With all the talk from Republican pundits that the GOP needs to move further to the right in light of last week’s defeat, three Republicans who actually managed to eke out wins against a Democratic tide are saying otherwise:

WASHINGTON — As Congressional Republicans lick their political wounds and try to figure out how to bounce back in 2010 and beyond, they might want to consult with Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander and Peter T. King.

Senator Collins, Senator Alexander and Representative King were among Republicans who defied the odds in a terrible year for their colleagues. Their re-elections provide a possible road map for how the party can succeed in a challenging political environment. The answer, the three veteran politicians agreed, is not to become a more conservative, combative party focused on narrow partisan issues.

“What doesn’t work is drawing a harsh ideological line in the sand,” said Ms. Collins, of Maine, who early in the year was a top Democratic target for defeat but ended up winning 61 percent of the vote while Senator Barack Obama received 58 percent in the presidential race in her state.

“We make a mistake if we are going to make our entire appeal rural and outside the Northeast and outside the Rust Belt,” said Mr. King, of New York, who easily won re-election in a region shedding Republicans at a precipitous rate.

“We can stand around and talk about our principles, but we have to put them into actions that most people agree with,” said Mr. Alexander, of Tennessee, a self-described conservative who was able to attract African-American voters.

Moreover, they say, what voters really want from the GOP isn’t ideological purity but some sense that they are speaking to the issues that people care about:

“What people were listening for in this election is, what are you going to do about my pocketbook, my health insurance, my electric bill,” said Mr. Alexander, a former governor and presidential candidate who is seeking to return as the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. “We need to step back and fundamentally change the way we talk about issues and be focused more on what we can do to help the country rather than what we can do to help the Republican Party.”

Former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman expresses similar sentiments in a Washington Post Op-Ed today:

While a host of issues were at play in this election, the primary reason John McCain lost was the substantial erosion of support from self-identified moderates compared with four years ago. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry held just a nine-percentage-point margin among moderate voters over President Bush. This year, the spread between Barack Obama and McCain was 21 points among this group. The net difference between the two elections is a deficit of nearly 6.4 million moderate votes for the Republicans in 2008.

In seven of the nine states that switched this year from Republican to Democratic, Obama’s vote total exceeded the total won by President Bush four years ago. So even if McCain had equaled the president’s numbers from 2004 (and he did not), he still would have lost in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia (81 total electoral votes) — and lost the election. McCain didn’t lose those states because he failed to hold the base. He lost them because Obama broadened his base.


In the wake of the Democrats’ landslide victory, and despite all evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP are arguing that John McCain was defeated because the social fundamentalists wouldn’t support him. They seem to be suffering from a political strain of Stockholm syndrome. They are identifying with the interests of their political captors and ignoring the views of the larger electorate. This has cost the Republican Party the votes of millions of people who don’t find a willingness to acquiesce to hostage-takers a positive trait in potential leaders.

Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness.

From where I sit, I think Alexander, Collins, King, and Whitman have a point.

A more socially conservative Republican Party isn’t going to accomplish anything except making the Ann Coulters of the world happy, and that’s not a recipe for electoral success.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

  • We need to step back and fundamentally change the way we talk about issues

    Bingo. This is absolutely correct. The problem is that of style, and the fact that republicans don’t connect with their constituents in an emotional way. There is no evidence that America is more supportive of gay marraige, or unfettered abortion rights – the two “socially conservative” issues facing this country. In fact, recent ballot initiatives prove that the contrary is true.

    Once the Bush administration fades out of memory and those bad feelings subside, Republicans need to present charismatic candidates who don’t look like stiff Ken-dolls or curmudgeony old men (or bimbo beauty-pageant winners).

    They need to stop getting pissy about the immorality within popular culture (which only manifest in talking points anyway) and promote rugged-individualism instead, whereby they place faith in individual families to advocate for themselves in that regard.

    There is no reason to drift leftward on political issues, as you see how the Democrats generally drift rightward when they come to power. Free trade, welfare, gun ownership, gay marraige, ect… Obama would be considered an arch conservative if he ran for office in Europe. He won the election on cutting taxes!

