By: Ramesh Ponnuru
Are conservatives leading the Republican Party off a cliff? That’s what a lot of people concluded after conservatives forced the official Republican candidate out of a congressional race in upstate New York for being too liberal. That candidate, Dede Scozzafava, promptly endorsed the Democrat running for the seat — who then won an area that had been sending Republicans to Congress since 1872. Even some Republicans are complaining that a party purged of moderates would be unable to win elections outside the South. The party would be left with a hard-core conservative base, and nothing else.
But this narrative doesn’t hold up even in that New York congressional district, let alone in the rest of the country.
Scozzafava was not a moderate Republican. Her support for same-sex marriage and her stance on unions put her to the left of many Democrats in Congress. Several moderate Republicans, such as former governor George Pataki, endorsed the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman. Anyway, Hoffman lost so narrowly as to suggest that a conservative could have won under slightly different circumstances.
Republicans would pay a huge price if they tried to run Doug Hoffmans in every race in the country. But they aren’t doing that.
They’re running a slew of moderate candidates for the Senate next
year. Michael Castle in Delaware, Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Mark Kirk in Illinois have provoked some grumbling from Republicans to their right but so far face no credible primary competition. In Florida, Charlie Crist does have a primary challenger in Marco Rubio. But since polls show that either one of them could win the general election, that challenge does not threaten the party’s viability.
More important, a few Republican candidates have demonstrated that it is possible to transcend the party’s conservative-moderate divide. In Virginia, Robert McDonnell won a landslide — the first Republican win in a governor’s race there in 12 years — by running as a problem solver. Social conservatives know he is one of them. But independent voters strongly backed him too.
Voters as a whole trusted him more than his Democratic opponent on everything from fixing the roads to strengthening the economy.
Once he had that trust, Democrats were unable to get voters to see him as frighteningly conservative, although they tried to make hay out of a hard-right master’s thesis McDonnell wrote in 1989.
Read more at Time.com