If you’re a regular follower of df.com you know that for some time I’ve been talking about the growing divide within the Republican Grand Old Party political organization. Specifically I’ve been talking for some time about the Conservative minority leadership within the GOP that seeks to push out all moderate Republican leadership. The Conservatives have never more so been on the move to take over the GOP and squash any differentiation in opinion that may exist among Republicans as a whole. The sad part is the Conservatives have their own party with which they could adamantly rule, but because the Conservative name is so marred in its own inability to be successful they have instead opted to focus on keeping their enrollment within the Republican party and have the Conservative party “endorse” specific Republican candidates they approve of.
In the past those endorsements came pretty carte’ blanche. In effect, whomever was the Republican candidate on the ballot was also the Conservative. The Conservative party itself has a small membership by registered affiliation (again—they’ve always pushed to have Conservatives register within the GOP so they can push up candidates on the ballot and then endorse them).
Worldwide the Conservative Party name is used by many organizations, but within the US there are really three organizations (two of which are National in nature and one that is state):
The NY Conservative Party is of particular interest and is one of the strongest ultra Conservative organizations within the US. The party was founded in 1962 by frustrated Republicans who at the time felt the mainstream GOP had become too liberal. The party does support National candidates, but can only put their candidates on the NY State (or lower) ballots. Again, this makes it mandatory for National Conservative candidates to come out of the much larger US wide ballot pool by supporting the GOP candidates. As a result there has been both a sense of frustration and need for cooperation between the more conservative GOP party members and the NY Conservative party members who both hope to get extreme right wing candidates on the GOP ballot. New York states itself has a particularly weird rule that allows a candidate to run under multiple party lines. The result is a candidate can appear on the Conservative and Republican party voting rows with votes in either row counting towards their victory as one consolidated vote in the final tally of votes. This rule is known as accumulative voting and is reason the NY Conservative party could even conceptually exist as their membership is so small compared to the larger National Conservative parties aforementioned.
The benefit for the GOP candidate is if you can get yourself in with the NY Conservative party you’re guaranteed a voting block of decent percentage of core voters who will blindly vote for you in one block. Even more so, the ability to dump your name into the Conservative row gives you almost a blind seal of approval amongst the larger conservative voter base as a whole allowing you to pick up Republicans, Independence, Libertarian, Right to Life, and other right wing voters who vote on affiliation alone. The two add up to leveling the playing field in heavily Democratic New York State whose metro-NY City voting block almost always seems to lean left and help give the GOP candidate a chance to get pull from the more right wing leaning greater upstate New York State area.
Meanwhile the Conservative Party USA is more a Libertarian like movement. Their main focus is on stripping down the Federal government and to empower the States individually. The primary reasoning being that the Constitution of the USA does not in clear writing give the full breath of power and responsibility to the Federal Government that it undertakes today. The US Conservatives do not normally put their own home grown candidates on the ballot and instead usually leverage GOP candidates as their own. The main difference is while Libertarians endorse a smaller central government they do so with more liberal values in mind such as open borders, laissez-faire Capitalism, and lose drug control. In contrast, the US Conservatives still want to make sure that gay marriage, loss of gun rights, and liberalism as a whole are not the end result of electing a given candidate. In such, they become counter opposites of the other in some ways as Republican are to Democrats. The US Conservative Party’s ultimate goal is to break from the GOP eventually and to establish a “back to basics” party who idolizes itself as the true successors to the US’s founding fathers. Membership wise though they are even smaller than the NYS Conservatives right now.
The arguably largest group of right wing voters are the American Conservative Party. Again, most of their candidates are from the GOP party line and much like the NYS Conservatives have in recent months come to be the seal of Conservative approval. Most of their “members” are not actual party members. Members actually usually belong to another major party legally as far as voter registration goes. Member affiliation is therefore not legal required and more fluid in membership than a formal party. They draw a large crowd of Conservatives, Republicans, and Libertarians who endorse the party’s back to basics style of government. They are seen as less radical than the American Conservative party and that helps maintain their legitimacy. They also tend not to talk about splitting the GOP party (though clearly by pushing candidates on other party lines than the GOP itself that’s what could end up happening). The American Conservative Party is the youngest organization (about a year or so old) and are very loosely affiliated across the Internet and local chapters countrywide. They are not a true “party” yet as they don’t appear on any particular state ballots as a party line, but are working towards an official organization as a long term goal. Think of the group as more of a Facebook networking club for Conservatives and less of a formal party.
