April 12, 2024

McConnell and the small tent GOP


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

McConnell and the small tent GOP

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The country faces an array of challenges that can only be addressed through bipartisan compromise. President Obama is doing his part, offering highly controversial budget proposals that would rein in federal spending on Social Security and Medicare at the expense of the elderly and the needy, which Republicans have callously demanded for some time. Yet it’s unclear that even this major concession by a Democratic president can pierce the wall of opposition that the GOP has erected to anything with Obama’s name on it.

Dislike of the president and his policies is so intense within the GOP that any Republican who dares to work with Obama has to worry that he or she will be “primaried,” a newly coined word that describes the fear among Republicans that a challenger to their right will defeat them in a primary.

That’s the calculus driving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is up for reelection next year and has virtually abandoned his post as leader of the Republican caucus to stand with its most conservative members. When 13 Republicans threatened to filibuster any gun legislation brought to the Senate floor, McConnell said he would join them in a show of solidarity, an unprecedented step for a Senate leader.

McConnell hired Sen. Rand Paul’s (R) campaign manager to run his 2014 campaign, and he is taking cues from his state’s junior senator to make sure he doesn’t run afoul of the GOP’s conservative base. An example of just how nervous McConnell is arose when the recording of a meeting at his campaign office in Louisville surfaced on the web site of the liberal magazine, “Mother Jones.”

McConnell is heard saying, “This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign . . . . When anybody sticks their head up, do them out.” At the time of the recording, actress Ashley Judd was toying with running against McConnell, and aides are heard discussing potential lines of attack, including characterizing her as “emotionally unbalanced” based on her candid discussion of her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts in an autobiography.

Judd is out as a potential opponent, and McConnell probably has more to worry about from a challenge within the GOP than any Democrat he will face. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who identify themselves as Republicans is at historic lows, and within that smaller base of people, almost half (45 percent) are extremely conservative, which explains why McConnell and other once traditional conservatives have moved so far to the right.

It’s how they hold their seats in a party that is down from the big tent of the Nixon and Reagan years to a small tent of ideologically pure diehards. The party has traveled a long way to squander the advantage it once held in winning the presidency. Richard Nixon was a moderate Republican in the Eisenhower mold, serving as Ike’s vice president. Even as he moved to capitalize on racial grievances with his Southern Strategy, Nixon managed to hold onto the liberal Rockefeller wing of the party.

Ronald Reagan had a blue-collar appeal even though he was a Hollywood actor. He expanded the Republican tent with Reagan Democrats, working class voters who felt abandoned by the national Democrats and signed on for a generation to be Republicans.

Compare these past incarnations of the GOP with the current state of the party, characterized in a 2011 Pew survey as dominated by staunch conservatives who are 92 percent white and tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old, according to Pew’s Andrew Kohut in a Washington Post piece last month. These voters don’t want their representatives to compromise with Obama on anything; they want to stand and fight even if it’s their own party they’re destroying.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.



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