Conservatives to GOP moderates: Get out of our party
Tuesday, November 16 @ 10:16:57 EST
Many moderates say they no longer feel invited to the party
By Colleen McCain Nelso, The Dallas Morning News
A win doesn't mean that all is well in the Republican Party.
Though their candidate came out ahead on Nov. 2, some moderate Republicans are as despondent as Democrats. While Christian conservatives have been credited with turning out like-minded voters in crucial swing states, many moderates say they have been marginalized.
"There is no future for moderate and progressive Republicans in the Republican Party," said Jim Scarantino, president of the centrist GOP group Mainstream 2004. "The far right wing and the fanatics have seized control."
Mr. Scarantino isn't sure where his brand of Republican politics fits into the GOP. Some Christian conservatives say it doesn't.
"If they can't agree and support the president and the platform, then they ought to go over to the Democrats," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the conservative group Concerned Women for America.
After President Bush's re-election, evangelicals were quickly branded the "it" political group. They have taken a two-week victory lap, appearing around the clock on cable news networks while touting a conservative social agenda.
Out of the spotlight and largely overlooked, some moderates said they feel like politicians without a party.
Issues such as gay marriage and abortion have exposed fissures in the majority party, as conservatives push for what they call "pro-family" policies and moderates urge renewed focus on fiscal conservatism.
Evangelicals have been quick to seize on their moment in the spotlight, launching efforts to expand their influence and criticizing Republicans who don't toe the conservative line on social issues.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell announced plans last week for an "evangelical revolution," forming the Faith and Values Coalition, which he described as a resurrection of the Moral Majority.
And conservatives accused Sen. Arlen Specter of disloyalty when the Pennsylvania Republican suggested that the Senate might reject anti-abortion judicial nominees. Evangelical groups urged Mr. Specter's colleagues to reject his bid to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
For years, moderate and conservative Republicans have coexisted, albeit somewhat awkwardly, agreeing to disagree on issues including abortion, gay rights and the environment. But this year's Republican convention made clear that moderates wield little or no influence, said Mr. Scarantino, whose group was launched by former Republican governors and other officials concerned that the GOP had taken a hard right turn.
While big-name moderates such as John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudolph Giuliani took the stage in New York, conservatives controlled the party platform.
"The party has ruthlessly exploited moderate Republicans," Mr. Scarantino said. "I think they're deluding themselves thinking they're ever going to get anything more than the opportunity to be on the stage."
Dennis Sanders, a gay minister who runs The Moderate Republican blog, has written in recent days about the tough questions facing his wing of the party. Many moderates likely are "considering leaving the GOP this morning after a Bush win," he wrote on Nov. 3. "I've considered it myself. I can only say this: Don't give up."
Some moderates remain optimistic, predicting that the president will take a measured approach, striking a balance by doing just enough to satisfy evangelicals without raising the ire of other groups.
The Bush administration "wants to have a positive legacy," said Ann Stone, chairwoman of Republicans for Choice. "They're going to figure out what they can give these guys that's not going to alienate everybody else."
Political scientist John Green said that the president and his allies are adept at counting votes.
"Evangelicals and other conservative Christians were clearly an important part of that coalition, but they were not the only people in the coalition," said Dr. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Mr. Bush "needs the support of all the Republicans in the coalition to get his agenda passed."
Ms. Stone attributed the attention on evangelicals to a journalist-generated frenzy. "It's always sexier to talk about the Christian right. It's something that fascinates the media."
Regardless of what landed conservatives in the limelight, they are a powerful group.
"Evangelicals are in a very strong position right now, and they'll demand a lot," said Geoffrey Layman, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Religious conservatives have become for the GOP what labor unions have been for Democrats – a ready and reliable pool of activists, he said.
"The Republicans have never really had that until the Christian right came along," said Dr. Layman, author of The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics.
After laboring behind the scenes for years, conservatives are front and center. And they want the president to move quickly to address their agenda.
The to-do list includes defending traditional marriage, banning human cloning, reforming Social Security, passing more-restrictive abortion laws and stepping up enforcement of obscenity laws, said Ms. LaRue of Concerned Women for America.
And if moderates don't agree with those objectives, perhaps they don't belong in the GOP, she said.
Ms. LaRue calls Mr. Specter a RINO – Republican In Name Only – and questions why politicians such as Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island remain in the Republican Party when they didn't even vote for Mr. Bush.
"Get real," she said. "These are Democrats in Republican clothing."
Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, said the Republican tent is large enough to accommodate moderates. But he's not suggesting that conservatives are willing to compromise.
"If you read the platform, it's clearly a pro-life party," he said. "I'm sure anybody is welcome to be a Republican as long as they understand the direction the party is headed in."
Reprinted from The Dallas Morning News: