How far right can Republicans go?

By Bill Schneider
May 21, 2014

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Lexington Airport in Lexington, Kentucky

The line between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party has blurred.  That spells trouble for the GOP in the long run.  Possibly this year, more likely in 2016.

It might not look like it right now. The Republican establishment, which has been on the defensive since the Tea Party emerged in 2009, is on a roll. Establishment candidates have won contested primaries in North Carolina, Florida and now Kentucky and Georgia.  Republican voters seem to be turning away from the kinds of fringe candidates they went for in 2010 and 2012,  like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware (“I am not a witch”) and Todd Akin in Missouri (“legitimate rape”). Candidates like that cost Republicans their chance to take back control of the U.S. Senate.

So this year, the party stands a good chance of taking over the Senate and expanding its majority in the House of Representatives.  The Obama era is over!

Oh, wait.  Barack Obama is still president.  And the Republican Party’s long-term problems are far from resolved.  For one thing, the party’s good fortune this year is mostly the result of temporary advantages:  – Democratic Senate seats up for grabs in strongly Republican states; Democrats defending House seats they won narrowly in 2012.

Tillis speaks with supporters before a debate between the four top-polling Republican candidates in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate, at Davidson College in DavidsonFor another thing, the Tea Party is not exactly vanquished.  Establishment candidates may be winning primaries — but that’s because most of them have moved right and pre-empted the Tea Party’s message.

Thom Tillis, who won the Republic Senate primary in North Carolina, is a good example. Tillis was the establishment favorite, endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in the primary. But he had to lurch to the right to fend off Tea Party challengers, denying human-caused climate change, opposing an increase in the federal minimum wage and advocating the elimination of the Department of Education.

In Georgia, the Republican Senate contenders tried to outrun one another toward the right — challenging their rivals’ conservative credentials, calling for the privatization of entitlements, opposing immigration reform and denouncing abortion rights. Democrats in both states will use those issues to paint their Republican opponents as extremists.

Incumbent Republicans once favored by the Tea Party are also finding themselves challenged from the right. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.),  expected to succeed Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) as speaker, is facing a troublesome Tea Party opponent in his House re-election campaign. Cantor’s party chairman in the district was overthrown by Tea Party activists.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has angered conservatives by advocating immigration reform. He tried to make up for it by defying the scientific consensus on climate change. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” Rubio said on ABC

Rand Paul introduces U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. McConnell to crowd of campaign supporters after McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Bevin in state Republican primary elections in LouisvilleRepublicans have moved so far to the right that some of the party’s leading figures have found it necessary to break with conservatives.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as well as Rubio, have endorsed immigration reform.  Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has criticized restrictions on voting rights, saying, “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, says he parts company “with many of the conservatives in my party on the issue of the minimum wage” because “we ought to raise it.”

Republicans who oppose raising the federal minimum wage cite as Holy Scripture a Congressional Budget Office memo estimating that increasing it could eliminate 500,000 jobs — but also boost earnings for 16 million workers.

They hold no such reverence for the National Climate Assessment, prepared by several hundred scientific and technical experts, that warns “harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.’’

Still, conservatives are not satisfied.  Conservative activists, alarmed by the resurgence of the party establishment, met last week near Washington to organize the Conservative Action Project. They are demanding strict opposition to illegal immigration, same-sex marriage and abortion.  “Conservatives ought not to delude themselves that if Republicans win the Senate majority, it will somehow be a conservative majority,” warned L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center.

There is likely to be pressure on the GOP to change its platform position calling for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman. If the party doesn’t change, it’s likely to write off the support of the millennial generation.  If it does change, religious conservatives will quit the party in protest.

Republicans are already writing off the support of minorities. Asian-Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing minority group, include a lot of business-oriented voters.  Nonetheless, Gallup reports that they have shifted more strongly toward the Democratic Party than any other racial or ethnic group.

The New York Times recently examined party unity on 11 issues where Democrats and Republicans take opposite positions, including climate change, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage and gun control.  The Times found that 61 percent of Democrats agreed with their party on at least eight issues.  Only 42 percent of Republicans agreed with their party on at least eight issues.  Democrats are now more unified than Republicans.

It’s finally happening.  The Republican Party is becoming too extreme for Republicans.

PHOTO (TOP): Senate Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Lexington Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, May 19, 2014.  REUTERS/John Sommers II

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Thom Tillis, (3ndR), speaks with supporters before a debate between the four top-polling Republican candidates in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate, at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Davis Turner

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) is seen on a screen as he introduces Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to a crowd of campaign supporters after McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in the state Republican primary elections in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2014. REUTERS/John Sommers

19 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Repubs are dooming the long term viability of the party ever time they move further to the right.
We need a moderate party — repubs are sickenly too backward with their so called conservatism, the dems are disgusting too socialist.

Posted by Bobo9 | Report as abusive

‘The Republican Party is becoming too extreme for Republicans…’

Like a friend of mine who voted R for decades said, “I didn’t leave the Republican party – they left me.”

Posted by SunnyDaySam | Report as abusive

I believe they will go right to the White House after taking control of Happy Harry’s senate.
I also predict that Obama is so bored with his current job(except the perks) that he will resign and move to Colorado.

