This article appeared in RealClearPolitics last week. Scott Conroy writes about Texas Republican consultant John Weaver’s concern about extremism in the Republican party:
For Republican operatives who believe their party’s core has taken a self-destructive turn to the far right — and that the GOP must recalibrate significantly in order to regain an electoral foothold — the immediate future holds little cause for optimism.
On issues ranging from gun control to the debt ceiling, the behind-the-scenes advocates of moderation see a GOP Congress that remains as unyielding in its hard-line positions as it was before President Obama’s re-election.
And lacking an influential, centrist standard-bearer to promote effectively a new tack from inside the Beltway, GOP strategists like John Weaver have taken to social media to voice their frustrations.
Weaver’s Twitter handle — @JWGOP — pays homage to the Republican Party, under the banner of which he has served as chief strategist for two presidential candidates.
But in his online interactions, the former senior adviser to John McCain and Jon Huntsman often purposely veers far from party talking points, doling out frank and cutting criticism of what he views as the extremist elements that have taken over the GOP in Washington.
“In our party, intolerance can no longer be tolerated,” Weaver tweeted shortly after Mitt Romney went down to defeat on Election Day.
“How do some of these gun advocates get out of the asylum to do cable shows?” he asked on Wednesday.
This is the key passage in Weaver’s argument:
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re actually going to see a significant effort to change the way the party looks at issues in Washington,” Weaver said in an interview with RCP. “The first thing you have to do is accept the reality demographically of where the country is, and I don’t think our party yet has done that. And unfortunately, the votes on gun safety or immigration or anything else are not going to be indicative of how the whole party feels.”
What Weaver, whom I wrote about in September 2008, says is on target. Republicans are still trying to digest the message of the election, which, reduced to its essentials, is, “the country has changed but the Republican party has not.” This is especially true in Texas, where Republican leaders continue to wallow in self-satisfaction.
I think there are Republicans, and Weaver is one, who “get it.” They are few and far between in Texas, though. Perry brags about embracing tea party values and so does Cruz. They are wagering that the future of the Republican party rests with the tea party, and–at least in Texas–they may turn out to be right. (I don’t buy it. The tea party is a creature of the rise of Barack Obama. When Obama leaves the White House, the tea party will be out of business.) There is nothing left of the Republican party that George W. Bush built; it vanished the day Rick Perry became governor and the owner’s box made its appearance in Texas politics. Even George P. isn’t a natural heir to W.’s Republican party. As a politician, he appears to be closer to Perry philosophically than he is to his uncle.
The Texas politician under the most pressure is John Cornyn. The newly elected minority whip is getting pushed to the right by, among others, Cruz. Michael Quinn Sullivan called Cornyn (and other Republicans) a “weasel” for his vote on the fiscal cliff. Cornyn probably won’t get a credible primary challenger in 2014, but he will be looking over his shoulder at would-be wannabes, and he will have to move to the right if he wants to keep his job. The comparison of the modern Republican party with the Democrats who wrecked their party with the McGovern rules in the early seventies is frequently cited these days.
I’m not sure how apt it is. The Democratic party that nominated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 had all but disappeared four years later. The old bulls (labor leaders, key senators, and big-city mayors) who had run the party for years had had their last hurrah in 1968. The ’72 convention was disorganized; labor had little impact on the course of the convention; feminism was the dominant force; the party was balkanized into caucuses. George McGovern did not get to make his acceptance speech until well after midnight, with the result that no one on the East Coast heard it. Not that it mattered. Richard Nixon won reelection by a landslide, only to be brought down by Watergate two years later.
(A bit of trivia: McGovern wanted Ted Kennedy–among others–as his running mate, but he had to settle for Thomas Eagleton, a senator from Missouri. When the news leaked out that Eagleton had received treatment for depression and exhaustion, including electric-shock therapy, McGovern dumped Eagleton and replaced him with Sargent Shriver. Eagleton still finished first in the balloting for veep but had to withdraw from the contest. So who finished second in the vice-presidential balloting after Eagleton withdrew? Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, who finished second to Dolph Briscoe in the Democratic primary for governor in 1972.)
Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council saved the party. It moved the party back toward the center. The liberal craziness wasn’t entirely gone, but it did have to moderate in the face of DLC calls for welfare reform and other centrist issues. The rest is history. Democrats were still on shaky ground through the nineties, but the unpopularity of George W. Bush helped save them in the 2000s. Now you have to ask yourself: Who in the Republican leadership today can bring the party back toward the center and sanity? Not Rick Perry. He has never moved toward the center during his entire career. Not Ted Cruz. He has aligned himself with the tea party. Maybe Chris Christie could do it, but Republicans may try to punish him for getting close to Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In any case, there are no loud Republican voices advocating for a move to the center. The GOP has doubled down on extremism.