GOP now moving toward the center

The Texas primary that rewarded Sen. John Cornyn a 59 percent mandate over Steve Stockman with 18 percent was an ominous development for the Tea Party. Not that Cornyn is not a conservative, but he lacks zealotry, and his moderate style overwhelmed his opponents. Mitch McConnell enjoys a 38 percent margin over his Tea Party challenger.

Some Tea Party ideas have been incorporated, but its stridency is now wearing thin. Rand Paul is becoming less of a libertarian and more a Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan-style candidate. Moreover, he is nudging his party to a more amenable and inclusive kind of conservatism. This is fully in step with how the GOP behaves before it regains the White House and Democrats should take notice.

In 1952, Republicans seemed on the verge of being swallowed up by Joe McCarthy and his anti-Communist crusade. Instead it received Dwight Eisenhower and his “modern Republicanism.” Barry Goldwater’s 1964 effort, although at its core not extremist, tried to lurch the party a bit to the right of center. Richard Nixon incorporated some of Goldwater’s ideas, while keeping some of Eisenhower’s centrist views. Ronald Reagan united all the factions and swept to victory in 1980.

Jimmy Carter was slow to recognize these incorporations and tried to run against Goldwater; instead he got crushed by Reagan. Although Republicans have been slow to redirect the ship, they are now doing so. Barack Obama is not in a good position to counter these charges. After five years, Obama has strained his coalition. Instead of refashioning the Democrats, he has depended on an upscale group of his supporters. His emphasis is rights, not necessarily social justice.

From the Keystone pipeline to the Ukraine and the direction of the economy, Obama is an advocate of “Joseph Banks” progressivism. High style and fashionable, it ignores the labor wing of the party and is stuck with cliches involving college and career education. It is like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, in that it is domestic policy by slogan. With Republicans trimming their sails, Obama cannot depend on them to self-destruct. Given the pro big business nature of Obama’s administration, he will begin to lose support at the margins of labor and some more practical progressives.

Certainly Al Gore was thrown off by Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000. Obama will find it harder to focus on the Tea Party and some of its more colorful elements when confronted by an opposition that counters with a more moderate version of his own policies.

Even Reince Priebus has muted his comments to just partisan boilerplate. The Republican National Committee is now copying Michael Steele far closer than the Tea Party. Subtlety is winning out in the GOP and that means trouble for Democrats. The GOP is incorporating the best of Tea Party ideas while abandoning the worst.

Even at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee), the shrill voices of the religious right were relatively stalled.

For Democrats it might be smart to highlight Pat McCrory in North Carolina. McCrory was elected as a pro-business Republican and ended up a far more conservative governor then bargained for. Obama could have a “watch out” campaign for Republican trojan horses. But at this stage of his presidency he does not seem able to do so.