For decades, moderate Republican officeholders and party officials — encouraged by experts in the liberal commentariat — lectured conservatives that the GOP had to be a “big tent,” that in order to win elections the party’s candidates had to “move to the center.” For that reason, defeated conservatives were supposed to support winning moderates, especially in liberal Northeastern states. Failing to do so was “divisive,” according to the experts.
There was indeed wisdom in the principle, as articulated in William F. Buckley’s maxim that conservatives should vote “for the conservative most able to win,” and in President Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th commandment that “thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”
But some of the nation’s most prominent moderate Republicans are singing different tunes now, especially when Republican primary voters turn them out of office.
Sen. Arlen Specter, long a leading moderate Republican, switched parties when it became clear he would lose his primary race against former Rep. Pat Toomey. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was touted as the clear favorite to win in the Senate GOP primary race. But when his standing in the polls dropped like a rock against the conservative choice, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, Crist opted to run as an independent rather than accept the voters’ decision.
Similarly, Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican primary in Alaska to insurgent tea party activist candidate Joe Miller. Now she’s planning to run as a write-in candidate. In Delaware, Rep. Mike Castle lost his Senate primary to tea party activist Christine O’Donnell and now refuses to endorse her against Democrat Chris Coons.
By contrast, when the three conservative candidates endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund lost their primaries to more-moderate GOP candidates, all three — Marlin Stutzman in Indiana, Chuck Devore in California and Ovide Lamontagne in New Hampshire — quickly announced their unqualified support for the victors. So, which wing of the GOP is actually supporting the “big tent” and which appears determined to make it impossible for winners of Republican primaries to beat Democrats in November?
Murkowski’s bitter reaction could be the most destructive because she could pull just enough votes away from Miller to ensure a Democrat wins in November. Miller, father of eight and a respected Fairbanks lawyer, is a Yale University graduate who won the Bronze Star in combat during the first Gulf War. He advocates the same common-sense conservative positions that are attracting support across the country.
It’s time for moderates like Murkowski to practice what they preached to conservatives for so long.