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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    GOP big tent is made of cards

    Shurid Sencolumnist
    Shurid Sen

    As the November election nears, it looks increasingly likely that Republicans will lose one house, if not both, of Congress to Democrats, as the war in Iraq, scandals (take your pick) and the putrid stench of gross incompetence emanate from Washington, D.C. The numbers are so bleak that finger pointing and back-stabbing has already occurred within a Republican Party with one question: “”Are we really going to lose to a party whose symbol is an ass?””

    While it is obviously too early to call the election, for the first time in 12 years, there are real and gaping cracks in the cohesiveness of the party’s structure, which once distinguished Republicans from their bickering Democratic counterparts. The cracks in the faÇõade are largely the effect of a shift at the base of the party, from fiscal to social conservative dominance.

    To be sure, there are a myriad of political, policy and economic factors that have played a role in rising tensions within the party. But the crux of the problem lies in the contradictory goals of “”Goldwater Republican”” small government and “”values voters”” governmental paternalism. As a result, the party has lost the focus it once had, sacrificing ideological consistency to fit more votes under the tent.

    The social conservative vote has been a consistent and important voting bloc for the Republicans, but has taken on an even more prominent role since the 2000 election of President Bush. One of Bush’s main selling points when elected was his promise to restore “”dignity”” to the Clinton-sullied office of the presidency after Monica-gate, pledging himself and Republicans as the defenders of the moral high ground. In 2004, the gay marriage bans on 11 state ballots brought social conservatives out in droves for Republicans, once again playing the religion card for votes and writing conservative morals into laws.

    However, the expanding reach of the government is not just in frivolous gay-bashing laws and holier-than-thou posturing, but in massive government spending increases.

    Bush came into office with a $230 billion budget surplus. Like a college kid with a new credit card, Bush ran through that surplus faster than you can say “”impulsive buyer”” and has posted budget deficits every single year of his presidency. Defenders of Bush would argue that spending has increased due to the challenges of combating the “”unprecedented threat”” of terrorism. However, according to the Cato Institute, “”even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years.””

    So where does this leave the traditional libertarian Republican who advocates small government and fiscal restraint? Smashed awkwardly and uncomfortably between the “”Jesus Republican”” and “”security-at-any-cost Republican”” at the local fundraiser, it would seem.

    According to UA alumna Jessa Haugebak, now of the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona policy think tank, “”some libertarians, long allied with the Republican Party, have started to advocate a shift in party alignment. Most, however, do not buy this argument. Alienated by big government agendas on both sides, many will simply not vote, or vote Libertarian, which is virtually the same thing.””

    Apathy toward a political system not offering the options voters want is certainly nothing new. However, when offered the chance, many such Goldwater and Reagan Republicans are taking their votes to the fiscally responsible, moderate Democrat.

    Many of the most competitive Democrats in so-called “”red states”” are appealing to Republicans who feel that their party has abandoned them.

    Virginia is a prime example of such a state, where such a transition is in the making. Mark Warner was elected the first Democratic governor in 10 years in 2000 in a state that did not have a Democrat in a statewide elected office, and the trend continued in 2004 with Democrat Tim Kaine. Jim Webb, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, is now a Democrat running against Republican Sen. George Allen, thought to be a future presidential candidate just two months ago. They are now tied in election polls.

    In Montana, Democratic Senate candidate Jon Tester has played on corruption charges against incumbent Conrad Burns, undermining his “”moral high ground”” by running on a moderate platform. Tester currently holds a slim edge over the 18-year incumbent.

    To an extent, Arizona faces the same situation, as moderate Democrat Janet Napolitano appeals to small business and fiscally responsible Republicans in a traditionally Republican state.

    As their tent has expanded to fit more voters, the ideological indecision that comes with compromise has the Republican tent looking like it’s built of cards.

    The shifting dynamic at the base of their party is dislodging many of their traditional supporters, and Democrats must be there to catch these cards. That is, unless they’ve enjoyed living these last six years as political mutes.

    Shurid Sen is a senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at

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