Saturday, October 16, 2004

Bush's Re-Election Would Doom Moderate Republicans

The article below was written by Michael Cudahy ( Mr. Cudahy is a political writer and analyst from Massachusetts. He was a former national campaign staff member for President George H.W. Bush, Executive Director for Elliot Richardson's Committee for Responsible Government, and National Communications Director for the Republican Coalition for Choice. His article is reproduced with his permission.

By Michael Cudahy

If President George W. Bush is reelected, the direction of the Republican Party is likely to undergo a massive and fundamental shift. Long-held principles of liberty, integrity and respect for human rights -- established by Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower -- could be relegated to the pages of history books.

Should the president win reelection we could see national identity cards, a continuation of irresponsible fiscal policies, and a foreign policy that rejects a decades long respect for multilateralism. These are positions that have defined the party for the better part of the 20th century and are deserving of this president’s consideration.

Ironically, the decision rests in the hands of the centrist or “moderate” wing of the Republican Party -- the very people whose values will be devalued if this administration is permitted another four years in office. Representing only 18-20% of registered Republicans nationwide, they are in a position to supply Democrat John Kerry with the 3-5% points he needs to win an extremely close presidential election.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush mesmerized many of his party’s centrist members with talk of “compassionate conservatism,” and a desire for bipartisanship cooperation.

“President Bush’s rhetoric during the 2000 campaign held the promise for a significant change of direction,” said Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI). “There was a strong bipartisan desire for mutual respect and cooperation -- for the good of the country. We were exhausted by the bitter partisan infighting, but this administration’s behavior has only made the problem worse.”

“We are seeing policy initiatives that are diametrically opposed to the promises we heard four years ago,” Chafee says. “The president is advancing an extreme agenda that rejects everything from worldwide environmental cooperation to the banning of access to abortions for service members overseas."

“Moderates were in a position to provide significant assistance to this president,” says Chafee. "Sadly, he chose a different direction."

The question that needs to be addressed is the commitment and courage of rank and file Republican centrists. Are they prepared to overthrow the neo-conservative Republicans that betrayed President George H.W. Bush in 1992, or has their will been broken by the strong-arm tactics of the last 12 years?

“The problem with moderates,” says Ann Stone Chairman of Republicans for Choice, “is that they are so moderate, so civil, and generally so silent. Nonetheless,” Stone says, “only 38% of her membership will be supporting President Bush.”

In talking with Republican activists who have consistently supported moderate positions for decades, I discovered that none were willing to speak on the record. To a person they are intimidated by the extremely personal and well organized attacks by members of the Bush administration’s political operation.

"When I talk anecdotally to moderate Republicans, it's very hard to find one who is going to vote for Bush,” said John Zogby, president and CEO of the polling firm Zogby International, in an interview with "On the other hand, it's not showing up in our polling." In fact, Zogby's latest polls show 87 percent of Republicans backing Bush. "I'm just watching and waiting and saying to myself maybe there's something going on here, because I'm hearing it."

Consequently, it is hard to understand why respected and visible moderate Republican leaders like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator John McCain, and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to such lengths at the Republican Convention in New York to provide President Bush with important political cover. It is particularly difficult to understand when this administration has done virtually nothing to support their concerns.

While some political analysts suggest it is a strategy to reestablish influence for the centrist Republican agenda, other observers question whether the benefits will be worth the price.

“A second Bush term would be a disaster for American women,” said, Evelyn Becker Deputy Communications Director at NARAL. “We would see an effort to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with ultraconservative justices in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as continued and aggressive legislative moves to limit women’s access to birth control, proper family planning and health care services,” she said.

The November election will also decide other major legislative battles critical to party moderates. We are certain to see the Bush administration set new standards in partisan politics. This extreme behavior could precipitate a serious economic crisis, as a result of irresponsible tax policies and out of control government spending, while threatening the American tradition of free speech with measures such as the USA Patriot Act.

We will find out in a few short weeks whether Republican moderates can be bought off by the occasional bone and a seat at the children’s table, or whether they will regain their voice and become major players in setting the party’s political agenda for future generations.