The Republican Party itself is who stands the most chance to suffer from these aforementioned Conservative movements. The GOP is a National Organization with state chapters in all 50 US States. As one of the two big political parties in the USA, the GOP has been around since 1854 and garners right wing leaning voters of all kinds. Arguably this diversity has been one of its strengths allowing it to survive a century of change mostly intact, but those days may be coming to an end.
With the election of George W. Bush as President of the USA in 2001, the GOP was at the height of its success. Republicans had turned back eight plus years of Democrat control and taken both the Executive branch, as well as, gaining majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives (Congressional branch). The sitting Supreme Court branch was every day leaning more right as well as its members grew older. From there though it’s been all downhill. When Bush was reelected in 2004 to President with an overwhelming majority of votes in his favor (in contrast to the near 50/50 voting he got against Al Gore in 2001) he was quick to label the win as a “mandate by America” for Conservative politics. Within weeks of his new term Bush sought with renewed urgency to put into law a slew of Conservative items that he pushed through (with or without Congressional approval). Bush moved from his previous term’s centrist politics and focused on pushing out all of but the most Conservative members of his staff. This included losing Colin Powell as his Secretary of State. Powell had long been seen as both a key African American in the GOP and a moderate in nature who garnered support from both sides. The problem was Powell’s views were not liked on the GOP fringe and particularly this peeved off the hidden Conservatives within Bush’s staff including Dick Cheney (the Vice President of the US at the time) who long had been seen as the de facto leader of the Conservative movement in the US since 2001. Cheney encouraged Bush to move forward with the “mandate” and any number of political SNAFUs we are currently stuck with took root including two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) being escalated, a new Star Wars military program called the “Missile Shield” culling a new cold war with Russia, and continued outsourcing of jobs to South America courtesy of the NAFTA trade agreements.
By the end of Bush’s term in 2008 the GOP was under scrutiny by the American people as a whole. With the election of Barrack Obama in 2009 as President, the “mandate” was seemingly over turned. Congress shifted left again as well with a 55% Democrat majority. The Democrats saw renewed vigor thanks to a new majority of American voters signing on with the Democrats. The Democrats were in 2004 able to name 72 million registered party members to the Republicans’ 55 million party members. Even more concerning were the some 44 million Independent voters with no particular affiliation with either the Democrat or Republican parties. Obama managed to draw the vast majority (some 90%) of Independents to support the Democrats and in wake of 100 million to 55 million potential votes the GOP was toast.
Fast forward to the late 2009 elections that just took place in November and the next round of GOP “mandates”. Conservatives were growing tired with the majority of the GOP and with members such as myself in the moderate position voting for Democrats as well they called for blood in the form of “Tea Party” movement. The Tea Party movement was another loosely knit group of Conservative voters similar in nature to the US Conservative party (if not the same) calling themselves the Tea Party Patriots. Much like the US Conservative party they preached limited government, fiscal responsibility, and back to basic right wing values mandates. The Tea Party kicked off a bus tour where they would call on local Conservative and GOP members to speak against any number of things Democrat. All was well in good at this point and it looked like Ronald Reagan’s core GOP values of the 1980s were back on the rise. The problem is while the movement gained traction throughout the greater Midwest and Southern States; it had little to no effect on the majority of voters within the West and East coast. The voters on the coast were still choosing more moderate politics in wake of the extreme right wing underlying tenants preached by the Tea Party and Conservatives as a whole.
