Ky. Voices: For GOP, wooing moderates a self-destructive strategy

November 14, 2012 

When one political party wins a national election and the other loses, the best thing for the losing party to do is take a lesson from what the winning party did. But moderates in the Republican Party seem to think it's a great idea to do exactly the opposite.

As soon as the election was over, moderates put the Republican Party on the political couch and began psychoanalyzing it to determine the problem. The advice they are now in the process of giving it is the same advice they have given the party repeatedly over the last 40 years: Drop the social issues and nominate a moderate.

This, they say, is the key to realizing the party's electoral potential.

There must be something in the childhood of moderates that prevents them from learning from their past mistakes — even those in the very recent past. What they should have noticed by now, but apparently haven't, is that this is exactly what the Republicans did this year and it didn't work.

Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate moderates considered most electable. And he ran his campaign according to exact moderate specifications. The result was disaster.

And if you look closely at the history of the political quackery practiced by Republican moderates, you will find that this advice never works. The catalog of moderates that the Republican Party has put forward is a litany of electoral failure: Gerald Ford, George Herbert Walker Bush (who lost re-election), Bob Dole, and John McCain. In every case, the party used the remedy prescribed by moderates, and in every case, it lost.

The one great figure in modern Republican politics — the one whose success is acknowledged even by Democrats — is a politician who did exactly the opposite of what moderates are now telling the party it must do: Ronald Reagan.

Reagan did not repress his socially conservative inclinations. Instead, he embraced them. At a time when the pro-life position was decidedly less popular than it is now, Reagan ran as an unabashed pro-life candidate. Not only did he never shy away from the issue on the campaign trail, but he mentioned it in every State of the Union address he gave while he was in office.

Reagan was accused of being a "right-wing extremist" when he ran for president, a term which boasts its own chapter in the moderates' handbook of political diseases. But Reagan knew what the practitioners of political leechcraft didn't: that you don't cynically tailor your positions to what is popular — you make your case for what you believe in and you stick with it.

Another fact lost on these political charlatans is that the Democrats won the presidential race by doing exactly the opposite of what they are now advising Republicans to do: They did not suppress their beliefs about social issues, but expressed them at every opportunity.

When the public sees one party arguing its case on moral issues confidently and articulately, as the Barack Obama campaign did, it assumes there must be something to it. And when it sees the other party dissimulating and making excuses, as the Romney campaign did on social issues repeated throughout the campaign, it concludes that something is not right with the position.

The voting public knows insincerity when it sees it, and it respects those who stand up for what they believe and care about enough to be able to confidently articulate it. Liberal Democrats are winning on many social issues, first, because they take the trouble to learn the issue and, second, because they never give up. Hand it to them: They lick their wounds and keep coming back for more.

If the Republicans want to win elections, they're going to have to deal with the co-dependent relationship they now have with moderates in their party. Until then, they can look forward to more ignominious defeats like the one they just experienced at the hands of an opposing party that does not question its central principles every time it loses an election.

The problem with moderates is that they see a party suffering from political anemia, and think the best solution is a good bleeding. Not only should they not be listened to, they need to be stripped of their political license.

Martin Cothran is senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation in Lexington.

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