Both the Democrats and the Republicans need to reach beyond their core supporters to win an election; however, it’s worth noting that the two parties have taken completely opposite approaches to dealing with moderates that have produced what may appear to be non-intuitive results.
George Bush spent 8 years pursuing a “new tone,” he moved the party to the center domestically, and the GOP’s policies when they were in charge could best be described as “big government Republicanism.” They spent money at a fantastic clip, handed out goodies like the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, pushed pork, ignored the base to promote amnesty and the bailout, and ran a moderate presidential candidate.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have put hard core left-wingers in charge of every important post in their party and ran the most liberal man in the Senate — and they were the ones who pulled in the “moderates” during the campaign.
How can that be?
It’s because the GOP absolutely cannot build a successful political party around “moderates.”
Why is that the case?
1) What constitutes a “moderate” changes from person to person. That’s how people like Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel, neither of whom would agree on just about anything, can both be considered “moderates” in their parties.
Put another way: a socially conservative, anti-abortion voter who believes in big government policies could be fairly called a moderate. On the other hand, a socially liberal, pro-abortion voter who doesn’t want any new government programs could also be fairly called a moderate.
So, since what constitutes being a “moderate” changes from person to person, it’s not possible to build a party around appealing to “moderates.”
2) Because moderates tend to be much less ideological, less knowledgeable about politics, and less informed than liberals and conservatives, it’s entirely possible that even if our candidate’s views are closer to their views, they won’t be capable of figuring it out (That’s exactly how it worked with McCain and Obama, for example).
3) Additionally, because of the factors mentioned above, moderates tend to be extremely fickle voters. This time around, even rightward leaning moderates like Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley, & Ann Althouse defected over to the Obama campaign rather than vote for the most moderate GOP candidate since Richard Nixon. That’s why trying to build a coalition around moderates is like trying to build a castle on sand.
4) Moderates may not know a lot about politics, but they do at least know that they can’t trust the press. So, how do they decide whom to vote for? I would suggest to you that many of them largely base their decisions on anecdotal evidence.
What do I mean by that? Let’s take the current election. What did a moderate voter hear from his liberal friends about Obama? “He’s the greatest hope for America! He’s wonderful! He’ll solve all our problems!” Now, what did that same moderate hear from his conservative friends about McCain? “He’d probably be a lousy President, but he’d still be better than Obama.”
In other words, if conservatives aren’t enthusiastic about their nominee, moderates are going to take cues from that and cast their votes accordingly. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so counter-productive to antagonize conservatives in an effort to draw in moderates.
5) It’s conservatives, not moderates, who contribute the money, work on GOP campaigns, and are generally going to vote Republican, if they vote at all.
Although it’s fine to reach out to moderates, if you go too far and alienate the conservative base, it will hurt your fundraising, leave you without enough campaign volunteers, and may depress turnout amongst your most loyal supporters.
6) Since the mainstream media acts as little more than an arm of the Democratic Party, the Republicans are completely reliant on the new media to get their message out.
So, where are the big name “moderates” in the new media? The new media is loaded with big name conservatives and even a few powerful Libertarians, but there are almost no “moderates” to promote the Republican Party.
That means if the Party is centered around moderates instead of conservatives, then the most powerful friends the GOP has in the media probably aren’t going to do much to push them, defend them, or work very hard on their behalf.
7) Last but not least, it’s worth noting that there is no “moderate” political party in the United States. When the American people go to the ballot box, we have a center-right nation choosing between the Republican Party and radical, left-wing socialists. A competent, conservative Republican Party will not only be more representative of its core supporters, it will win at the ballot box when it goes head to head with liberals. Look back to Reagan and the 1994 Revolution to see that principle in action. Now, look to 2006 and 2008 to see how an incompetent, “moderate” Republican Party does at the ballot box.