400 Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
- Toll Free 1.888.564.6273
- Local 202.783.3870
Let me get this straight: If a political party wants to win, it needs to stay smack dab in the political center?
That's the advice Republicans got from Charlie Cook in a January column in National Journal magazine. And the debate has only intensified since Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter defected to the Democrats last month.
But using Cook's logic, Democrats should never have nominated Barack Obama for president. After all, he was ranked by National Journal as the most liberal U.S. senator in 2007. Neither should they have nominated Joe Biden, the third most liberal senator, for vice president.
Likewise, they should never have made a left-winger like Nancy Pelosi the top Democrat in the House.
Conversely, Republicans should never have nominated conservative-movement activist Ronald Reagan for president. And they should never have elevated conservative-movement activists like Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey to the party's top positions in the House.
If they wanted to win the 2008 election, Republicans should have nominated the one member of their party most famously critical of conservatives and most open to partnerships with people from across the aisle.
You know, John McCain.
Furthermore, Republicans should have played to the center in the past eight years by expanding the size of the federal government faster than ever before, by increasing the number of economically burdensome regulations by 70 percent, by federalizing education and expanding Medicare to cover prescription drugs.
They should have put moderates in charge of almost every Cabinet department.
They should have abandoned their party's traditional reluctance to use American troops for nation building.
They should have abandoned outmoded ideas of "free enterprise" and "free markets" and, instead, effectively socialized the nation's financial system -- because, as we all know, socialism leads to great prosperity for all.
Yep, if only Republicans had done those things, they would be sitting pretty right now.
Sarcasm aside, American politics is far more complex than the simplistic liberals-on-the-left/conservatives-on-the-right/whoever's-in-the-center-wins model presented in half-baked commentaries.
Just look at the modern history of the Republican Party.
President Eisenhower is often put forth as the epitome of Republican centrism. Until Eisenhower's 1956 re-election, newly elected or re-elected Republican presidents regularly brought congressional majorities into office with them.
"Centrist" Eisenhower changed that.
People might have liked Ike but he so weakened his party that by the end of his first two years he had handed the Democrats a congressional majority that lasted 26 years in the Senate and 40 years in the House.
At the end of the centrist administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, liberal Democrats reached the peak of their power (until now).
Bush 41 won what was, in effect, Reagan's third term but he couldn't manage 39 percent for re-election in his own right. Bush 43, the "compassionate conservative" -- i.e., centrist -- was a party-breaking disaster on the order of that great "progressive" Republican Herbert Hoover.
On the other hand, in the 1980s, Reagan brought to fruition the partisan realignment begun by Barry Goldwater and won two landslides.
Gingrich and his supporters -- calling themselves the "Conservative Opportunity Society" -- built on Reagan's realignment to bring the House GOP to a majority and make the Republicans the majority party overall.
In 2008, Obama won because he realized what McCain didn't: People rally to a cause they believe in. It didn't matter that most Americans were ideologically closer to McCain. What mattered was support among those who were sufficiently motivated to actually vote.
Besides, those who win without principle have neither an agenda nor a mandate and they rarely change anything for the better.
In the history books, centrists and accommodationists end up alongside James Buchanan, who compromised with slavery, and Neville Chamberlain, who compromised with Nazism.
The political leaders we honor are not those who accommodated themselves to political reality. They are the ones who changed political reality.
There are a lot of things Republicans need to do. But moving to the left is not one of them. It's political suicide.
Moving left would please Democrats, The New York Times and others with vested interests against smaller and constitutional government -- which is why that is against the best interests of the people.
Republicans should realize that when their political opponents and enemies want them to position themselves to the left, it's in their opponents' best interests -- not theirs.
Richard A. Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, pioneered political direct mail and is considered one of the creators of the modern conservative movement. He is the author of "Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause."