The most persuasive challenge that I have heard to my argument that President Kerry will have to form a working coalition with moderate and independent Republicans in order to govern has been that the Republicans are less at liberty to make that deal than Kerry is. Their own party's factions will eat them alive if they cooperate with a Democrat on taxes and the budget, and more particularly, the Club for Growth will bankroll a serious primary challenge to any Republican who deviates from their nihilistic orthodoxy. This will push all Republicans hard to the right.
E.J. Dionne reflected that argument in his column (interestingly, the column just after the one that foresaw a Democratic sweep comparable a reverse of the Republican gain in 1994), arguing that Bush and Kerry will have an equally hard time governing. He cites Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa moderate, as arguing that " incumbents worry mostly about primary challenges from ideological hard-liners. 'There is no more underrepresented group in America today than moderates in both parties'" (This is not true of Leach himself, whose toughest challenge came in 2002 from a Democrat, Dr. Julie Thomas.)
But Dionne seemed to change course when quoting another Midwest moderate:
One effect of a Kerry victory might be to bring out into the open Republican divisions that are already beginning to surface. Former representative Steve Gunderson, a Wisconsin Republican, speaks of "a coming civil war in the party" spurred by the efforts of conservatives to purge moderates from its ranks. This civil war over social issues is compounded by new divisions over deficits and the use of tax cuts not only to "promote growth" -- there is, says Gunderson, "nothing wrong with that" -- but also to "shut down the legitimate role of government."
Both Leach and Gunderson are obviously referring to the Club for Growth, which encouraged and financed Rep. Pat Toomey's primary challenge to Arlen Specter as well as other primaries. I think the last sentence would have been slightly more accurate if it had said "This longstanding civil war over social issues has been inflamed by the arrival of conservative funders who are willing to bankroll the social conservatives in exchange for their support of tax cuts to shut down the legitimate role of government." The Deal by which the social conservatives and economic royalists each agree to repress their misgivings about the Bush/DeLay agenda finds its apotheosis in the Club for Growth.
The civil war Gunderson sees is not between the social conservatives and the economic conservatives, as might be expected, but between people like him and Leach, who don't fully embrace either the social agenda (incidentally, Gunderson was the first not-quite-out-of-the closet-but-not-really-in Republican member of Congress) or the economic extremism on one side, and the Bush/DeLay/Club-for-Growth crowd that brings both extremes together in unholy alliance, on the other.
But the scenario we're considering here assumes Bush's defeat. If the election result is decisive, and Democrats make some gains in both houses of Congress, doesn't "the deal" go down with it?? The deal was based on Bush and Bush alone; no Republican since Reagan has ever made it work, and Reagan moderated both parties in the deal rather than indulging them. The fierce sectarianism of the Club for Growth, while it may be a spur to the right in the context of complete Republican hegemony takes on a very different character when it becomes a warring faction in a divided opposition. It causes harm today, but a party with as much arrogance and technical advantages as Rove's GOP has some room for error. Once that arrogance is pierced, every warring faction is purely destructive.
The Club's primary challenge to Specter had its desired effect. It made Specter a reliable vote on every budget question and almost every judicial nomination, for most of the period when his vote wouldAnd there are several other reasons why I suspect that the Club for Growth and the threat of a primary challenge won't have much of the effect of forcing moderate Republicans to the right:
First, there is no enforcement mechanism comparable to a telephone call from the president. Remember how Senator George Voinovich in 2003 pranced around for a while insisting that he would never vote for a tax bill that added more than $350 billion to the debt? And then, within minutes after the conference committee produced a half-page summary of the final bill, he agreed to vote for it even though it met that promise only in the most transparently phony way? The Club for Growth had run ads comparing him to Jacques Chirac. And the White House put incredible pressure on him. Which one of those pressures is likely to have had the greater effect on him? Voinovich didn't cave to the ads (he's likely to believe that the people of his state know him to be no Appeasing Frenchie) but it is extremely difficult for any elected official to resist the entreaties of a president and a the party leader, if they make dissent seem equivalent to excommunication from the party. The ads and threats from the Club for Growth, if not reinforced by the President, will amount to very little.
Second, the elected officials know perfectly well that their opponents within their own party are driven by social issues, not taxes, although it is taxes that drives the financing of their opposition. So, for example, the heart of Toomey's primary challenge to Specter rested on anti-abortion voters, who have always been uncomfortable with Specter's pro-choice position and probably make up a majority within the Republican electorate in the state. But while candidates can change their positions on taxes, it's not easy or desirable to change on social issues. Pro-choice politicians stay pro-choice. The more politics is cast into terms of moral absolutes, the more locked-in politicians will be, and the less room to pressure and move them there will be. So a moderate Republican facing a primary challenge from a Club for Growth opponent is likely to know that the only way to really appease the beast is on social issues, which they will not want to adjust.
Third, many moderate Republicans -- especially if they do build effective bridges to Kerry and have something to show for it -- can establish themselves solidly as beloved bipartisan figures in their states or districts, making them essentially untouchable in a primary as well. The Arizona hard-right hates John McCain and would love to run a primary challenge against him, but they can't, because of his larger-than-life stature in the state. The same is true of Olympia Snowe in Maine, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and several others. One reason Specter was vulnerable to a primary challenge is that he is not a beloved figure in the state (for good reason), and is also vulnerable in the general election. Aggressive primary challenges from the Club for Growth against moderates might not push them to the right, but rather push them to establish deeper bipartisan roots.
Finally, while most of the time, politicians are reflections of the pressures and opportunities around them, rather than their "real" beliefs or character, there are certainly times when politicians stand firm for what they believe, even at risk of their own reelection. That's often been true of moderate Republicans, and those who are concerned about the deficit and the long-term fiscal situation are likely to be willing to take some tough votes on raising taxes if it's part of a plan that will work.
A final aside: I was thinking about the Club for Growth and comparing it to the wars over the Democratic Leadership Council and its opponents that flared during the late 1990s, and which many consider exceptionally destructive. (I remember being at a big "what is the liberal agenda?" dinner in late 2000 when someone finally banged down their silverware and said, "Can we try for one minute to remember that we're trying to beat conservative Republicans, not the DLC!") In some ways this was destructive, or distracting, but as far as I can recall, the DLC never bankrolled a primary challenge of an incumbent liberal member of Congress. Nor did liberals bankroll challenges to conservative Democrats, unless they had gone completely off the reservation. (I guess there are some exceptions from the 1970s when liberals took out aging incumbent Democrats, but I don't know how ideological those campaigns were.) My memory could be wrong about this, but generally, liberal and conservative Democrats have come from different regions and had a live and let live attitude toward each other, while nonetheless battling over the national vision of the party. If you think that was destructive, then the Club for Growth attacks will be vastly more destructive to the teetering Republican coalition.