With all the talk from Republican pundits that the GOP needs to move further to the right in light of last week’s defeat, three Republicans who actually managed to eke out wins against a Democratic tide are saying otherwise:
WASHINGTON â€” As Congressional Republicans lick their political wounds and try to figure out how to bounce back in 2010 and beyond, they might want to consult with Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander and Peter T. King.
Senator Collins, Senator Alexander and Representative King were among Republicans who defied the odds in a terrible year for their colleagues. Their re-elections provide a possible road map for how the party can succeed in a challenging political environment. The answer, the three veteran politicians agreed, is not to become a more conservative, combative party focused on narrow partisan issues.
â€œWhat doesnâ€™t work is drawing a harsh ideological line in the sand,â€ said Ms. Collins, of Maine, who early in the year was a top Democratic target for defeat but ended up winning 61 percent of the vote while Senator Barack Obama received 58 percent in the presidential race in her state.
â€œWe make a mistake if we are going to make our entire appeal rural and outside the Northeast and outside the Rust Belt,â€ said Mr. King, of New York, who easily won re-election in a region shedding Republicans at a precipitous rate.
â€œWe can stand around and talk about our principles, but we have to put them into actions that most people agree with,â€ said Mr. Alexander, of Tennessee, a self-described conservative who was able to attract African-American voters.
Moreover, they say, what voters really want from the GOP isn’t ideological purity but some sense that they are speaking to the issues that people care about:
â€œWhat people were listening for in this election is, what are you going to do about my pocketbook, my health insurance, my electric bill,â€ said Mr. Alexander, a former governor and presidential candidate who is seeking to return as the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. â€œWe need to step back and fundamentally change the way we talk about issues and be focused more on what we can do to help the country rather than what we can do to help the Republican Party.â€
Former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman expresses similar sentiments in a Washington Post Op-Ed today:
While a host of issues were at play in this election, the primary reason John McCain lost was the substantial erosion of support from self-identified moderates compared with four years ago. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry held just a nine-percentage-point margin among moderate voters over President Bush. This year, the spread between Barack Obama and McCain was 21 points among this group. The net difference between the two elections is a deficit of nearly 6.4 million moderate votes for the Republicans in 2008.
In seven of the nine states that switched this year from Republican to Democratic, Obama’s vote total exceeded the total won by President Bush four years ago. So even if McCain had equaled the president’s numbers from 2004 (and he did not), he still would have lost in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia (81 total electoral votes) — and lost the election. McCain didn’t lose those states because he failed to hold the base. He lost them because Obama broadened his base.
In the wake of the Democrats’ landslide victory, and despite all evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP are arguing that John McCain was defeated because the social fundamentalists wouldn’t support him. They seem to be suffering from a political strain of Stockholm syndrome. They are identifying with the interests of their political captors and ignoring the views of the larger electorate. This has cost the Republican Party the votes of millions of people who don’t find a willingness to acquiesce to hostage-takers a positive trait in potential leaders.
Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness.
From where I sit, I think Alexander, Collins, King, and Whitman have a point.
A more socially conservative Republican Party isn’t going to accomplish anything except making the Ann Coulters of the world happy, and that’s not a recipe for electoral success.
Originally posted at Below The Beltway