This enraged the Tea Party who somewhere late in the year decided the minority was the majority and put moderates under the scrutiny of the GOP party leadership. The witch hunt began with Rush Limbaugh (just out of drug rehab and sporting his new Slimfast waist line) calling for all moderate GOP members to quit the party immediately so Conservatives can take back politics. How splitting off 80% of the party and expelling some 40 million out of 55 million members would help the GOP is beyond any one to understand including myself. Even more confusing is as mentioned above there are already two national Conservative parties that Rush could help build into a legitimate third party (who would have some 20 million votes and be one of the largest minor political National Parties in the US). They could even pull some members from the Libertarians and Green Party believe it or not. No, that is not Rush’s way to do things. Instead he calls for Moderate Republicans to “leave the tent”. Within hours Glen Beck and Sarah Palin jump on the bandwagon calling for a new Conservative movement. They quickly call out the national and NY Conservatives, as well as, Tea Party members for support. Next thing you know Palin is on the Tea Party Express bus tour making stops to tout these views in person.
The circus escalates when Limbaugh and Palin decide the Republican candidate for the US House of Representatives in New York State’s 23 Congressional District is not Conservative enough to be on the GOP ballot. They weren’t alone. Flashback a bit first though to September 29, 2009 when NY Governor David Patterson calls for a special election in the district. The previous Representative for the District (John M. McHugh) had accepted President Obama’s offer to become the new US Secretary of the Army on 9/21/09. McHugh was a Republican and the concession was seen as centrist move by Obama. McHugh was moderate in nature and had a great record of civil service behind him. NY’s 23 District had had a Republican representative in its House seat since the 1850s. The GOP was founded in 1854 to recap—it’s therefore fair to say since there’s been a GOP there has been a GOP representative sitting in the House seat for that District. The 23rd District is in upstate New York and includes Watertown. The area is moderate to conservative in nature (some 70% Republican) and has a mostly agriculture based economy. It’s an area that epitomizes atypical upstate NY. Simple agriculture small town life. Good hard working people.
In NY special elections for US House a primary is not required by law. Instead candidates are nominated within a given party by standing county leaders of that party by popular vote. In this case the State GOP committee leaders would selected by popular vote one GOP candidate to go up against the other parties’ candidates. The Democrats and other various parties would do the same with their final picks appearing on the November 4, 2009 Election day ballot. The GOP ended up nominating State Assembly Woman Dierdre “Dede” Scozzafava. Scozzafava was a moderate GOP member and again had a very similar voting record to her predecessor McHugh. Republicans eyed here as a shoe in win. Scozzafava would also win the Independence Party candidacy as well.
NY Democrats nominated local attorney Bill Owens. Owens would also get the Working Family candidacy nod as is par normal for a liberal Democrat candidate in NY.
What was not normal was what the Conservative Party decided. The NY Conservative Party had already decided that Scozzafava was not Conservative enough to get their nod despite being on the GOP Republican ticket. No, they were upset that Scozzafava supported abortion rights and gay marriage. As such, they opted to nominate accountant Doug Hoffman. Hoffman had been one of the alternative candidates under consideration by the GOP for their candidacy who had been overlooked for Scozzafava. Hoffman was far more right wing than Scozzafava and an easy Conservative pick.
This is where things got strange. Mid-October Palin and Limbaugh start talking about this election as if it was Armageddon. They cited Scozzafava not being a true Republican for not keeping ALL values considered default for a GOP nod. In Limbaugh and Palin’s mind (and words) no Republican candidate should ever support abortion or gay marriage even remotely. Palin and Limbaugh said you either towed the entire party line or you shouldn’t even be considered for the nomination. They accused the NY GOP of completely messing up with Scozzafava’s pick and short of claiming heresy said NY chapter was not doing the GOP justice. Within days the Tea Party Express was in Watertown, NY touting the need to support the Conservative candidate Hoffman.
When the mainstream Republicans continued to support Scozzafava (including GOP National Party Chairman Michael Steele, US House Minority GOP Leader John Boehner, and GOP leader alumni Newt Gingrich) this only enraged the far right Republicans/Conservatives. That’s when aforementioned the “leave the tent” speech came out by Limbaugh. By October 31, 2009 Scozzafava had quit the race after being faced with Conservative mud slinging and decided it was not worth running under such scrutiny. Her fear was even if she did win (and she probably would have) the Conservatives would hound her at every turn. Scozzafava felt the GOP extreme right had made her a pariah for Conservatives and with that huge amount of pressure she gracefully bowed out of the election race citing “personal reasons”. It seemed like the Conservatives had won after driving the moderate GOP candidate out of town. Their Conservative minority was indeed able to be majority if it just made enough trouble for the GOP as a whole. Who needs majority votes anyhow? That’s un-American! Fear tactics is where it’s at!
