The Closet Moderate: Overreacting!

Monday, December 01, 2008


Usually after a big electoral victory, the punditry will suggest that maybe the losing party is completely destroyed and will never be seen again. I remember some of this in 2002 and 1994, and I'm sure older readers can remember similar examples (my dad says this was the talk in 1964, as well). This year should be no exception, and like those other years, the punditry will be wrong.

The two major parties have far too many connections and far too much money to simply collapse and drift away. There is one area of the country, however, where the the Republicans' nationwide network and public image is hurting its candidates: New England. After the 2006 elections, there was one Republican House member from New England, Christopher Shays of Connecticut. After the 2008 elections, there are none. On the familiar map of election results by county, there is only one colored red in all six states (Piscataquis County, Maine, population 17,235.)*

The picture is not all dire for New England Republicans. They still have some representation in the areas in which a party member may buck the party leadership: the Senate (two out of twelve are Republican) and the governorships (three out of six). These people would not be recognizable as Republicans in other ares of the country. Vermont's Governor Jim Douglas is a Middlebury graduate who signed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of "gender identity." I defy you to find a Republican south of the Potomac Rappahannock who even knows what that means.

How is a Republican moderate like Shays supposed to succeed in such a place when, even as his views are fairly close to the center for his area, he is relentlessly tied to the party's regionally unpopular leaders?

Here, the label is dragging down the product. The solution, then, is for New England Republicans to disassociate with the RNC. This isn't really a plea for a third party; it's more of a plea for a relabeled second party. A group that supports fiscal responsibility, reasonable patriotism, and freedom in your personal life could be a moderate counterweight to the welfare-state Democrats of the American Northeast. New England Republicans already differ from the rest of the country's Republicans on the issues -- they don't care if you're gay, and they don't get too upset if you smoke weed now and then. But neither are they Libertarians with a capital 'L' -- they don't want to return to the gold standard, and they don't think Social Security is the vanguard of socialism.

So what should they do to be competitive again? Secede from the national party. Mostly, this is just changing the name, like how the Minnesota Democrats are called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. But more than just a new sign on the front door, this new group would have independent leadership. They would vote how they want on issues in Congress, without regard to the regular Republican leadership (kind of like now). The new name, be it "Progressive Republican" or what have you, would let suspicious hippies know that voting for their candidate doesn't mean voting for Karl Rove, or whoever the new boogieman will be on lefty blogs.

*For comparison's sake, note that in 2000, George W. Bush won three counties in Vermont alone. Vermont.


Corey said...

I think your right that the party isn't dying but your post highlights that it is having a major identity crisis. They can't have it both ways anymore, its going to be hard to have the religious right and strong small govt. people who are ok with gay sex and smoking weed make nice. I like the idea of a separate New England Caucus. I think one reason this sort of thing doesn't happen is NE GOPers would fear losing campaign infrastructure if they pissed off the party. Although Ron Paul raised 6 million dollars in one day, and a lot of small l libertarians are loaded so it shouldn't be that hard to make up any difference. Also that party needs all the support it can get ( see its desperate courting of Lieberman) so I'm sure the Southerners would be forced to find common ground if New England Republicans took your advice.

Statler said...

Ambinder has some interesting thoughts on this subject in his post on the Republican lockbox.

Silent Cal said...

Yes, that's the sort of over-reaction I was talking about.