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Missing Moderate Republicans

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Saturday, February 05, 2011

One of the more disagreeable traits of many tea party "spokespeople," aside from their loose connection with facts, is their zest for threatening Republicans who don't leap when they say "jump."

I appreciate that these voices are largely self-appointed, and that many subscribers to the movement may not agree with this approach. But boy, it's painful to see grown statesmen cower at the commands of puffed-up "revolutionaries" inflicting damage on their party, never mind the country.

You might think that a liberal leaner like me would relish tea partiers' causing havoc in the Republican camp -- storming the primaries to replace plausible candidates like Delaware's Rep. Mike Castle or Nevada state Sen. Sue Lowden with unelectables. But I don't because I want a two-party system that offers acceptable choices. And I want a political leadership that can do America's business without having to sate the populist passions of folks unacquainted with economic realities or the art of compromise.  

I used to vote for select Republicans running for national office. That's become next to impossible because tea party groups have pushed GOP leaders to treat any cooperation with the Democratic foe as abject surrender. You might like your Republican, but your Republican is no longer free to act his or her conscience without being called all kinds of things.

Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar is a classic conservative with a deep understanding of foreign affairs. Tea partiers are very upset with him for pushing an arms reduction agreement with Russia. Why would they object to a treaty that has the full support of the U.S. military establishment? There's no rational explanation other than ignorance of the world we live in -- or perhaps a simple lust to push powerful people around.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch should be nobody's idea of a liberal, but the tea party faction has been sending him through the wringer for voting yes on the financial bailout -- the only responsible way to go -- and for improving children's health coverage. The Tea Party Express ultimately backed off on a primary challenge to Hatch in 2012. But it has left blood in the water around which the anti-tax Club for Growth has started circling.

That was a strange spectacle, Rep. Michele Bachmann competing with her party's official response to President Obama's State of the Union address with her "tea party" version. More jarring still was Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz's apparent need to apologize to the Minnesota Republican for calling this "bad form."

After a couple of drinks, a moderate Republican friend confided that he sometimes wishes his party would nominate Sarah Palin for president, get its clock cleaned, then go back to being old-fashioned, thinking conservatives. I ventured that the angry right is not the all-powerful force it purports to be. The Republican leadership might figure this out before the 2012 election and stand up to its incoherent demands.

Otherwise, the GOP's 2010 triumph will be a onetime deal. Presidential races bring out a broader electorate. One of the choices is very likely to be Barack Obama, whose ardent supporters are not necessarily older white people who think that every government program, except for Medicare, is socialism. Meanwhile, an improved economy will have left voters in a better mood. And those still determined to "throw the bums out" will find more Republicans among the bums.

Thus, the strong tea party brew will be greatly diluted by liberals, moderates and old-school conservatives. Republicans would do themselves a favor by recognizing this sooner rather than later: They need not fear the displeasure of Michele Bachmann as much as the displeasure she stirs in others.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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