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“Since When Is Kelly Ayotte A “Moderate”?”: The Disappearance Of Actual Republican ‘Moderates’ Is A Problem

The New York Times reported yesterday on the electoral challenges facing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire this year, given the factors in the 2016 race, some of which the incumbent senator can’t control. The headline read, “Tough Re-election for G.O.P. Moderate Is Getting Tougher.”

She may not always telegraph it, but Ms. Ayotte, a freshman senator, is locked in a herculean battle with the state’s popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. As one of five Senate Republicans running for re-election in states that supported President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Ms. Ayotte is seen as particularly vulnerable this November. […]

Six years ago, Ms. Ayotte was part of a Republican wave…. For Ms. Ayotte and other Republicans from that class, 2016 was always going to be a difficult year to run for re-election because more Democrats vote in presidential years. But with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the most divisive Republican presidential candidate in a generation, will be at the top of the ticket, the party’s task may be all the more arduous.

The broader assessment seems entirely right: the GOP incumbent faces a strong Democratic challenger in a year in which Republicans in competitive states are likely to struggle. Walking the electoral tightrope will pose challenges.

But it’s the wording of the headline that jumped out at me: since when is Kelly Ayotte a “moderate”?

It’s challenging because, by some measures, Republican moderates no longer exist in any meaningful sense. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver published an analysis last fall that noted, as a quantifiable matter, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

As GOP politics have become increasingly radicalized, what passes for Republican moderation has no real connection to anything resembling mainstream American centrism. Indeed, by most measures, Kelly Ayotte may not have a reputation as a wild-eyed partisan bomb-thrower, but her actual record is one of a far-right conservative.

Ayotte co-sponsored Ted Cruz’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, without a replacement plan for the millions who’d lose their coverage. She filibustered a bipartisan bill to expand background checks before gun purchases. She’s voted, several times, to defund Planned Parenthood*. She joined the far-right in rejecting emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims.

The list goes on. Ayotte rejected a clean debt-ceiling increase needed to prevent national default. She voted for Paul Ryan’s right-wing budget plan. She rejected a proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Though she later regretted it, Ayotte even went along with her party’s government-shutdown scheme in 2013.

According to the most recent available information on the group’s website, the Club for Growth gives Ayotte a lifetime rating of 81% – and as of a few years ago, it was even higher. It’s partly why she’s been a featured guest at far-right gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Indeed, as I type, Ayotte has joined her party’s unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, rejecting a qualified nominee for reasons she and her party are still struggling to explain – a move even some of her GOP colleagues consider indefensible.

Sure, there are exceptions – Ayotte voted, for example, for the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform package – and the New Hampshire senator is hardly the most far-right member in the chamber, but the fact remains that there’s simply nothing about her record that says “moderate.”

My point is not to pick on the New York Times for the misplaced ideological label. Rather, what I think the Ayotte example offers is a reminder that the political world needs to rethink these assessments altogether, recognizing that actual Republican moderates are an endangered species, and being slightly less radical than extremists does not a moderate make.

When major news organizations start to think anyone to the left of Tom Cotton has credibility as a centrist, we lose sight of what matters: the Republican Party’s shift to the far-right has changed the nature of American politics in fundamental ways. Calling actual conservatives “moderates” only exacerbates the problem.

* Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 30, 2016

March 31, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Kelly Ayotte, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Same Script”: If “Establishment” Is Code For “Moderate,” Media Need To Stop Calling Rubio The Establishment Candidate

The press wrote this script a very long time ago: Senator Marco Rubio could become the favored establishment candidate in the Republican Party primary as party elites search for answers to the insurgent campaigns of outsiders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz.

That note has been hit especially hard in the press since the Trump circus arrived on the campaign trail last summer: The GOP is hoping for a tempered, pragmatic savior who can appeal to mainstream voters and help Republicans avoid disaster come November. (“Allowing Trump to have its nomination would saddle Republicans with the worst nominee any party has had in decades,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York.)

Rubio’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucus has only cemented that claim, with the press essentially anointing him the Iowa winner. He “may have won the establishment credibility he needs to stay near the top of the Republican presidential race for the long-term,” according to CNN. Reuters agreed, crowning “Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the Republican establishment” as one of the big Iowa winners on the GOP side.

But what happens when the facts change but the script does not? What happens when a so-called Establishment candidate like Rubio starts espousing ugly, divisive rhetoric that’s synonymous with the darker regions of Fox News and the Republican Party? What happens when he adopts radical policy positions that just years ago would have been seen as borderline even for AM talk radio? (i.e. Outlawing abortions even for victims of rape and incest.)

