by Jordan Cruger.
“I guess it was bound to happen.” Those were the words of Senator John McCain as he campaigned in South Carolina’s primary, in 2000, against then-Governor George W. Bush. McCain was referring to Bush’s attacks on his character, as McCain campaigned for more conservative South Carolinians to gain what his camp thought would be unstoppable momentum if he won the state. Twelve years later the story is the same with Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Demagoguery has ruled the day for Santorum and Gingrich. They are both resorting to attacks on Romney that they know the conservative base loves. They’ve added a new bad word to the ultra-right dictionary - “moderate.”
Just look at Rick Santorum on Nevada caucus night. Confident as ever, he blasted the frontrunner Romney for being just that, “moderate.” He even went as far as to compare Romney to other moderates who lost elections in the past: Gerald Ford in ‘76, George H. W. Bush in ‘92, Bob Dole in ‘96, and John McCain in ‘08. His comparisons are unfair however, as all were running in general elections, and at difficult times for Republicans. Santorum failed to admit his own ultra-conservatism took him from a 6 point victory in his reelection to the U. S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2000 to a resounding 18 point crushing landslide defeat to Robert Casey, Jr. in 2006. Let him try to excuse himself by calling it a tough year for Republicans, when also in 2006 a Republican from the same Northeast Region, in Maine, a blue state, won a sound 53 point reelection victory. That was Olympia Snowe, a moderate.
Yes, the all too personal affront to any Republican today is to call them a moderate. Apparently showing any reasoning power or governing capability through some compromise is too unbecoming for the base. For years, with needless arguments on social issues which never created a single job, the GOP has been washing out Republicans that make sense. Republicans who can speak to social progress to bridge the gap. People like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman were and are now being ostracized as “liberal” or “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). That is only sad because moderate Republicans were once the voices of reason that kept the GOP stable. People like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Charles Percy, Edward Brooke and Mark Hatfield were pro-business leaders, and yet able to disagree with Democrats while working for the needs of the people they served. Whether or not he wants to admit it, Mitt Romney is that sort of Republican. After years in the private sector, in 2002 he ran successfully as a progressive Republican for Governor of Massachusetts and started a health care program in that state that remarkably worked.
Yet all of this is a problem for the modern Republican Party. The demagoguery of people like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Joe Walsh and other reactionary Tea Partiers lies in dismantling parts of government that have actually benefitted people who do depend on services by the government. Some of what they say, however, does hold substance. Much of the government has become bloated. The tax code, for example, is in dire need of reform, and much to the Tea Party’s credit they are very consistent on cutting spending. But today we are being confronted by anti-intellectual politicians who think folksy one liners, gutting some necessary parts of programs and battles on family values are the way to build governing strategy. These people are not working for the greater good. They are using doctrinaire methods of politicking and further dividing, not just Republicans, but Americans as a whole.
It is pivotal to take our party back from far right extremists who Governor Rockefeller repudiated. We need more pragmatic Republicans, thinkers who are not afraid to politically expand their base. We need moderates to start speaking up. What is needed now is a “moderate insurgency,” the same type of energy that was used to defeat others in the sensible center. And yes, we must challenge the extremists who are in office, as well.
Many, many moderates here in the Northeast are interested in bringing back the old guard of politically independent Republicans, those not beholden to ideology or ideologues. Somewhere in this party there is still a Nelson Rockefeller or a Jacob Javits. I still believe it is possible to regain our lost ground.
Jordan Cruger is Vice President at the John Jay College Republican Club. He is very active in political campaigning and is a Political Science Major at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.