by Jules Witcover
Among the casualties of the 2012 presidential election, along with Mitt Romney, was the vanishing breed of moderate Republicans of which he once was a star, until his embarrassing lurch into conservatism.
Romney first failed to win the
That year, the father hewed to the moderate course but was easily outmaneuvered by Richard Nixon, who seized both the center and right wing of the party. By the time son Mitt became the
So Mitt Romney simply changed his ideological spots. The transformation was a manifestation of how the party had evolved over half a century. It went from the orthodox conservatism of Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio to the centrism of Richard Nixon, and then to the extremism of Barry Goldwater and his more pragmatic 1964 cheerleader, Ronald Reagan, in1980.
Along the way, the liberal Republicanism of Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits came and went. Eventually, only a few
This devolution of moderate Republicanism was well chronicled in 2012 in "Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party," by political scientist and historian Geoffrey Kabaservice.
The book traced the erosion of moderate influence after the Eisenhower presidency, and how the conservatism and anti-intellectualism of Goldwater, after surviving the Nixon years of accommodation with all factions, blossomed under Reagan and more destructively under George W. Bush.
It underscored how Nixon first achieved a centrist image with such initiatives as revenue-sharing with the states at home and his opening to China abroad, as well as his de-escalation of the American combat role in Vietnam.
Nevertheless, the author wrote, "Nixon's rhetorical conservatism, his willingness to polarize the country around controversial social issues, and his abuse of his office and the rule of law made moderates turn against him. Watergate depressed the faith that Americans had in government generally, which ultimately damaged moderate Republicans as well as liberal Democrats."
At the same time, Kabaservice noted, the moderate
But even before Watergate, the
In Watergate's aftermath, the party temporarily fell to Nixon's standby, the congenial Gerald Ford, who leaned on conservative support to the degree that he acquiesced in the dumping of his hand-picked vice president, liberal Nelson Rockefeller, and still lost in 1976.
In 2000, party moderates who allowed themselves to be lulled by George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" were soon driven off by his 2003 invasion of Iraq and nation-building misadventures there and in Afghanistan.
The author of "Rule and Ruin" concluded:
"The Bush years demonstrated anew that
conservatives were skilled at politics but deficient at governing, and that a
The Demise of Moderate Republicanism | Politics