Brownback was a Senator from Kansas for many years until he ran for governor in 2010. Brownback is very much on the hard right. Since becoming governor he has basically run on a very conservative agenda that has angered not only Democrats in Kansas, but moderate Republicans as well.
The big news in Sunflower State today was the fact that 100 prominent Kansas Republicans have expressed their displeasure with the governor and decided to throw their support to Paul Davis, the Democratic challenger for governor.
I’m glad to hear of Republicans willing to speak out against Brownback’s radicalism. But I think the news from the Republican 100 is not as encouraging on a second look. The moderates are making a strong statement of what they are against, but what are they for? Does their support for Davis mean they support Democratic policies? If they reject Brownback’s vision, what is their vision?
This is a problem with moderate Republlicans, not only in Kansas but nationwide: a group that can say with a loud voice that they are against certain social and economic conservative policies, but they never bother to tell people what is their vision.
Several years ago, conservative pundit Ross Douthat came out with a post attacking moderate Republicans. Since I am one, I responded in kind. What bothered Douthat is that the moderates never really proposed new ideas, instead they just asked for a little less than what the Democrats were proposing. Douthat shared his post from 2009 last May when talking about moderate Republicans and the minimum wage:
One of my first columns for the Times was a non-requiem for Arlen Specter’s career as a moderate Republican, in which I argued that the G.O.P. desperately needed “a better sort of centrist” than the Specter-esque, “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” northeasterners to whom the label has usually been applied. One theme in that piece, which has run through my commentary on the Republican Party ever since, is that a moderate wing of the G.O.P. that just imitates the Democrats on a few issues where the liberal line is popular isn’t necessarily doing either its party or the country any great favors. To be truly constructive in their moderation, the G.O.P.’s centrists should be advancing alternatives to popular liberal ideas — trying to create a different center of political gravity, in effect, rather than just looking for ways to take some losing issues off the table.
FIve years ago, I thought Douthat was wrong. Five years later, I think he might have a point, especially when it comes to reforming the party. In the case of raising the minimum wage, moderates like Mitt Romey (is he a moderate again?) have proposed raising the wage, but offer no other ideas.
That’s been a problem with the moderate wing; we tend to be the ones that want to get along. So in times of liberal dominance, we propose a moderation of liberal policies. I think there is a time to make a deal. Sometimes you can only slow your opponent’s legislation instead of looking for a new idea. In Kansas and in Washington, moderates in the GOP tend to play it safe.
Which brings me back to Kansas. Brownback and his conservative allies have had bad ideas, but they were ideas. They have a governing vision. It’s a stupid vision, but a vision nonetheless.
What do Kansas moderates have? Not much. What is their vision? What would they like to see happen in their state? They never answer those questions. Instead they throw their support to a Democrat. What looked like a strong stand against Brownback ends up looking incredibly milquetoast.
Maybe that’s why I am more interested in the reform conservatives or Reformacons. Politicians like Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio are proposing ideas that are trying to solve problems. Writers such Douthat, Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru share their thoughts on how their budding brand of conservatism can help middle class Americans.
I would have been excited if the Kansas Republicans against Brownback had come out with some kind of white paper on moving the state forward or have someone run against Brownback. They had a chance to counter Brownback, but instead of having any guts, they just ran to the easiest shelter.
It was 50 years ago that Barry Goldwater ended up as the GOP nominee for President. Goldwater was leading a movement of conservatives and said that the party has to offer a choice not an echo to the Democrats.
I never did like that statement. But these days, I have to wonder. Moderates in the GOP must be willing to present themselves as a viable choice in the GOP and against the Democrats. If they can’t do that, then they are wasting my time and theirs.