The Republican Party’s civil war is about to get really interesting. Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist — a Republican who would be trounced in a GOP primary by tea party favorite Marco Rubio — is reportedly leaving his party to seek a post in the U.S. Senate as an independent. According to a Quinnipiac poll from last week, Crist could win a three-way race:
The newest Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Marco Rubio with a 56-to-33 percent lead over Gov. Charlie Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
If Crist were to leave the GOP and run as a no-party candidate, the poll found him with a lead within the poll’s margin of error: 32 percent for Crist, 30 percent for Rubio and 24 percent for Kendrick Meek. That poll of 1,250 Florida voters had a 2.8 percent margin of error. The GOP poll of 497 voters had a 4.4 percent margin of error.
Crist has been, in effect, drummed out of his party for the sin of being a moderate. He endorsed John McCain. He accepted, with gratitude, funds from Obama’s stimulus package. He compromised with Democrats in the Florida legislature. In the new rules seemingly in effect in the Republican Party, the notion of moderation is anathema.
The hyperpartisan Jim DeMint, GOP Sen. from South Carolina, embodies the new view. Embracing far-right GOP candidates, DeMint has repeatedly declared that he’d rather have 30 pure conservatives in the Senate than a majority of squishy Republicans.
“Jim DeMint just doesn’t bend much, and that’s why he’s going to have very little trouble getting reelected,” said Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina GOP chairman and a DeMint ally. “DeMint has been one of the U.S. senators who has stepped forward to carry the conservative banner.”
Still, others say DeMint is wrong to insist that candidates across the country fit his ideological mold. Referring to DeMint’s claim that he would like to see a conference of 30 pure conservatives, one GOP official shuddered: “If we were to adhere to his candidate selection, he would get his wish.”
I find the refusal to brook any compromise — which has kept the Senate Republican caucus on the sidelines for the last year — a strange trait in politicians elected in a democratic republic. The very nature of the U.S. Congress insists on compromise if you wish to accomplish anything. While the rigid right wing claims they want to emulate the Founding Fathers, the founders clearly believed in compromise. There would never have been a U.S. Constitution without it.
Conservative David Frum, who has not given up his hold on rational thought, chastised the Senate Republicans for their refusal to compromise on the health care legislation:
A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.
Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.
This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.
Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.
Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.
Shortly after he posted that item on his blog, Frum was bounced out of his job at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The GOP is becoming a teeny tiny tent.