Let’s begin by admitting that there are those who would say that “Republican Moderate” is an oxymoron or perhaps an anachronism. Or that Republican Moderate is just a polite term for RINO. We will not pause to define Republican Moderate, or identify who, in general, would qualify for that description. We will admit that there are fewer than we would wish and we also note that the related species, Liberal Republican, is truly extinct: we are unlikely ever again to see the likes of, say, Jack Javits, Ed Brooke or Nelson Rockefeller.Let us begin by focusing on Congress, where we will confine the term Moderate merely to those members who believe that a) they were elected to find and legislate solutions to current problems, b) that doing so requires negotiation, persuasion and cooperation with Democrats, and c) that absolutist tactics, notably government shutdowns, may feel good, and warm the hearts of the base, but are inevitably counterproductive. We believe that Moderate Republicans, so defined, are a majority of the House of Representatives and of the House Republican Conference. Why then do they allow themselves to be tied in knots as evidenced by the resignation of John Boehner as Speaker, the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy from consideration as his successor, and now the Hail Mary pass of attempting to persuade Paul Ryan to take the position?
One part of the answer is suggested by a front page article in The New York Times on October 13, an account that we found more depressing than surprising, “Latest Unease on Right: Ryan Is Too Far Left.” The article focused on attacks against Ryan being mounted by popular right wing outlets on the internet such as the Drudge Report and Breitbart.com. It is not clear how much impact such outlets will have on House members, but it would be naïve to assume that they will have none. For our part, we believe that attacks on Ryan from the right are as misguided as the predictable assault from Paul Krugman on the left. We do not know whether Ryan will accept the Speaker’s position, but if he does, his power and influence with his colleagues may never be greater than they are at that moment. We would urge him to seize the occasion to declare that there will be no government shutdowns on his watch. Period.
But why have we come to this point? It is clear to us that the Freedom Caucus is right about one thing: the so-called establishment Republicans in the House need to have more backbone and be more willing to fight. But where those qualities are urgently needed is not in mounting quixotic battles against the Obama Administration but reining in, and if necessary isolating, the irresponsible members of the Freedom Caucus themselves. It is absurd that a group amounting to little more than 15 per cent of the Republicans in the House has somehow been allowed to have such a destructive effect.
David Brooks, also writing in the Times, took a broader (but no more encouraging) look at the political landscape in “The Republican’s Incompetence Caucus.” The column bears reading in full, but this may be the most salient excerpt:
The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.
Looking beyond the House of Representatives to the Presidential campaign, we have now watched the debate among the Democratic candidates (about which more later). While we observed several weaknesses, and have significant disagreements with each of those candidates, our initial impression is that the Republicans may have to lift their game to be competitive with any of them. We are confident that the Republican candidates, or at least some of them, have the capacity to do so. But to get there will require Moderates to be less, well, moderate, in rejecting the prescriptions of the radical right and others who elevate anger over thought. The task will not be an easy one, given that the latest poll shows Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz collectively favored by 57% of the Republican respondents. Indeed, it may be a Herculean task, but we think it is one well worth taking on, for the sake of the Party and the country.