The GOP's Key to Stopping the Tea Party? Democrats


The civil war in the Republican Party that has led to the shutdown of the federal government necessitates a new approach to election strategy by the Democratic Party and its backers. Rather than the traditional approach of matching a candidate from the left against one from the right, Democrats, progressives, and liberals will have to look at each congressional race from the perspective of the need to make friends with the enemies of their enemies.

The intransigence of the Tea Party Republicans can only be stopped if Democrats help to elect more moderate Republicans.

In other words, there are going to be times when those on the left will have to provide support for those candidates on the right in the war against the hardliners. It is not an approach without precedence. In the 1950s, President Truman and the Democrats campaigned extensively to encourage Eisenhower to run for president. They wanted Ike to run on the Democratic ticket, but he maintained that he was firmly a Republican. Eisenhower was finally convinced to run largely to address the ultra-conservative, non-interventionist ideology of the Tea Party-like Republican leader of the time, Senator Robert Taft.

Eisenhower, of course, went on to win the election and stopped the drift of the Republican Party to the far right, bringing it back towards what he called "the middle way." Eisenhower described the middle way as a "practical working basis between extremists."

The shutdown of the federal government over the Affordable Care Act indicates that it has come time to find and support the modern-day Eisenhower. The GOP is drifting further and further right, and with it they have succeeded in downgrading the credit rating of the United States. Now they are on the precipice of recreating the same conditions that led to the last downgrade.

Rather than continuing to allow today's hard-line Barry Goldwater/Robert Taft descendants to disrupt the stability of the federal government and threaten the social contract it has with its citizens, a modern day "Draft Eisenhower" campaign is required to stop the far-right movement in the GOP.

Robert Costa, Washington bureau chief for the National Review, confirms what many others already believe to be true: there are 30 to 40 Tea Party ultra-conservative hardliners with a stranglehold over the House Republican conference.

They are bolstered by the fact that only 17 of the 232 House Republicans are from districts won by President Obama in 2012. That, coupled with a 90% incumbency retention rate, has this radical element secure in their opposition to rational negotiations and firmly committed to their irrational approach to governance. Maybe the reason why there hasn’t been a shutdown in 17 years is because responsible elected officials learned from the past that it is a bad idea for elected officials to shut down the institutions that support their constituents, or as was suggested by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to choose "scorched earth over common good." 

The redistricting that occurred after the 2010 elections and census results have left both Republican and Democratic congressional districts safe from a traditional inter-party challenge. All competition is internal, and nowhere is that intra-party rivalry more evident than in the GOP. Tea Party conservatives were not elected to govern. They were elected to disrupt governance. So far they have been very good at it. They disrupted it so much that America had its credit rating downgraded and now the federal government has been shut down over an ideological dispute that they can't possibly win. The only way to prevent any further disruption in the business of governance is for Democrats to help Republicans remove the hardliners and protect center-right Republicans from being "primaried."

What we have been experiencing since 2011 is the Goldwater nightmare that the country avoided in 1964: antipathy for the poor and needy masquerading as fiscal conservatism. The only way to prevent more of the same is for liberals and progressives to throw their support behind moderate, rational-thinking conservatives. They need to find the type of conservatives that would make Eisenhower proud. There is a reason why Goldwater’s and Taft's conservative libertarian platform was soundly rejected by the country — it didn’t represent mainstream America. It still doesn't today.

Former presidential candidate and Senator Bob Dole said that neither he nor former Presidents Reagan and Nixon would be welcome in today's GOP. Democrats have to help Republicans change that perception. They need to take a page out of history and with the help of some like-minded Republicans find today’s Dwight D. Eisenhower.