Is 'Moderate Republican' Oxymoronic?

In a startlingly honest e-mail to supporters this week, Rob Simmons described U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's jump to the Democrats as "devastating news" that "deeply injures our ability to be an effective minority."

It's that and more. Benedict Specter's defection confirms that Simmons and the honorable tradition of Northeastern Republicans are irrelevant to today's Republican Party.

Moderate Republican, you are dead to party leaders.

We are already hearing about how a campaign to retire U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd will be a national referendum on keeping Democrats in check. But now we know that the Limbaugh-Gingrich-Rove party has no room for people such as Specter and his New England cousins who dare to suggest that keeping government out of your bedroom is an essential tenet of true conservatism.

The truth, said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, is that her party has "turned a blind eye to the iceberg under the surface."

"In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide," Snowe wrote in The New York Times. "We cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates."

Why on earth, asked a reader who posted on my CT Confidential blog this week, "would we want to elect a Republican from Connecticut who will either be forced to become more conservative to get ahead in his right-wing Republican caucus or be ignored and vilified by his Republican colleagues if he behaves like a moderate Republican from Connecticut should."

Why, I asked Simmons.

"I'm very comfortable with being a Connecticut Republican. I'm not about to give those values up for a cheap vote," said Simmons, growing feisty. "There is a place for us."

"You will find them in Gov. Rell. You will find them in Olympia Snowe. These are people who would rather fight than switch," he said. "The national party will have room if we win. With Specter, he was afraid to lose."

That's not quite how Specter, a supporter of the federal stimulus plan, abortion rights, stem cell research and an opponent of a constitutional ban on gay marriage saw it when he returned to the Democratic Party this week. He sees a Republican Party "at odds" with moderate, mainstream views and out to "purify" itself.

State Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, another Connecticut Republican with congressional aspirations, told me that "diversity of opinion" is essential.

"Being a pro-choice candidate is a conservative viewpoint," he said, possibly destroying his future on the national Republican stage with one sentence. "People like me need to go out and make that pitch."

That's not quite how state GOP Chairman Chris Healy responded when I asked him about Simmons' assessment of the Specter party switch. Specter's "hand-wringing" was "laughable," Healy said, before blasting the senator's support of the $800 billion "pork job." That is the same stimulus package that our own hugely popular Republican Gov. Rell lobbied Congress for. Time to purify, comrade!

Which brings me back to what Simmons, whose candor is underappreciated, said before we finished one of our conversations.

Republicans are "not a party of one voice," he said, presumably with a straight face. "The party that speaks with one voice is the Communist Party."

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