Category Archives: Moderate Republican

The Jon Huntsman Syndrome (An Insiders Look at the GOP)

Liz Mair is a political consultant that has worked for various Republican campaigns such as John McCain’s 2008 presidential run. She also a great blogger and I wished she blogged more. Back in February, she posted  about what’s wrong with the GOP. It’s a good take on the current state of the Party.

Here’s a taste:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate/mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”

And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.

Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).

However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.

Read the whole thing and see if we can shake the Jon Huntsman Syndrome.

Beyond the Roar of the Crowds

Matt Bai has a great article up today about the Republicans and the upcoming 2012 election. The temptation is to get a candidate that will fire up the base and wow the crowds. In doing so, Bai tells the GOP to remember what happened to the Democrats in 2004 with Howard Dean:

Now flash forward to 2003, when another little-known governor from a small state, Howard Dean of Vermont, joined the messy field of candidates vying to take on President George W. Bush. Mr. Dean began that campaign as a proven centrist in the Clinton mold, espousing two central planks: health care reform and a balanced budget.

By then, though, the activist base of the party had had its fill of Clintonism, and it was demanding a candidate who would make a more ideologically pure indictment of conservatism. Mr. Dean grabbed an oar and steered furiously into the current. “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party!” he told the California Democratic convention in March 2003, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Within months, Mr. Dean had so surpassed his rivals in money and glamour that ABC’s Ted Koppel, moderating a Democratic debate, felt moved to ask the other candidates if they thought Mr. Dean could beat Mr. Bush. He needn’t have wondered; as it turned out, Mr. Dean ended up winning only two primaries, in his home state and the District of Columbia.

The main lesson Republicans might take from this admittedly selective contrast is that chasing the applause of the faithful, even in a party that is more ideologically cohesive, generally gets you only so far. Aspirants at this week’s forum can elevate themselves by playing, both rhetorically and substantively, to a base that’s virulently anti-Washington and anti-Obama. But the wider primary electorate may judge such stridently partisan candidates to be unelectable.

Bai says the lesson Republicans should follow is that of Bill Clinton, who persued a more moderate path that brought the Dems back in the White House after sixteen years and also led to two back to back terms:

What Mr. Clinton proved, however, is that laying out a more affirmative vision of what the party should stand for, and trying to persuade activists of its merits, makes for a more enduring campaign, both in the primaries and in November. This would suggest that if you’re Mr. Thune or Mr. Daniels, you don’t necessarily have to win the approval of everyone in the room at CPAC; you just have to convince them, over time, that yours is the vision that will ultimately attract enough independent voters to return the party to power.

There is an obvious lesson here for the GOP base and establishment, especially in light of this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But I also think there is a lesson here for political centrists within the Republican Party.

The news this week is that Tea Party is officially going after Maine moderate Olympia Snowe when she comes up for re-election. Solomon Kleinsmith thinks this is proof-positive that Snowe is no longer welcomed in the GOP and instead should run as an independent. It’s an attractive option and I tend to wander back and forth from the idea of moderate Republicans running as independents or not. But I wonder if in the long run, the better option is stand and persuade instead of leaving.

I think the problem with centrists on both sides of the isle is that they have a problem explaining why they are needed and why people should vote for them. Like Mainline Protestant Christians, centrists have been part of their party for so long, that they forget why they are where they are. Very seldom do they present a true governing vision. Whenever I hear some moderate person running for office, what they usually talk about is being able to work accross the isle, or come up with the best ideas of left and right, or what have you. They want to come accross as an able functionary, but what the average voter wants is a compelling vision. Clinton in 1992 had a vision of what he wanted and that’s what propelled him to victory.

I think that in this age of the Tea Party, moderate and even conventional Republicans have to explain clearly what is their governing vision. Why do they want to be in public office?

One reason that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder won is because he presented a real vision for governing. He is a roadmap for moderates within the GOP. It’s not enough to be moderate. One has to be able to say how they would want to govern and make their society better than what it was. He was able to bring independents into the GOP .

Now, maybe Snowe could win as an independent. But the thing is, if she can’t explain why she should be elected other than “vote for me, because I’m moderate,” then she won’t win. In Minnesota, former Republican Tom Horner ran as an independent/third party candidate. But most of his spiel was to run as a functionary, not a visionary. The result was that he won 12 percent of the vote.

That said, if she wins as an independent what does that mean? Joe Liberman ran as an independent, but for the most part he voted with the Dems. How is that “independent?”

I think in the end, centrists in the GOP (all five of us) need to better explain why we are a better choice than a Tea Party candidate. We need to persuade folks to who might not have ever pulled the “R” lever to actually vote for Republicans. I want to see the Scott Browns, Richard Lugars and Olympia Snowes come up with a real compelling vision that will make people vote for them in primaries over a Tea Partier. It’s time to make a stand.

Run, Jon, Run?

I’ve always found it interesting that when looking at the current state of the GOP there are cries for the party to “moderate.”  So, when a candidate comes forward that tends to be more open-minded and willing to open up the party, then people say that said candidate has zero chance to win in the primaries or they start to say that said candidate isn’t so moderate after all.

Jon Huntsman is a different kind of Republican. He has his conservative bona fides, but he is also pragmatic and tends to be forward thinking on issues like the environment and gay rights.  There has been a lot of press about him as of late regarding the Presidential campaign next year.  There are signs he will step down from his ambassordial post in China to launch a bid for the White House.

Now, there are bloggers who are already say that this campaign is foolish.  They say he is too liberal for the GOP base, that working under President Obama will end his campaign, that a center-right moderate ran last time and lost, blah, blah blah. 

I think around the blogosphere, there are two assumption that take hold when thinking about the GOP.  The first one is that the party is too right-wing and needs to be more moderate for long term viability.  The second assumption is that the base is so right wing that assumption one will never happen.

I sometimes wonder if assumption one is basically saying that the Republicans needs to be like the Democrats only less so.  Of course, if you run someone that is basically a Democrat, well of course that person’s candidacy is sunk.  But if the candidate runs ala the UK’s David Cameron, holding fast to conservative principles and reaching out beyond the base, then maybe someone like Huntsman has a chance.

One of the reasons that Huntsman was sent on a slow boat to China was because Team Obama was afraid of Huntsman.  Why?  Because Huntsman was a Republican Obama, someone who could hold on to the base and reach the middle as well.  Better to get a potential rival out of the way and hope for someone like a Sarah Palin.

If Huntsman can perform the balancing act of being conservative and reaching out to the center, he just could have a shot in 2012. 

PS: Pejman Yousefzadeh has a great post on Huntsman running for President.

Huntsman 2012 = McCain 2000?

Chris Cilliza’s post about former GOP governor Jon’s Huntsman’s inner circle gives some signals that he might be attempting a run.  As Cilliza notes, some of the persons that make up Huntman’s advisors reads like a repeat of John McCain’s 2000 campaign.

Of course, a potential strike against Huntsman is that he has served as Ambassador to China under President Obama.  This is a weakness that Huntsman would have to overcome in the primaries.

But it looks very likely that we might see a Huntsman campaign very soon.