the battle within the GOP

On Sept. 20, I told Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press (the national wire service of Canada):

“Trying to interpret why a party lost a campaign is always a blood sport, in every country, and anyone pushing an ideological agenda will say it’s because the candidate failed to embrace that agenda,” says Peter Levine. …

“But this time it’s all complicated by the fact that Romney is a such Rorschach blot of a candidate — he used to be pretty liberal, then he was very conservative in the primaries, and now he’s not specific about anything, so that will just add to the ambiguity if Republicans have to figure out what went wrong. …

“There will be at least two years, if not four, of bloody battle over what the election meant if they lose,” he said.

I still agree with the above, which seems pertinent right now. I am not sure if the following prediction of mine remains plausible:

“But I don’t think the traditional, moderate Republicans are going to keep quiet any longer. They may not have wanted to provoke any fights during primary season, when a presidency was within reach, but they’re anxious about what’s happening to the party, and if Romney loses, you’ll see organized efforts to take back control.”

That’s bad news for Democrats, he added.

“Democrats will be much better off if conservatives get their way, but my best guess is the Republican party will nominate a much more moderate candidate in 2016, thanks in large part to what’s happened in 2012.”

Right now, it’s not hard to find denialism about the election results and a continued desire to demonize the president. I was a guest on conservative talk radio in Philadelphia last week, and that’s where I first heard that the whole Petraeus sex scandal is actually a cover to prevent congressional investigations into Benghazi. On the other hand, you also see Republicans like Ross Douthat and Trey Grayson starting to push back. Up until now, one of their biggest problems has been differentiating themselves from Barack Obama. After all, imagine that a moderate Republican had been elected in 2008: what would she or he have done? I would guess: 1) stimulate the economy through a mix of temporary tax cuts and spending increases, Keynesian-style, and 2)  reform health care to universalize coverage and cut costs by requiring people to buy private health insurance, while subsidizing that cost for low-income people. This is exactly what Obama did.

That point is usually made by liberals who are dissatisfied with Obama’s moderation, but I think the president’s strategy had achieved liberal ends better than his two Democratic predecessors, Carter and Clinton, combined. So I applaud his record, but it still poses a challenge for moderate Republicans, who can’t be seen to occupy the same space. That challenge will become less problematic for them as the years pass, the Affordable Health Care Act becomes popular (but needs tweaks), and the country moves on to new issues, including immigration and the environment.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.