In other words, what happens when Rubio takes a very hard right turn and obliterates meaningful differences between himself and Trump? Between himself and Cruz? Don’t calming, feel-good code words like Establishment then become irrelevant and misleading?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that, overall, Rubio has benefited from very generous press coverage. Whether it’s the sweeping conclusion that he’s a “charismatic” communicator, the media happily running with his campaign’s spin that it essentially won in Iowa by finishing third, or the press’ steadfast refusal to delve deeply into the senator’s questionable finances, watching Rubio at the Republican debate last year attack the press as a liberal super PAC for Democrats was amusing. The truth is, pundits seem to revere him.

One way that affection is displayed is to ignore the substance of Rubio’s campaign; to whitewash the extremism now at the base of his pitch. To acknowledge that Rubio occupies the far reaches of the political spectrum, and that he’s actually sprinted there in recent months, taints the portrait the press likes to paint of him: establishment savior.

To me, establishment sounds like a placeholder for “moderate.” And in the case of Rubio, that’s a complete myth.

By placing the Florida senator in that wider establishment lane, pundits and reporters seem to suggest that he’s somehow part of a pragmatic Republican wing (does that even exist?) that practices common sense conservatism; that he’s separate and above those outlier disrupters like Trump and Cruz who embrace more political chaos.

This week, a New York Times dispatch placed Rubio outside of the Republican “hard right” that seems to be flocking to Trump. Reuters explained what distinguished Rubio from the so-called outside, even though Rubio seemed to agree with Trump and Cruz on so many issues, including their disdain for President Obama: “[Rubio] embedded his criticism within a more optimistic, inclusive message.”

But just because an extremist coats his divisiveness in “optimistic” language, doesn’t mean the campaign press should play along and portray him as something he’s clearly not. And yet …

Forecasting Rubio’s White House chances, FiveThirtyEight recently claimed that Democratic strategists are “terrified to face Rubio in the fall.” Why? Because of his establishment ability to broaden the GOP’s “appeal with moderates, millennials and Latinos.”

“Rubio is aiming to be the GOP candidate with the establishment credibility and broad appeal needed to win in a general election, a unifier who can bring together young, moderate voters, along with conservatives and evangelicals,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.

A unifier? Rubio walked away from his one stab at establishment legislating with the immigration reform bill that he, as part of the Gang of Eight, helped shepherd through Congress. But quickly finding himself out step with a rabid Republican base that’s adopted anti-immigration as its defining litmus test, Rubio sprinted so far to the right on this issue that not only does he oppose his own reform proposal, he’s connecting the issue to the rise of ISIS.

No unity there.

As for Rubio’s potential appeal to young voters and moderates, a central part of the media’s establishment narrative, the senator’s increasingly right-wing agenda certainly raises doubts.

Rubio opposes expanding background checks for gun owners, even though 90 percent of Americans support the measure, as do an overwhelming majority of gun owners and even NRA members. He opposes marriage equality and “believes some kinds of businesses, like wedding photography, should be allowed to turn away gay customers.” He doesn’t want to increase the minimum wage (even though he thinks it’s currently too low). He doesn’t believe in climate change.

From PolitiFact [emphasis added]:

Rubio will support anti-abortion legislation that includes an exception for rape and incest, but he prefers that the procedure be illegal even in cases of rape and incest.

It’s important to note that in terms of the “Establishment” branding, a string of recent Republican Establishment nominees for president, including Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, and George W. Bush, all agreed that allowing abortions to be legal in the case of rape and incest was the best approach. Rubio, though, has broken from that model and staked out a far more radical stance.

And when Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering America, Rubio seemed to out-flank him in the fevered swamps, at least initially. “It’s not about closing down mosques,” he soon told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. “It’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” (Rubio later said Trump hadn’t thought through his Muslim ban.)

Overall? “He’s been Trumped,” noted Peter Beinart at The Atlantic.

There may still be an establishment candidate lurking in the Republican field who can try to save the party from its own extremism, but based on the media’s apparent definition of Establishment, Rubio isn’t that person.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 4, 2016

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries, Marco Rubio, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside

The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.

In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.

At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.

In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.

The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.

By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.

On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.

As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.

This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”

What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.

Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.

“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the ­Senate.

“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.

Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.

But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.

 

BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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