    Its all about timing and packaging, and thats what Obama proved in this election. He didn’t win on issues, he won on hope.

  • muffler

    Maybe if the Republican Party realized that winning elections is the BYPRODUCT of good governing and not the goal itself then they could begin to move ahead.

  • kranky kritter

    I agree it’s partly a style issue. The GOP has failed to explain how their policies will manifest in concrete things that regular folks find appealing.

    But it’s definitely not just about style. On issue after issue, polls consistently show that there’s a broad middle of folks in the country who reject stiffly partisan takes. Many Americans aren’t thrilled by the idea of abortion, but they don’t want to force women to bear pregnancies to term if they don’t want the kid, either. Framing the issue in terms like “unfettered access” doesn’t move practical folks. They’re tired of some conservatives saying that they just want a tweak here or there while other folks make it clear that they think abortion is a deep wrong that ought not to be allowed at all. No one is fooled by the people asking for inches when so many of their fellow travelers yearn for miles.

    I am fairly sympatico with several conservative perspectives, especially fiscal ones. But the day I’ll join forces with them will be some day AFTER they give abortion politics a rest. I don’t pretend to speak for every moderate or independent on this, but I am certain I am not alone.

    I am also currently of the opinion that Ms Collins, Doug, and I are wasting every breath, pixel, and word we expend on the topic. I get the sense that conservatives are determined to head off into the wilderness with only true believers invited for the trip.

  • Ed

    The country has finally woken up to the toxic brand of politics the Republican party engages in. For years, I couldn’t even have a political discussion with my Republican friends because there was such a close-mindedness about the issues. Taken further, all progressive ideas were dismissed out of hand and usually followed up by some crack about being a Socialist or not supporting the troops. That this type of talk eventually became the foundation of the McCain campaign amazes me. The country is tired of these empty, bullying arguments that never address the issues or solve any problems.

    Sadly, Whitman, King, Collins, and Alexander will be dismissed as RINOs by the base, as opposed to having their suggestions considered. Most Republicans just have a problem with ever admitting they are wrong. They instead choose to blames others, like the media and ACORN.

  • Framing the issue in terms like “unfettered access” doesn’t move practical folks.

    Yes, that is true, and abortion is probably the most difficult issue facing republicans – or democrats for that matter – in terms of defining a resolute party position. South Dakota rejected fertilization as the beginning of human personhood. So where do you go from there? What is the definition because it must be defined somehow.

    But for all practical purposes, that is the only real “social issue” that divides D and R, since even closeted homosexual democrats like John Edwards reject gay marraige as a platform. So is a nuanced view of when life begins really the only thing that plagues Republicans? Is that why they lost the election? No. I don’t believe that.

    So when Nick says:

    A more socially conservative Republican Party isn’t going to accomplish anything except making the Ann Coulters of the world happy, and that’s not a recipe for electoral success.

    I just think its a big red herring. That simply cannot be the problem.

  • rob

    For what it’s worth the overwhelming majority of moderates voted no on prop 8, even the one’s like me who are philosophically opposed to how the courts circumvented prop 22.

    The amendment was carried by republican socons and democrats from the black and latino community (hint: they aren’t moderates).

    Opposition to equal treatment for a legal relationship is a ball and chain around the GOP’s ankle.

    And though it’s anecdotal, I believe the same is true of the anti-abortion issues which, for the less than pure republicans like myself with whom I speak, center around the definition for personhood. Fertilization only seems to be reasonable to the fundamentalists.

  • Avinash_Tyagi

    Problem with that reasoning is that it doesn’t bode well for the future, the younger voters have less of a problem with gay amrriage and abortion, and all the things that the socio-cons have issues with, if the GOP doesn’t moderate their views, they will lose in the coming decades as the older voters, die, and the younger voters move more and more to the Democratic party. Sure right now you can get issues like Prop 8 passed, because you still have enough older americans who are opposed to Gay Marriage, but that isn’t a long term strategy for the party.