The end of Republicans as we have known them?

Former Williamsburg City Councilman Mickey Chohany is facing off against incumbent Democratic Senator John Miller for the 1st District seat in this fall’s elections.

There are a lot of things you can say about Chohany as a candidate. Based on recent debate performances, you might say he’s not ready for prime time. You might say he’s a stalking horse for Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd) and that if he’s elected Norment will effectively have two votes in the Senate. (Although if we were going to give a Republican senator two votes, I’d argue that Norment — who at least understands the importance of governance — isn’t a bad choice. I’d rather he had two votes than Sen. Steve Newman.).

But the odd thing that some people are saying about Chohany is that he’s RINO (Republican In Name Only).

I’m not sure on what basis anybody is saying this. Is it guilt by association because he’s an ally of Norment, who has also been called a RINO?

Because, on the issues, Chohany seems to meet all the Republican litmus tests. He’s pro-life, pro-gun and anti-tax. He’s tried a straddle on gay rights, but it’s the same straddle that Virginia Republicans, and voters, let Gov. Bob McDonnell get away with.

Are guns or abortion what got Chohany (or Norment) into politics? No. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t Republicans.

This stupidity has gone so far that some in the right-wing blogosphere are calling for a write-in campaign for Tricia Stall. In case you don’t remember Ms. Stall, she’s a right-wing Republican who took out another “RINO”, Sen. Marty Williams in a primary in 2007 only to lose to Miller in the general election. She lost that election in a 1st District that was far more Republican than the current configuration. Tricia Stall not only has no chance to win as a write-in, she couldn’t win if she was on the ballot. She couldn’t come close. A vote for her is a vote for John Miller.

Chohany might win. More likely, given the nature of the district now, he won’t  But at least he stands a chance.

That’s why the Republican Party put up a candidate closer to the middle like Chohany.

Is Chohany a Tea Partier? Well, no. He and Norment are both Chamber of Commerce Republicans. Which is to say that they are what Republicans always were for most of the 20th Century, people who are primarily concerned with low taxes and less government regulation and believe that what’s good for the business is good for the country.

Until about 1980, Chamber of Commerce Republicans were basically the only kind of Republicans. Even Ronald Reagan, the poster child of the “movement conservatives,” was mostly interested in keeping taxes low and cutting government regulations. Sure, he gave some lip service to the social issues that move Christian Conservatives, but he didn’t do anything about them.

And not every Republican needs to. It’s hard for me to see how the Virginia Republican Party is better for having purged folks like former Delegates Panny Rhodes and Preston Bryant or former Sen. John Chichester, people who certainly were Republicans in the sense of what Republican meant from Dwight Eisenhower through the first George Bush and were among the most thoughtful legislators in Richmond but somehow weren’t Republican enough for Virginia purists.

If Republicans have decided that every nominee has to be a Tea Partier, or a 2nd Amendment zealot or a home schooler or a proselytizing abortion opponent, the Republican Party is going to change drastically from what we’ve known it as. It’s going to lead to a lot more candidates like Tricia Stall and Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle. And, I’d argue that it’s going to mean they win a lot less elections.

Because those Chamber of Commerce Republicans who irritate the GOP base, like center-right Democratic moderates who irritate the Democratic base, are the only representatives of their party that many moderate independents — who hold the swing vote in most contested elections — will vote for.

Republicans are playing out this silly melodrama on the national stage as well. Former pizza company executive Herman Cain has become the latest weekly favorite in the “Please God, stop us before we nominate Mitt Romney” sweepstakes.

Republicans have a problem. Since Romney was the runner-up to John McCain for the nomination in 2008, it’s his “turn” to run for president. That’s usually the way Republicans pick their nominee. But Romney so offends the base — he’s flip-flopped on abortion and he backed a state-level version of health care reform as governor of Massachusetts that included the individual mandate that Republicans hate (although it was originally their idea). Romney was the front-runner in most early polls. That’s sent more conservative Republicans on the quest for a “Great Right Hope” for 2012 that’s already churned through Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. It led some Republicans to hope that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would jump in the race, even though he has more “moderate baggage” than Romney and other to wish that Sarah Palin would quit her reality-TV star gig to run.

The funny thing about this is that Romney has consistently run better in head-to-head polls against President Barack Obama than other Republicans — although even he runs less well than “generic Republican.”

I think Romney would stand a pretty good chance of beating Obama next year. I don’t think any of the other announced Republicans — or the unannounced Palin — would.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans decide they’d rather win than be “Right.”

Cross posted at Virginia Pundit.

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15 thoughts on “The end of Republicans as we have known them?

  1. I doubt that Romney has the best chance to beat President Obama. I think the polls underestimate the prejudice against Mormons. I may be colored by my experience in Texas though. It may be the case where say Romney can overcome Huckabee Republicans like President Obama did with Clinton Democrats (like say in Appalachia).

    Other than that , I doubt the millionaire, Wall Street type plays well with the electorate. Romney is pretty dull too.

    1. If you start out with no enthusiasm from the base, you lose. Notwithstanding my earlier points, I still question whether “independents” would be enamored with someone who changes their position for political expediency. If Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are any guide, I would say no.

      Romney is fundamentally a weak candidate. In a general election, he would be crushed by President Obama. A successful, “moderate” candidate from Republicans might have been Governor Mitch Daniels or John Huntsman. But those are out of the question at this point.

      It will be truly fascinating to see whether the anti-Romney crowd can coalesce around one choice or whether their inability to do so will be their undoing.

      1. The one thing that Republicans tend to do is fall in line. They will support the nominee, regardless. Maybe not with the same level of enthusiasm as they would one of the more ideologically pure candidates, but support him they will. The Democrats’ own enthusiasm is going to be an issue as well. So that leaves the independents to decide the election – and we know how fickle they are.

        The ability of the Republican Party to make the case against Obama – even in light of Romney’s rather notorious flip-flopping – is what the independents will look at. And I disagree that Obama will crush Romney, if for no other reason than he’s the anti-Obama candidate.

  2. Vivian,
    That’s my thinking as well. Also, I’d assume that the 2012 election is about the economy. Romney has the business experience and is the one Republican running who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about when the subject comes up.

    1. The economy will be at the top of the list of 2012 issues. But when they move away from the economy, into areas like foreign policy, Romney is going to perform better than the rest of the field. Of course, we’ve not seen that in the debates yet. But it’s coming.

  3. My only comment about the Va. District 1 race with Miller & Chohany is I will be glad when those awful commercials get off the air. That’s what I really hate about politics are the fliers and ads that target something to scare people to go out and vote against someone instead of getting people to listen to what the candidate stands for.

  4. Carole: the really offensive thing about those commercials (from both sides) is that they aren’t touting anybody’s positive record or proposals. They don’t even mention the candidate they want you to vote for, they just bash the other guy.

  5. Republicans nominated a moderate, and the Democrats nominated a “spread the wealth around” Marxist.

    That didn’t work out very well. Why should the Republicans nominate another moderate?

  6. Steve’s post throws two issues together, which skews the picture.

    There always will be tension between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives in Republican intraparty politics. (Same thing between yellow dog and liberal Democrats.)

    The real issue is how the TEA Party has poisoned debate. As a mainstream Republican, I’d love to see the teahadists break away and form a third party. I’m tired of the knuckle-draggers.

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