Republican Moderation

E.J. Dionne is out today with a predictable column arguing that the GOP needs to find its center. He opens with this:

“The center does not try to read anybody out of the party,” the experienced Republican politician declared. “But the farther you go in either direction, the greater the inclination to read others out.” He deplored party purges as “political cannibalism” and insisted: “The center must lead.”

That was Richard M. Nixon, about a week after Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat at the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Yes, Nixon did back off from Goldwater-type conservatism, and he won two elections–but his presidency also ended in failure and it was only until Reagan returned the GOP to Goldwater’s limited government Republicanism that the party regained power–and Reagan ended up being one of the most successful presidents in American history (even a liberal who scoffs at such a comment would at least grant that he was more successful than Nixon). The point is that Reagan didn’t just win elections, he left a legacy that inspired a generation of conservatives.

Dionne argues:

That’s one reason why the decline of the moderate Republicans hurts the party: The moderates were always looking for innovative ways to use government for practical ends….

The flight from a solution-oriented politics designed to deal with the pressures on working-class and middle-class families had the final effect of driving many of the one-time Reagan Democrats, the “security moms” and disaffected men over to the Democrats, who enjoyed strong gains in the large swath of households in the $30,000 to $100,000 annual income range.

This is preposterous. During the Bush administration, the Republican Party has gone out of its way to “use government for practical ends” and embrace “solution-oriented politics” while running away from its small government roots–as evidenced, most prominently, by the Medicare prescription drug plan and No Child Left Behind.

Dionne ends the piece by arguing that the GOP should learn from Bill Clinton, but the party has been triangulating for six years, and it has nothing to show for it. If anything, Dionne’s own column demonstrates that it’s futile for the GOP to embrace big government solutions to the nation’s problems–because no matter what the party does to “moderate,” liberals will never like them.