How the Moderate vs. Conservative Republican Debate Could Influence the Election

by on March 31st, 2004

Held together for decades now based on a fiscally conservative approach to curtail the waste of big government spending, an impending question gnawing on political minds this year is the apparent divide between the social conservative Bible-Belt Republicans of today and the old East Coast Rockefeller Republicans.

By way of review, it should be noted that the influence of the Rockefeller Republicans within the party has been waning for decades. Republicans from Rhode Island or Connecticut on the record as being inclined to vote for Kerry this year may not only be out of touch with their party’s principles this year, but a case could be made that they’ve been out of the loop for well before George W. Bush became President, as the Revolution of 1994 should have made obvious. As part of the voting population of New England, California, and other liberal states, moderate Republicans are perhaps in a majority, but in other parts of the country, their numbers are so small that their overall national influence may well be negligible within their own party.

So is this even a debate? The media certainly thinks so. While John McCain gets the most press for his maverick status and his dissentions from the party line, Moderate Republicans have had a decisive influence on the Senate due to the essential evenness in representation among Democrats and Republicans. In a sense, I feel they could represent the swing voters in the general election, being fiscal conservatives who have a real problem with Bush’s social conservative agenda.

Of course, even if some Moderate Republicans decide to vote for Kerry this year, there’s no reason to believe that Moderate Republican politicians will follow in their footsteps (even if, from the other side, a Democrat like Zell Miller is willing to endorse Bush).

This is a dilemma that should be easy to resolve. Although I’m independent with Democratic leanings, I sometimes see the prudence of a fiscally conservative agenda, and could even consider registering Republican if I lived in a state where moderate Republicans were the rule rather than the exception. The Bush-style Republican agenda offers no responsible fiscal accountability, but does offer an almost reactionary (if rooted in populism) social agenda. It is a powerful message to put across, but one that obscures much of the traditional Republican Party platform in the process. And it is a deliberate transformation.

Regardless, Republican special interest groups in Washington do see a silver lining in the Bush agenda. Arlen Specter seems posed to lose his almost emeritic seat on the Senate in this year’s primaries to conservative upstart Rep. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Conservative advocate Steve Moore skewers with mirth and laughter with his Club for Growth group by calling Open Season against moderate Republican RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), and actively funds conservative insurgents against moderate incumbents.

So what do you do when you face an imminent purge from the conservative wing of your party? Even if you’re in a relative minority, you alert the media to the fact that you still exist and that you have legitimate concerns about your own party. Whether their concerns will make a big enough difference to sway the swing voters this election year remains to be seen.

Edward E.J. Davis