Just before election night something strange happened though in the form of a Republican backlash against the Conservatives. It started when Scozzafava quickly announced her support for Democrat Owens and noted her supporters should not vote for the Conservative Hoffman. It was literally a last minute announcement on Election Day, but the effects were resounding. 62,662 voters picked Owens. Votes for Owen crushed Hoffman who only received 57,572 votes. Scozzafava (though officially not a candidate, but still on the ballot) garnered 7,041 protest votes to boot. Yes, voters for the first time since the Republican party existed voted in a Democrat in NYS’s 23 District. Worse yet, in the wake of the all this talk about Conservatives only being allowed in the GOP, the Democrats decided the win wasn’t enough. They fired the final political shot at the Conservatives.
Democratic leaders immediately stepped up the fight another notch with VP Joe Biden saying, “They may not have any room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate anymore, but let me assure you: We have room.” Yes, Democrats were putting out an open call to accept Mr. Limbaugh’s “get out of the tent offer” and to take in en masse any moderate Republican who wanted a warm welcome, as well as, the ability to voice their opinion to the party even if it wasn’t 100% in line with the Democratic party banner. Unexpectedly, his words would make the already bigger Democrat tent potentially even bigger and spread the very thing Limbaugh and Palin sought to squash: Liberalism.
There is the irony. Through all this talk Conservatives have not fixed issues within the Republican party by pushing anyone out. It’s seemingly just the opposite. With two big Gubernatorial wins this year in Virginia and New Jersey the GOP does have a chance to take back America. What will save the GOP is not two more states with Republican Governors though. No, what will save the Republican party is voters not deterred by fringe politics and extremist views. Here’s the insight into how Republicans won Virginia and NJ: The races where won by garnering the Independent vote for GOP; not the Democratic vote for the GOP. Those same Independents (some 44 million) who a year ago elected Obama are the same voters who gave the GOP the win in both NJ and Virginia. Exit polls by multiple sources confirmed that trend in both last year and this year’s races.
It’s the only way for 55 million GOP voters to overcome 72 million Democratic votes. Yes, the GOP can win an election—but only when those candidates are able to pull in the moderate majority of America. After all, we are a political system based on majority rule and even name calling cannot change that. The key to victory for a candidate in America these last two years in a row has been the ability for that candidate to garner the centrist moderate vote whether it be Democrat, Independent, or Republican (or whatever) in flavor. If you can pull in the majority of America (who is moderate) than you can win the election. Extreme right or left wing candidates thus don’t have a chance on a National or even statewide stage. Extremists (thankfully) don’t appeal to the majority of mainstream America.
With that, Mr. Limbaugh and Mrs. Palin I will not leave the tent. I am staying. You can go if you wish. There’s many options for you, but being a Moderate Republican is very different than being a Democrat. I don’t support abortion, but I do support its legal right to exist since it’s protected by our Constitution. I do believe in smaller government, but don’t support pure uncontained Capitalism. Small government shouldn’t be weak government. I want social health care in the form of a public option and it doesn’t bother me that the rich will foot the bill for the poor who were put there by the outsourcing of American’s blue collar jobs by very CEOs who will get hit hardest by the taxes. That is only fair in my opinion. I will not leave the tent, but it appears as the tent may leave you. And yes, Reagan was a Democrat in the beginning of his career (look it up). Trickle down economics failed miserably (look it up). And his administration was mired in scandal (Iran-Contra anyone?). So please keep your Reagan GOP views—I’ll gladly keep my moderate Lincoln GOP views as well. It makes the tent all that more exciting.
And as far as history goes with Tea Party Conservatives misreading it– What do you expect from a group of politicians who cannot tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution? You can keep your Tea Parties—I like coffee better any how. I know the Constitution preamble verses the Declaration of Independence preamble. I don’t need to keep it in my pocket and wave flag to talk up my patriotism.
I ask again—for the fourth time. Are you listening Conservative leaders? Do you get this yet? Probably not, but at least I feel better after venting.