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Republicans on the brink
By Charles Bloomer
In 1994, under the visionary, if ill-fated, leadership of Newt Gingrich, the Republican party loudly proclaimed the party's conservative, limited government agenda. That message rang true with the American people and resulted in the Republicans' gaining control of both houses of Congress. Since then, the party has lurched insistently to the left, leading to losses for the Republicans in each successive election. In the 2000 election, the squishy feel of the party resulted in a bare majority in the house, and a 50-50 split in the senate.
Today, the Republicans are once again poised to stagger out of control in an attempt to look more and more like the Democrats. The defection of Vermont Senator James Jeffords, shifting the power to the Democrats, has spooked the Republicans and convinced them that their once popular conservatism is now a hindrance. It seems that the Republican leadership (I use the term advisedly) in the Senate believes the liberal media when it calls Jeffords a "moderate", and that the party needs to "soften its tone" in order to get closer to "the mainstream".
In the wake of Jeffords desertion, Senate Minority (formerly Majority) Leader Trent Lott has created a new position in the senate party leadership to represent the liberal members of his party - sort of an affirmative action plan for liberal Republicans. A small group of liberal Republicans that regularly vote against the party tide are now to be given a voice in the party agenda, despite the fact that the views of this minority prevent them from getting their colleagues from voting them into leadership positions.
In addition, this liberal minority, led by Senator John McCain, has been making the rounds on the talk shows and basking in the limelight with the print press to further twist the knife in the party's back that Jeffords so thoughtfully slipped into place. Senator McCain seems to think that in losing the party nomination for president he has now gained some special place as the party's alternate spokesman. Having lost the popular support for his ideas, he now avidly seeks approval among the left-leaning mainstream press.
Senator Lott will be making a grave mistake if he listens to the likes of McCain or other liberals in the party. A move by the party to the left will have disastrous consequences. Making the Republican party more like the Democratic party will ensure that the Republicans will become and remain the minority in Congress. The precedent of 1994 should convince him that, in order for the Republican party to regain solid ground in congress, the party must reach out to the basic conservative attitudes of the American public. A conservative agenda that includes a pitch for smaller, less intrusive government, lower taxes, less regulation and a return to valid constitutional principles will bring in the mainstream voters that live in those areas of the country that voted for Bush in the 2000 election.
Catering to liberals should not be a Republican strategy. Liberals are not going to vote for Republican candidates, except perhaps in the Northeast where liberal candidates call themselves Republicans for convenience. The vast majority of liberals are going to vote for Democrats, regardless of how liberal the Republicans try to portray themselves. By acting more like liberal Democrats, the Republicans drive away their mainstream conservative base. Without conservative candidates to vote for, that base stays home, not bothering to vote at all. The success of the 1994 Gingrich revolution can be attributed to its appeal to voters who were energized by the Contract With America and who found something tangible they could vote for. The Republicans ran in opposition to the liberal agenda, not in support of it. Voters had already seen two years of the Clinton-Democrat corrupt socialist utopia and rejected it. Conservatives were excited and voted for the conservative platform. Liberals are not the ones that cast the votes to put the Republicans in charge.
If the Republicans want to regain control of the senate, and retain control of the house and presidency, they need to clarify and solidify their conservative credentials. If that means driving the RINOs (Republican In Name Only) from their ranks, well, so be it. Jeffords is no loss to the Republicans. His defection now raises an opportunity for the party to run a real Republican against him. The same holds true for Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe, and McCain. If they bolt, the party should spare no effort in getting conservative candidates to replace them.
Republicans should ignore the liberal press and take their case directly to the American people. Trent Lott and other party leaders need to worry less about whether or not the press likes them and more about the issues that real people, real voters care about.
The country showed its colors in the 2000 election. Let's hope the Republicans are not color blind.
Charles Bloomer is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2001 Charles Bloomer
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