that the modern day GOP has come to the conclusion that the best way to stay relevant is to focus on lowering voter turnout.

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