Does ‘Moderate Republican’ Have Any Meaning?

Jon HuntsmanI must admit to being somewhat out of it. I’m not that interested in horse race politics anyway and I don’t know what’s going on. Last year, I did write, Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Real Liberal. That was about people going around talking about how Clinton was really a conservative. But it probably speaks to an unfortunate narcissism on my part that once I write about something, I consider the issue settled. But that ain’t reality. And I guess people still make that claim to such a degree that yesterday, Scott Lemieux felt the need to write, Can the “Hillary Clinton Is Really A Moderate Republican” Argument Be Salvaged? (SPOILER! No.)

I’m not really interested in the issue, because as I’ve noted: I have spoken! But Lemieux brought up Jon Huntsman. You can forget the likes of Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. Huntsman is a guy that almost everyone in the establishment media thinks is a moderate. After all, he worked for the Obama administration! But Lemieux does a good job of summing up what Huntsman actually stands for, and it ain’t pretty. There is no moderation that I can see:

He favors a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first degree murder in all 50 states. He wants to massively slash the top income tax rate and eliminate capital gains and estate taxes entirely. He wants to repeal the ACA and he’s smart enough to know that it would be replaced with nothing. He wants Dodd-Frank repealed. He has denounced the EPA’s “regulatory reign of terror.” He opposes any form of gun control.

Let me add to this that Huntsman was also one of the guys who said that he so cared about the budget deficit that he would not take a 10-to-1 spending cut to tax increase deal from the Democrats. And then after he was no longer running for president, he went back on it and said that he would take it. He never said what he would require though. 7-to-1? 5-to-1? I’m damned sure he wouldn’t take 3-to-1, and there is no way he would ever take the actually fair 1-to-1 deal.

What makes both men moderates in the eyes of the press is that they don’t scream; they don’t push a lot of conspiracy theories; and they don’t insult each other’s spouses (although they do insult the spouses of Democrats).

Lemieux noted that being seen as a moderate Republican “can be purchased on the cheap by taking a standard-issue conservative Republican and appending a few things like ‘maybe we shouldn’t crash the world economy’ and ‘now that I’m not running for office same-sex marriage seems OK’.” But I would say it is much worse than this. What defines being a “moderate Republican” is the same thing that defines being an establishment Republican: style. Huntsman hardly qualifies as a moderate Republican; he’s more in the Josh Barro realm where the press hardly think of him as a Republican at all.

Marco Rubio is the prototypical “moderate Republican.” And it basically just means that he is polite. The same thing can be said of Jeb Bush. Remember Terri Schiavo and all of Jeb’s abuses of power regarding that? What makes both men moderates in the eyes of the press is that they don’t scream; they don’t push a lot of conspiracy theories; and they don’t insult each other’s spouses (although they do insult the spouses of Democrats).

What all this means is that there is no such thing as a “moderate Republican.” It’s not just that any kind of moderation would make someone not a Republican. It is that the Overton window within the Republican Party is so small that to talk about a conservative or moderate Republican is meaningless. And the whole party is so bunched to the right that no one even uses the term “liberal Republican.” So, of course, Hillary Clinton is not a moderate Republican. But the more important point is that no one is a moderate Republican. They simply don’t exist.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Does ‘Moderate Republican’ Have Any Meaning?

  1. There is some difference between extremists in campaigning and extremists in governing. Donald Trump is causing consternation because his campaign is vicious and hateful. His attacks on the media and encouraging supporters to beat protesters who are black or Muslim. These actions are bad for the political process, and neither Ted Cruz nor Marco Rubio have campaigned in this fashion. However, if they were elected, Cruz or Rubio would probably be even more right-wing than Trump. So it seems that the focus is on how they campaign rather than what they’d do if elected or their records.

    • That’s absolutely right. I am much more comfortable with Trump as president than Cruz or Rubio or most of the other Republican candidates.

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