The “M Word”

The front page of Thursday’s Washington Post posed the question “Can a Republican moderate survive?” (The headline on the online version of the story is slightly different, presumably to prompt more hits from a search engine.)

I smiled when I saw the headline because if one was setting out to write a book today, you would not choose to write about a moderate Republican if you were hoping to tap into established groups to help market it.  The current Republican establishment is not very interested in “moderates,” and Democrats are not very interested in things that are labeled “Republican.” And for someone like Elly Peterson who abandoned the Republican Party and eventually labeled herself an “independent,” ….well, perhaps there’s a support group somewhere on Facebook that fits the bill.

The Post story discusses the presidential prospects of Jon Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah who recently stepped down as U.S, ambassador to China to pursue a presidential bid. Huntsman’s aides are apparently already concerned that he might be labled a moderate–the “M-word” one called it–because that is apparently viewed as cause for immediate disqualification among the voters likely to turn out in Republican presidential primaries.

They are probably right.

On the other hand, it is thought that Huntsman might attract the kind of Main Street and Wall Street business types that Mitt Romney is going after. And because he rides a motorcycle and once played in a rock-and-roll band, I, for one, would look  foward to viewing the inevitable bio-documentary that will be shown at the 2012 Republican National Convention, should he succeed.

But I scratch my head a little when I read that the main gripe against Huntsman is that he served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to China. Personally, I like the thought of someone with that kind of experience, not to mention the intellectual chops necessary to be able to speak Chinese, in the White House. Sure prefer it to a candidate who bases her foreign policy expertise on the fact that she can see Russia from her home. And since when did responding to a presidential call to service become disqualifying. In one breath, Republican leaders were calling on Obama to build a diverse, bipartisan Cabinet and then 18 months later seem to be intent on trashing any Republican who answered the call.

In 1971, after she stepped down as assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, Peterson was very dispirited about the prospects for moderates like herself within the party.  She believed that Richard M. Nixon had not been interested in building and broadening the party the way that she felt George Romney had in Michigan.She went on to express her disappointment that Nixon had failed “to build a strong, vital, exciting party” the way Romney had in Michigan. She wrote in the first draft of a memoir she later self-published:

“This is what I failed to realize, that time is short and men are eager for power, their own power, not that of a party or a nebulous group of leaders—some effective, some ineffective, some with it, some way out of it. The job of President, itself, makes a politician a statesman and the concerns of the party are left to advisors, who, in too many cases are not political.”

Romney, she concluded “was an ‘accident of fate.’” Moderates, she added, “fail in this regard to build strong parties with their philosophy for they are based too often on men of power, interested largely in themselves while conservatives are based on an idea, a philosophy. They therefore are ready to accept a new leader if he offers them what they want in the way of ideas—to heck with his personality or appearance.”

“This then is the bitter pill I learned to swallow—that the ideas I have dreamed and thought of for so many years, yes, and worked for, simply will not come to pass.”

Huntsman’s fate over the next 12 months will be instructive.

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