Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Party-switching, primaries, and the Kansas to come

While the Wichita Eagle reminds us that Parkinson wasn't so happy with Ms. Sebelius before she was elected Governor, Parkinson's successor as GOP head says:
I'm relieved that Mark Parkinson switched over. Maybe a few others want to think about it.
And good for him. I hope lots of Republicans take Mr. Shallenburger's advice.

Parkinson explained his move by saying:
As the 30 years progressed that I was in the party, it became clear that the party was headed in a different direction — in fact, at some point was actually working against some of my core values.
I don't think he's the only one, and I expect that a lot of other politicians and voters will be doing the same math in coming years.

This sort of divisive strategy is most identified today with Karl Rove. The Bush campaigns reached out to the center only to the extent it was necessary. Where Bill Clinton had run campaigns aimed at addressing everyone's concerns, Rove and his candidate preferred to address screened crowds, to campaign on issues of interest mainly to the hard-right of his party.

We saw this in the attempt to unseat Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary and then when he was about to take charge of the Judiciary Committee. We see it in efforts against Lincoln Chaffee and other moderate Republicans in Congress.

This strategy was not unique to the Bush years, however. The Kansas Republican Party had been purging its moderate officials for decades. Tim Shallenburger announced when he beat the moderate challenger for the Chairmanship of the Kansas party: "When we voiced our beliefs that there is a God and said it was wrong to only teach evolution, we were ridiculed and called morons." A state party formerly dominated by Main Street Republicans was gradually taken over by conservatives in primary elections. What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank shows how that take-over originated with a series of anti-abortion protests in 1994. Conservatives now dominate the Party, and the threat of a primary fight keeps moderates from standing up on many issues. They might be able to win a general election after having voted to raise school spending, but primary voters would pick the fiscal conservative over a sensible centrist.

In November, I pointed out how this battle is coming to a head. Mark Gietzen, a conservative Republican leader in Wichita talked with columnist Steve Kraske:

Why is Tim Shallenburger off-base in his attempts to pull the party together?

It’s just not going to work. It’s beyond ridiculous. The problem here is that these lessons were learned a long time ago, and now we have to learn them again.

Sandy Praeger, a moderate who favors abortion rights, is a Republican running for re-election as insurance commissioner. Can you back her?

Not in a primary, but I certainly would vote for her in a general election if she’s the nominee. I think she’s an honorable person. I respect her. I like her. I would like to sit down with Sandy for about 10 lunches and explain to her why she has the wrong position.

She should either change her position or join a party that acknowledges her position.
And if she did switch parties, she'd be called a petty opportunist.

A strategy of consolidating your base and evicting anyone who wobbles is a good strategy for short-term gains, clearly, but in the long-run, it destroys your support. Good leaders and an inclusive approach to politics are the ways that the Democratic party will grow.