A move to push Republicans to the middle
Christine Todd Whitman and others think a moderate stance is GOP's key to survival.
It was a vision of big-tent Republicanism: At a panel discussion held around the GOP convention last summer, Christine Todd Whitman sat comfortably near Newt Gingrich - a standard-bearer of the middle engaging in measured discourse with a standard-bearer of conservatism.Skip to next paragraph
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When asked about the GOP's longstanding drift rightward, Ms. Whitman was polite. The former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator stressed the breadth of the Republican coalition and noted that some of the biggest names to address the convention in prime time - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani - favor abortion rights.
Now it's no more Ms. Nice Gal. In her new book, "It's My Party Too," Whitman takes off the gloves and lays down her manifesto to prevent, as she puts it, "the extreme right from run[ning] away with the party."
"It's time for me to get radical moderate," she says in an interview. "I've been going along to get along, to a degree."
The GOP, she says, has to get back to its core principles of fiscal responsibility, individual freedom, protecting the environment, and US leadership in the world based on strength and wisdom, or it will lose its middle and be relegated to the minority.
"Over the years, more and more people have come up to me and said, look, I've been a good Republican all my life, I don't want to leave the party, but it's getting harder and harder for me to stay," she says with a tone of urgency.
"There's this attitude that if you believe that you can even have discussion about embryonic stem-cell research, you're not a good Republican. If you believe that government has a role to play in environmental protection, you're not a good Republican. If you're prochoice, you're not a good Republican. And that just is nonsensical."
On the face of it, Whitman appears to be arguing with success: President Bush just won reelection and slightly bigger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. But she's looking at the long term - and sees the rise of what she calls "social fundamentalists" as posing a serious threat to the long-term competitiveness of the GOP, much the way, she says, the Democratic Party was taken over by the far left in the late 1960s and lost five out of the next six presidential elections.
Built into Whitman's flame-throwing is a big irony. With such narrow Republican majorities in Congress, any wing of the party can sink the president's agenda - and so, in fact, the moderates hold great power. The moderate group Republican Main Street Partnership counts 53 House members in its ranks and 12 senators, more than enough to give Bush heartache. The group does not take a position on abortion, but has listed expanded embryonic stem-cell research as its top agenda item. The president and most of his religious-conservative backers oppose expanding federal funding for such research.