The London Telegraph
Four Republican senators have indicated that they will vote against Paul Ryan’s controversial budget. One (Kentucky’s Rand Paul) thinks the budget is too cautious. Three (Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Massachusetts’s Scott Brown) say it is too radical. Conservatives accuse the New England trio of being Republicans In Name Only, or RINOs for short.
Moderate “Republicans In Name Only” are a dying breed
Whatever their private philosophies may be, each is trying to stay electorally competitive in heavily Democratic states by hewing to the centre. But balancing the concerns of voters and the expectations of grassroots activists is becoming harder to do in the age of the Tea Party. Given the momentum enjoyed by the right, RINOs like these may be extinct within a generation.
Olympia Snowe will vote against the Ryan budget “because I have deep and abiding concerns about the approach on Medicare, which is essentially to privatize it.” It’s a principled position that will appeal to many seniors and poorer voters. But if a balanced budget is to be accomplished without tax rises, entitlements like Medicare have to be reformed. Snowe is not just being finickity; she is stonewalling the conservative agenda.
In the past, Snowe got away with being pro abortion rights and gay marriage, while opposing the Bush tax cuts and drilling for oil in Alaska. When she ran for re-election in 2006, the conservative movement was still bottoming-out post-Iraq; she faced no opposition in the primary and she cruised to victory with 74 per cent of the vote. But this time around she faces not one, but two opponents for the Republican nomination. The three-way race nicely illustrates the tensions within the contemporary GOP.
Candidate Scott D’Amboise is a 47-year-old health care technician and owner of a commercial cleaning business. He’s running on a platform of social and fiscal conservatism that smacks of the old-fashioned Christian Right. He has come off a little shrill, accusing Snowe’s husband of financial irregularities without a scrap of evidence. But he’s done a good job of snapping up Tea Party endorsements and establishing himself as a second-runner.
Candidate Andrew Ian Dodge reflects the culturally diversity of the Tea Party and is worth a closer look. The 43-year-old sustains himself by writing science-fiction and has little time for the religious crowd. If D’Amboise looks like a former boxer dressed-up smart for a court appearance, Dodge is an elegant goth. He has the benefit of something much lacking in conservative politics: good humour. D’Amboise is the traditionalist and Dodge is the libertarian; and neither likes the each other very much. According to Dodge, it is a contest between “the barmy hate everyone/everything, birther/truther/deather/Ron Paul-loving, isolationist paleo-conservative” on the one hand, and the “live and let live and leave me alone coalition of educated worldly types” on the other.
As of yet, neither brand of conservatism poses a serious threat to Snowe. According to a recent poll, she leads D’Amboise and Dodge by 49.5-8-4.2 per cent respectively. But the challengers can still do long-term harm to the Senator. The heat and money they are generating distracts from her, while her efforts to swat them away distorts her image. Recently, Snowe has edged to the right by voting against the regulation of greenhouse gases and funding for Planned Parenthood. That’s a smart move to deflect conservative challengers in the primary, but a bad way to maintain faith with Democrats and independents in the general election. If Olympia Snowe emerges as a watered-down Tea Party Republican nominee, then Maine voters may prefer a more definitively liberal candidate in 2012. Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island faced a similar fate in 2006, when he fought off a robust conservative in the Republican primary but lost out to a stronger Democrat in the general.
Collins, Snowe and Brown are the last of a breed of moderate Republican that just doesn’t suit the mood of the contemporary right. The question is whether there is any place for them left in American politics – if they can sustain a principled position of equivocation while fending-off an energised and empowered base.