Reasonable Voters, Radical Pols

Blogger Jay Bookman says that at least according to Gallup, Republican voters are pretty “reasonable,” but it’s the pols in Washington that are radical.  His last paragraph is the kicker:

In other words, it’s not merely that Washington Republicans won’t compromise with Democrats. They won’t compromise even with their own voters. The national party is in the grip of radicals who accept no deviation from the approved party line, and who demonstrate no tolerance for the broader, more reasonable range of opinions that exists within the Republican electorate they claim to represent.

The takeaway from this blog post is supposed to be that Washington Republicans who are “radicals” need to listen to their more “reasonable” voters. 

On the surface, there is some truth to that, but that’s only if you have a very simple view of party politics.  But I think Bookman leaves out a lot of factors that has made Washington pols more conservative than their supposed electorate. 

If one were to look at the nature of political parties over the last say, 40 years, you would see that those parties have changed.  It used to be that parties had a lot of control over who ran for office.  Deals were made to support candidate A over candidate B.  It’s not that the hoi polloi had no power, but conversation and deal-making by party bigwigs also were a huge factor. 

One example of this way of party politicking is still found in New York State, where candidates for offices are chosen by the chair of county political parties.  In 2009, GOP New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava was chosen this way to run in a special election to fill House of Representatives seat in upstate New York.

In all cases, Scozzafava was chosen because she could win the seat which had been held by the GOP since Civil War days.  But her liberal views on social issues angered conservatives, who then challenged  Scozzafava by putting up a conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman.  Hoffman ran on the Conservative Party of New York platform and was able to run Scozzafava out of the campaign.  Hoffman himself lost the race to Bill Owens, a Democrat.

(I wrote a huge amount of posts on this back in 2009.)

The Scozzafava-Hoffman race is an example of what has been happening to political parties over the last 4 decades.  Where in the past, party committees might select a candidate that would then be presented to the voters, now small outside groups like the Tea Party can come in and dominate the process.  In September, we saw the how the Tea Party was able to get enough conservatives out to the GOP primary (which are closed, party primaries) to select Christine O’Donnell, a candidate that had no chance of winning, over the more moderate Mike Castle.  Political parties today don’t have the power they once had in selecting candidates.  Instead, it’s these citizen action groups that tend to come in and by sheer numbers, elect a candidate that is more partisan and extreme.

Bookman’s account is too simplistic to take seriously.  Yes, GOP pols have become more reactionary, but that’s because groups like the Tea Party or Club for Growth have been able to take out more conciliatory legislators in primaries and place people to their liking in power who much less likely to compromise. 

When you come to the average general election voter who might lean Republican, they are faced with a candidate they might not like, but they hope will learn to “moderate” once they get into office. 

But those outside groups are watching and they will severely punish any legislator that goes soft once in DC. So, you end up with legislators that probably want to make deals but can’t, or true believers that have no intention of ever making compromises.

In the end, it’s not as simple as just asking Republican politicians to be reasonable.

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