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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Republican Moderates Vs. the Club for Growth

The first serious salvo shot in the Republican political civil war has been fired by moderates at the Club for Growth. The battle lines were drawn when Arlen Specter himself singled out that group in his explanation for his switch to the Democratic party.

Of course, Specter conveniently didn't mention that his former primary opponent, Pat Toomey, was the previous president of Club for Growth.

There's nothing I hate worse in politics than when one group singles out a relatively unknown group or person and makes them a boogeyman. That's what many Democrats did with Karl Rove, and the same thing is happening now.

The Club for Growth is a policy and watchdog group specializing in tax and spend issues with a philosophy of fiscal conservatism and free markets. To no one's surprise, CFG often backs fiscal conservatives against fiscal moderates in Republican primaries. For this, some moderates have turned them into boogeymen. Here's how one moderate voice puts it.

It happened in my former district (MI-07) when the CFG knocked off Joe Schwarz and put wingnut extremist Tim Walberg in power…only to lose the seat to Democrat Mark Schauer the next election. It happened in MD-01 when Andy Harris knocked off Wayne Gilchrest, allowing Frank Kratovil to take the conservative Eastern Shore district. It even happened in northern Idaho, where Walt Minnick, a Democrat, defeated CFG star Bill Sali in 2008. In the Rhode Island Senate race in 2006, the CFG nearly eliminated Lincoln Chafee, thereby weakening him for the general election match against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

Now by wing nut extremist (a really crass term now used by the mainstream), they of course mean a solid fiscal conservative. There are a handful of examples that all of these folks come up with. Of course, there are times when a candidate is brought out of a primary that becomes unelectable in the general election. Look at the example they have given. Lincoln Chafee switched to being a Democrat following his loss and endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Does that sound like a Republican that the base should have supported? There are near 500 legislative elections in each election cycle and because there are a handful isolated this, we are lead to believe, means that CFG is now the boogeyman?

Give me a break. The reason that CFG has now become the boogeyman for moderates is because they carry enough power. Their voice is one of credibility on fiscal issues in Republican circles. Moderates are almost always vulnerable on fiscal issues and so the CFG is always a threat to their own power base.

As I said, the Specter switch has lead to a political civil war within the Republican party. The moderates are claiming that rigid adherence to conservative principles won't give the party the big tent it needs to win. They apparently will go further. They also will claim that Reagan conservatism is passe and no longer in trusted by the electorate. Such a supposition would come from thin air since Reagan conservatism hasn't existed since Reagan. As such, if the public doesn't any longer believe in it, they are doing it telepathically.

To do this, they will call those that strictly adhere to fiscal conservatism wingnuts, right wingers, and hard right ideologues. They will propose an alternative that they will claim will reach out to moderates but also one that believes in no political philosophy. Now, it's one thing to have your opponents demonize you, but when those in your own party do it, that's just suicidal.

It seems that for now at least, the moderates are insistent on fighting a political war they will lose. If the Republican party base has a choice, they will choose true and consistent conservatives. The moderates won't be able to move the party. The base wants Republicans to be conservatives. That's what the tea parties showed and it's what the losses in the last two elections show. It appears the moderates are for now determined to practice scorched earth policy in a war they will ultimately lose, and the Club for Growth appears to be the first target in that strategy.


Anonymous said...

Are you sure Chafee lost his primary? I could have sworn that he won but then lost to Whitehouse in the general election.

mike volpe said...

I didn't say otherwise and neither did the piece I quoted...

Anonymous said...

Well, the moderates in Pa are scrambling now, trying to persuade either Tom Ridge or Jim Gerlach to enter the race against Toomey.