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Priebus Backtrack Shows GOP Silencing Of Republican Moderates

Christian Patterson |
March 23, 2013 | 8:31 p.m. PDT


Reince Priebus’ backtrack on inclusivity within the GOP makes plain the power that conservatives wield within the Republican party. (Creative Commons, Gage Skidmore)
Reince Priebus’ backtrack on inclusivity within the GOP makes plain the power that conservatives wield within the Republican party. (Creative Commons, Gage Skidmore)
Fewer than 48 hours after telling the National Press Club about the RNC’s new plan to validate alternative positions within the Republican Party, Priebus was forced to take a step backward on an issue of major significance to the right wing of his organization.

Reiterating that the Party “believes marriage is between one man and one woman,” the RNC chairman drew a pretty clear line in the sand in order to assuage the fears of social conservatives among his flock. His decision to pacify his “base” demonstrates how the Republican Party now operates. An establishment member hints at the possibility of moderation on a particular issue or cause, and the conservative branch of the party quickly disciplines them and makes them apologize.

Mitt Romney learned this lesson when he spent a full presidential cycle atoning for his sins of compromise and bipartisanship while serving as the governor of Massachusetts. John McCain recently completed the same exercise when he apologized for calling Ted Cruz and Rand Paul Wacko birds.

Who can really blame these leaders for backing down when the path to party leadership is littered with the failed careers of Republicans who did not adhere to conservative doctrine? Michael Steele, the former head of the RNC, learned this lesson when he had the audacity to assert that he - not Rush Limbaugh - controlled the Republican Party. He was subsequently banished to MSNBC. Bob Bennet and Richard Lugar, suffered a similar fate when the two long-serving GOP senators failed to prove themselves sufficiently conservative to win a primary. Charlie Crist, the former Floridian governor, complimented Obama, which cost him a Senate seat and a place within the Party. Even Carl Rove, the man credited with putting Georg W. Bush in the Oval Office twice, is being flayed for attempting to stop the Todd Akins of the world from winning the Party’s nomination.

Republicans are letting themselves be held hostage in a way that Democrats would never tolerate. The Democrats' recent successes prove this fact. In the healthcare reform debate, moderate Democrats refused to let their more liberal colleagues steer the direction of reform. They deprived more progressive members of a single-payer system, then took away the public option, and what they eventually had was a bill pieced together from old conservative healthcare proposals (yes, you read that correctly; even Fox News admits it). Progressives weren’t even the ones being courted during the bill-writing process. It was in an attempt to get Joe Lieberman's (the most right-leaning of Democrats) support that the Public Option was jettisoned. A similar effort to garner the votes of anti-abortion Democrats forced Obama to reaffirm that no funds from the bill would go toward abortion.

Could anyone ever imagine Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership in Congress begging a Susan Collins or (this is where I’d name another moderate Republican in Washington, if they still existed) for a vote on major legislation? It would be John Boehner desperately appealing to a Steve King, Michelle Bachman, or some other right-wing member to side with the party. That’s a dance we’ve already witnessed multiple times this calendar year.

Democrats simply don’t treat their moderate members the way the Republican Party treats theirs. Obama and Pelosi would never cast out a Blue-Dog, pro-choice, or red-state Democrat. They’d tolerate any number of breaks with the party to ensure that their colleagues were protected and kept their seats.

This is the difference between Democrats and the caucus over which Reince Priebus now has the (mis)fortune of presiding. The policy of non-conservative Republicans being kept on a tight leash by their more ideological brethren is bad for policymaking, for Congress’ approval rating and (most importantly to the GOP) for Republicans at the polls.

There are reasonable members of the Republican Party. There are actually a lot of them, but until one of them breaks free from the grips of those who earn the party its anti-Hispanic, anti-gay and anti-women label, most Americans will never know they exist.


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