Richard Nixon once said that during the Republican Presidential primaries you have to run as far to the right as you can, and then run like hell to get back to the center in order to have a chance in the general election. Republican candidates are doing the first part by trying to get as far to the right as possible in their attempts to appease the base and win next year’s Republican nomination.
John McCain did a role reversal in the 2008 election, in that he subjugated some of his previous more moderate views in order to get the nomination. But he neglected to heed the second part of Nixon’s analysis, and stayed to the far right during the general election. While he kept the support of his base, he lost any chance of gaining independent voters, and it played a large part in his defeat.
It certainly appears the new crop of Republican candidates are headed in the same direction. They are so strongly repudiating their previous positions that don’t happen to fit the ultra right wing dictates of the party that they will be hard-pressed to get anywhere near the center when the general election comes around.
Newt Gingrich gave an honest assessment of the plan put forth by Paul Ryan to end government running of Medicare, and turn it into a grant program, when he called it “right wing social engineering.” In the past he had also indicated support for some kind of health care mandate, which would require people to be accountable for their health care with some sort of insurance requirement. But these positions are an anathema in today’s Republican party, so it didn’t take long for Newt to do a reversal and say that what he actually meant was that you should be able to stay on the current Medicare plan or switch into a new, better plan. The idea is the new plan would be so much better that everyone would make that choice. But you should have the choice.
And as far as the health insurance mandate, a representative clarified that position as well, stating that Gingrich opposes a federal health care mandate, but believes that if states want to have a mandate that’s their business.
Mitt Romney has also switched a few positions in order to cater to the right wing of the party. He was once a moderate. You know, the kind of candidate that could actually win a general election. And he actually did, winning the governorship in traditionally liberal Massachusetts. But he has seen the light, and now rejects his former positions, which showed sympathy for abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.
But his biggest obstacle is the fact that while governor, he actually passed a law mandating health insurance. In fact, some of Obama’s health insurance reform legislation was based in part on the Massachusetts law he helped draft. He now says it was right for Massachusetts at the time, but he strongly condemns any mandate that would cover all Americans.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty campaigns as a tight-fisted conservative. Yet in 2006 he stated that “the era of small government is over,” and “government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.” He went on to say, “There are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interests before they become too powerful.” Makes a lot of sense, of course, but there’s no room for that kind of talk, or any talk of government regulations or expansion, in today’s Republican party.
There have been some very powerful Republicans with views that differed from the majority of Republicans. New Jersey’s Christie Whitman was a pro-choice Republican. Senator Fred Thompson, a Republican Senator from Tennessee, was a powerful pro-choice Republican for many years. A number of Republicans recently voted for cap-and-trade legislation, which was a step toward trying to combat global warming, and they have been lambasted, and penalized, by the party for doing so.
The old talk of “it’s a big tent,” which used to encourage people with differing opinions to join the GOP and help shape policy is long gone. People who have a difference of opinion, even if it’s only on one or two issues, whether it be spending, Medicare, abortion, gun control, etc., are no longer welcome. As a result, it will be very hard for a Republican candidate to win the independent vote. It will take major mistakes by the Democrats to lose a national election to such a right wing-based candidate.
The real contradiction is that it’s not necessary once the nominating process is over. Do any of these candidates really think that the right wing of the party is going to desert them if they should show a little moderation on an issue? Are they really going to vote for Obama? Not a chance. Are they going to stay home? They are smart enough to know that will only help elect Obama again. They will vote for the republican nominee, even if they hold their nose while doing it.
In 2008, Republican Mike Castle was considered a slam-dunk to win Joe Biden’s Senate seat. He was one of the most popular politicians in the state, a nine-term Representative and former governor. However, he is pro-choice and pro-gun control. Therefore, the national Republican party descended on Delaware, and financed a massive campaign for an ultra conservative Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell, who went on to defeat Castle in the primary. She then lost in a landslide to the Democratic candidate. So while the right wing of the party got their wish, they cost the Republicans a seat in the Senate by insisting on an across-the-board right wing agenda.
The Republican party needs to heed the words of Nixon, and learn that the goal of winning back the White House will only be achieved with a bigger tent. They need to open the flaps and let some more people in.