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Moderate Republicans Don’t Recognize Their Party

In the wake of Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-Pa.) defection from the Republican Party, another prominent GOP moderate is expressing doubts that the party has a future on its current tack to the right. Writing in The New York Times today, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) argues that “the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide.”

There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Specter himself voiced the same sentiments Tuesday, as did former GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island — who was quick to point out in a phone interview that the same conservative Club for Growth that contributed to his defeat in 2006 is largely responsible for pushing Specter out of the party this year.

Echoing Snowe’s criticism of the GOP’s misguided focus on hot-button social issues, Chafee blasted the 2006 decision of party leaders to dwell on contentious items like bans on gay marriage and flag burning — things popular among the Rush Limbaugh base, but alienating to many moderate Americans.

The message from these moderates seems to be this: The decision by Republican leaders to unite around a theme of right-wing social conservatism should also be accompanied by the recognition that most of the country thinks differently — and the shift in congressional power is simply the natural consequence of this ideological incongruity.

Snowe ends her screed by invoking the words of Ronald Reagan:

We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only “litmus test” of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty … As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Snowe writes. “We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand.”

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