Last month, on this page, John Scrudato ’11 praised the candidacy of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman for New York’s 23rd Congressional seat (Politics of revenge, Oct. 29). He wrote, “The hope is that Hoffman’s success will encourage voters across the country to stop looking at politics as red versus blue and take a chance on something truly different.”
This idea is wholly inaccurate. Hoffman wasn’t outside of the red-blue dichotomy; he was at the far red end of it. His success came because Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava was not red enough, prompting conservative leaders like Michelle Bachmann, Dick Armey, Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin and even former New York Governor George Pataki ’67 to endorse Hoffman. Without conservative support, Scozzafava found herself lagging in the polls, and just three days before the election, she dropped out and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who emerged with a narrow victory in the Republican-leaning district.
Scozzafava, who is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and, as a member of the New York Assembly, voted to raise taxes to balance the state budget, was not always such an anomaly within the Republican Party, especially in the Northeast. Moderates in the party, known as Rockefeller Republicans after former New York Governor and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, used to be abundant.
Even past Republican leaders would feel out of place in the mainstream Republican Party today. Former Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, considered radically conservative in the 1960s, was pro-choice and supported gay rights. President George H. W. Bush ’48 raised taxes to reduce the deficit and signed into law a cap-and-trade bill to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Had Fox News existed then, it would likely have blasted Presidents Nixon and Reagan as appeasers for opening up diplomatic relations with China and negotiating with Gorbachev, respectively. And Gerald Ford? He was the House Republican leader for almost a decade, but he could hardly identify with the Republican Party in the final years of his life.
Ever since Ronald Reagan’s rise, the Republican Party has been moving right. Moderate Republican officeholders have either left elected office (Christine Todd Whitman), become Democrats or Independents (Arlen Specter and Jim Jeffords), lost election because their constituents didn’t want to empower a right-wing Republican (Lincoln Chafee and Chris Shays), or became more conservative to remain electable in the Republican Party (Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani). As a result, the modern Republican Party is the most right-wing major party in the U.S. since before the New Deal.
Some Republican leaders do not seem bothered by this, believing that ultra-conservative principles can still be compete. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, appearing on CNN after Specter defected in April, expressed this view, opining that “the biggest tent of all is the tent of freedom,” prompting CNN anchor Rick Sanchez to ask, “What, what the hell does that mean, freedom?”
Although most of them are more articulate than DeMint, many conservative Republicans are fully on board with this purge of the moderates, preferring an ideologically pure party over a bigger tent. Like DeMint, they believe that a well-made conservative case against progressive taxation, against health care reform, against gay rights, against abortion and for a belligerent neoconservative foreign policy can win elections.
In 2010, if the economy continues to languish, they might be right, and the Republicans might be able to excite their base and pick up seats in Congress, just as they picked up two governorships in 2009. But in the long run, I fail to see how this approach can be successful. For one, it will continue to push young voters away from the Republican Party. Not a great plan for the future.
Secondly, this ultra-conservative approach has very little non-white support. Through our lifetimes, the white population in the U.S. is going to decline percentage-wise by a significant amount, and whites are expected to cease being a numerical majority in 2042. John McCain lost the Latino vote more than 2 to 1 and the black vote more than 9 to 1 in 2008. You do the math.
Republicans like to call moderates in their own party like Scozzafava RINOs — Republicans in name only. Now RINOs go by a different name: Democrats. And as a Democrat who likes to win elections, even if that occasionally means wrangling with those in my own party who might disagree with me on some key issues, the ideological purification of the Republican Party is great. Enjoy the tent of freedom.
Matthew Ellison is a senior in Branford College.