This op-ed from the Raliegh News-Observer is talking about the North Carolina GOP, but it could be talking about the national GOP.
The N.C. Republican Party has been channeling its inner Jesse Helms lately, and not just because a portrait of the late conservative icon was unveiled last week.
At a GOP banquet Saturday night in North Raleigh, one of the main speakers was to have been Doug Hoffman, the New York conservative congressional candidate who was the favorite of Glenn Beck & Co. But he canceled because of an illness.
The state GOP is also considering a rule change that would bar unaffiliated voters from voting in state Republican primaries, in theory screening out some moderate voters.
In this age of polarization, it is politically incorrect to be a moderate.
The Republican Party likes to bill itself as the conservative voice of North Carolina and that is true enough, although the Libertarian Party might take exception.
But the state Republican Party has historically been far broader than the Helmsian party, with strong ties to the more moderate GOP brand of the mountains, the foothills, the board rooms and the suburbs.
Sometimes the Republican Party forgets that.
Twice in the last century, Republicans have won the governorship. In both cases they elected moderate conservatives, Jim Holshouser (1973-77) and Jim Martin (1985-1993).
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, another moderate conservative, probably would have been elected governor last November if Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had not made a huge effort here.
It has only been in U.S. Senate races that the Republican Party traditionally has spoken with a pure conservative voice. That’s largely because Helms and his longtime political organization, the National Congressional Club, helped elevate to office a series of Helms-like conservatives.
But that was a club, not a political party.
Those calling for ideological purity have a short memory. Helms was repeatedly angry and frustrated at President Ronald Reagan, who would provide only lip service to such issues as abortion and school prayer. And it was Reagan who signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
This is actually an old debate. During the 1970s and 1980s, the state Republican Party was often torn by factional warfare between Helms-style conservatives and more traditional Republicans.
I was present in 1988 at a GOP convention in Franklin County in which a riot broke out, with multiple fistfights.
The Republican Party grew rapidly in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in North Carolina by courting conservative Democrats.
But North Carolina has maintained the strongest Democratic Party in the South during the past decade by siphoning off moderate Starbucks Republicans.
As conservative British Prime Minister HaroldMcMillan (1957-63) once noted: “A successful party of the right must continue to recruit from the center and even from the left center. Once it begins to shrink into itself like a snail, it will be doomed.”