Much has been made nationally about the “Tea Party” takeover of the Republican Party, moving many members of Congress, state legislatures and local government offices far to the right. While Republican primaries and redistricting (by both parties) have resulted in races forcing members to move farther right to win, you still have states and Congressional districts where moderate Republicans still win and thrive.
If you look at the United States Senate, Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Maine’s Susan Collins, and Tennessee’s Bob Corker have become moderating forces as many of their conference have driven the Senate to the right. If you think about it, Ted Cruz is far more conservative than Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Mike Lee of Utah is more conservative than Bob Bennett, who may have been the most conservative member of the Senate at his time. You get the picture.
When you look at Democrats in Washington, though, you see exactly how far left the party has been pulled. It’s not that long-ago Bernie Sanders was a fringe liberal/socialist figure and most mainstream Democrats would run fast in the other direction from any mention of “universal (socialized) health care. Now, most of the Democratic conference is sponsoring Sanders’ socialized medicine bill.
A prime example of the Democratic move to the left is that of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Before her appointment to the Senate to replace Hillary Clinton in 2009, she represented a 50-50 district in upstate New York. She was so moderate, in fact, even conservative on some issues, that she had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.
Gillibrand, though, has moved considerably away from those moderate, Blue Dog Democrat positions. She’ll tell you part of the transformation stems from representing a conservative leaning district then a more liberal state. But, the reality is, she wants to run for President. To win the presidency, one has to win the nomination. And the nomination can’t be one without the progressive base. Quick: name the last “moderate” Democrat to get the nomination. I can’t do it either, maybe Al Smith in 1928? That’s not changing in 2020.
It’s certainly not the first politician of either party to change positions on major issues when they change jobs. Just look at former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, who is now the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. But, what may be the most surprising is how Gillibrand completely disowns her former positions, even calling herself embarrassed. (Watch this whole thing from MTP Daily.)
We’ve seen the value of moderate, thoughtful voices in the Republican party during the Trump administration. If a Democrat were to win the White House in 2020, will there be anyone left in that party to stand up for the middle?
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning journalist, political consultant, and PR expert. You can find him on Twitter @pfingsten1 or email him at email@example.com.