Ideological Purity in the GOP

Should've linked this last week, but had a good class discussion on the matter today.  I'll let EJ Dionne take care of the summary:

 Is there room in the Republican Party for genuine moderates? Truth to
tell, the GOP can't decide. More precisely, it's deeply divided over
whether it should allow any divisions in the party at all.

That's why the brawl in a single congressional district in far Upstate
New York is drawing the eyes of the nation. Conservatives are
determined to use the race to prove that there is no place in the party
for heretics, dissidents or independents. 

When local Republicans picked a moderate, Assemblywoman Dede
Scozzafava, as their candidate for the Nov. 3 contest, many on the
right rebelled. They are backing a third-party conservative, Doug
Hoffman, and he may well drive Scozzafava into third place. For the
moment, at least, polls show that Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate,
has jumped into first place on the split.

 It demonstrates just how right-wing some Republicans have become that
former House speaker Newt Gingrich is on the moderate side of this
civil war against his old nemesis Dick Armey, who served under Gingrich
as majority leader.

Gingrich, who backs Scozzafava,
always understood that he would never have become speaker without help
from Republican moderates. Armey prefers ideological purity and, like
fellow members of the Tea Party movement, is supporting Hoffman.

The GOP's battle of Plattsburgh and Oswego underscores the fact that
while the Democrats are a coalition party uniting moderates and
liberals, Republicans threaten to become a party of the right, and only
of the right. That means (as we are seeing on health care) that many of
the big arguments take place almost entirely inside the Democratic

Not much of a "threat" about it.  The Republicans are pretty much there as a party of the right and only of the right.  This is most definitely not the path to a returned majority, but to permanent minority status.  Back to EJ:

Democrats won their majority in Congress by uniting and firing up their
base (George W. Bush helped a lot) and by winning over moderates and
independents, often by running moderate candidates in conservative
districts. These candidates were typically to the left of the
Republicans on economic issues but to the right of, say, Berkeley and

In the meantime, middle-of-the-road voters who had populated the
moderate Republican heartland, notably in suburban areas of the
Northeast and Midwest, shifted steadily Democratic, turned off by the
increasing dominance of Southern conservatives in the party of Lincoln.

Such voters threw solid Republican moderates out of office — among
them Connie Morella in Maryland, Jim Leach in Iowa and Chris Shays in
Connecticut — not because they disliked these champions of the middle
way but because all three came to be seen as enablers of a right-wing
congressional majority.

The political parties scholar in me is fascinated by the Republican party's rush off an ideological cliff.  Ideological purity simply does not make for majorities in a two-party system.  The Democrat in me says, keep on going.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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