Posted by gitmojo | Report as abusive

They always say you shouldn’t discuss religion or politics at dinner. I can’t tell if it’s religion (gay marriage, abortion…) or politics (immigration reform, minimum wage, climate change…) that screws up the GOP. The GOP has made a mess of both…

Americans believe in justice and equality… the GOP is missing the boat…

Posted by michaelryan | Report as abusive

The exact same scenario has already played out in the Democrat camp. Democrats moved to the far left in a massive failure to bring posative results. This Opinion piece is blatant leftist fluff. The majority in the middle ramains unrepresented and it is not the Tea Party that is failing us It is self serving politicians manipulating the weak minded to follow them into disaster. As far a climate change skepticism. I have seen the consensus of climate models conpared to the actual data and there is good reason to be skeptical. Dr Roy Spence has a good article on that.

Posted by DennisVictor223 | Report as abusive

I’m all for ditching both parties. Libertarian, green, whatever. Something other than what we’ve been doing.

Posted by zeke_voltage | Report as abusive

There seems to be a lot of talk about how the GOP is moving so far right, yet a look back over the past 50 years at values of each party will show that it is actually the left that has been moving while the right has changed very little. The DNC and liberals have moved so far to the left that anyone who disagrees with their destructive and hateful agenda is seen as far right. It is a relative thing. If you pull society so far left from reason, morality, decency, and economic viaability then of course, from where you stand, the “other side” does seem to be way right, but really they are not far from where they have always been, actually a little lees right than historically has been the case.

Posted by gcf1965 | Report as abusive

The GOP has the TPers and the Democrats have the Blue Dogs. Why all the drama?

Posted by CSParty | Report as abusive

The problem that I see with this, that no one mentions, is how can you believe what these GOP ‘establishment’ types say?

After all they switch their viewpoints from primary to general election, so which is their real thought process?

I realize most politicians say what they think they need to to get elected, but at least the Democrats, in general of course, are more consistent in their viewpoints and do not ‘pivot’ from the primary to general election. But they(Democrats) do not have a large %(about 30-405 of the GOP ‘base’ IMO) of racist anarchists who think they are ‘losing their country’ to pander too.

Posted by USAPragmatist2 | Report as abusive

Sigh….It’s the left that is moving more left and the right as well. The Republicans have been drifting left for 50 years!!!

Posted by BioStudies | Report as abusive

The comments about how “we haven’t changed, the liberals are moving further left” are interesting. Society progresses: we went from slave holders and child labor, to mandatory school and allowing women to vote, to what we have now. Science went from flat earth, the church showing Galilelo the instruments of torture because he dared to suggest the earth goes around the sun, to putting a man on the moon and satellite TV. It is a progression of science and giving all people equal rights under the law, not “a destructive and hateful agenda”. So yes, society is struggling to progress in the face of the far right, who are steadfast in trying to preserve some fantastical black and white television show memory of how they thought things used to be and should be now. It is pitiful.

Posted by diluded0000 | Report as abusive

Sigh….It’s the left that is moving more left and the right as well. The Republicans have been drifting left for 50 years!!!

Posted by BioStudies | Report as abusive

GOP is doomed. Their own strategists admit it.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Intra-party struggles have been part of the landscape for a long time. They seem to arise out of the natural gravitation in American politics towards having just two main political parties.

Oh, and I have to say this for you, lysergic…you’re a great representative for the left.

Posted by Randy549 | Report as abusive

how can you tell the difference between the Repocrats and Demopublicans…they all feed at the same trough..on K street.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

Can we really afford to place our country’s destiny in the hands of self serving dinosaurs?
We can no longer afford the politics of greed which thrives on the dumbing down of the people. The republicans certainly are at the forefront of the America’s decline

Posted by rubyTee | Report as abusive

It is readily apparent to me that the Democrat Party continues to move left. That makes the rather static center-right position of the Republican Party appear to be moving further right when it objectively is not. As an Independent, it seems clear to me that the left leaning media has repeated that “far right” meme so often that many believe it. I would caution the left and the right that if either extreme gets their way, the nation will not be worth leading and would likely become even more ungovernable than it is becoming now.

Posted by AZWarrior | Report as abusive

The real evidence of which party is moving to the extremes is playing out right now in Republican primaries as incumbent right wingers are being challenged by newcomers who shout loudly “I am more conservative than so and so” yet make no pretense whatsoever of having any actual qualifications in their campaign materials.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Hopefully the R’s can get far enough back to get to the center. The “establishment” republicans have followed the big-government statist, democrats so far to the left that it seems unlikely that republicans will ever be relevant again. Articles on this buzzed out lefty run news blog seem to draw the “I like democrat style big spending” and conservative lower taxes, types who are in the failure to see the end mode. Without the latest tax increases, and big, Big spending cuts, we are doomed to poverty. The loss of petro-dollar benefit is at hand. The only way to overcome large balance of payments deficits and public spending deficits is to borrow, print or balance the public and balance of payment red ink. Any solution that can’t work, isn’t a solution. The time is now.

Posted by wlarimer | Report as abusive

[…] Reuters has posed the question of, “How Far Right Can Republicans Go?” […]

[…] their party on key issues, where as only 42% of Republicans agree with thier party on key issues. How far right can Republicans go? | The Great Debate Not only are the demographics here on USMB not even close to mirroring the true demographics of […]

[…] Sources: Daily Caller Breitbart MSNBC Reuters […]