Palin, Limbaugh, Beck … now it’s Republicans seeing the downside

Some moderate conservatives see danger in the vociferous right, especially among broadcast pot-stirrers. They want to advance the GOP by changing the tone.

By , Staff writer

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    Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham talk on Capitol Hill last month. The two Republican senators have become the most prominent GOP critics of the far right.
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“I am not a member of any organized party,” Will Rogers famously quipped. “I am a Democrat.” Then there were those old jokes about Democrats forming “circular firing squads.”

But these days, it seems like Republicans are the ones duking it out with each other … or at least examining where they are and where they should be headed after recent electoral drubbings.

Mainstream Republicans are looking at the loudest of the conservative voices -- Sarah Palin and the most prominent of the talk-show types (Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, et al) -- and concluding that the GOP needs to do something different if it’s to succeed.

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Steve Schmidt, former campaign strategist for John McCain, said Friday that nominating former Alaska governor Sarah Palin for president in 2012 would be “catastrophic” for the party.

“In the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond the base,” Schmidt said at a forum sponsored by The Atlantic magazine and web site.

“The independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012,” he said. “That middle of the electorate is going to be determinative of the outcome of the elections. I just don’t see that if you look at the things she has done over the year ... that she is going to expand that base in the middle.”

Meanwhile, Schmidt’s old boss “is working behind-the-scenes to reshape the Republican Party in his own center-right image,” reports politico.com. That means recruiting candidates, raising money, and campaigning on their behalf.

“Those familiar with McCain’s thinking say he has expressed serious concern about the direction of the party and is actively seeking out and supporting candidates who can broaden the party’s reach. In McCain’s case, that means backing conservative pragmatists and moderates.”

Speaking at the same two-day Atlantic event as Schmidt, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said party leaders need to call out “birthers” and other conspiracy theorists on the right. “Say, ‘You’re crazy.’ In a respectful way.”

Graham dismissed Rush Limbaugh as someone who “makes hundreds of millions of dollars being able to talk on the radio.” And of today’s hottest conservative/libertarian phenomenon he said, “Glenn Beck is not aligned with any party as far as I can tell. He's aligned with cynicism, and there's always been a market for cynicism."

But perhaps the most devastating critique of the vociferous right -- from the right -- comes from David Brooks, resident conservative columnist at The New York Times.

Referring to them as “media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche -- even in the Republican Party,” Brooks wrote this week:

“The rise of Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the rest has correlated almost perfectly with the decline of the GOP. But it’s not because the talk jocks have real power. It’s because they have illusory power, because Republicans hear the media mythology and fall for it every time.”

Is this tug toward the center by prominent middle-of-the-road conservatives likely to succeed?

“Much of the party is fonder of Palin than of McCain, and thinks that the catastrophe was in nominating him; in their version of events, going with McCain meant selling out conservatism and inviting disaster,” writes Gabriel Winant at salon.com. “This kind of thinking sends a party into a downward spiral. The GOP base is likely to view McCain’s current efforts, and Schmidt’s comments, not as healthy argument, but as a corrupting influence.”

No surprise in Rush Limbaugh’s response to the current hoo-hah.

“I think it’s time for the McCain crowd to acknowledge they are losers and pack it in,” he emailed political blogger Greg Sargent. “They’ve done enough damage to the Republican Party. Move aside and let a brighter, more principled, and more competent generation of people clean up the mess they helped create.”

More on the reshaping of the GOP here.

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