News & Politics

No Room for Moderate Republicans?

As liberal and conservative groups and pundits debate the future of the Supreme Court, a large but often overlooked group is being left out of the conversation: moderate Republicans.
"It is mind-boggling to me that the press only focuses on right-wingers. Is it just because sensationalism sells?" asks Ann Stone, national chair of Republicans for Choice, a DC-based group that supports pro-choice Republican candidates. "When moderates try to do something, it might get attention on NPR or in the Los Angeles Times, but the press here in Washington is pretty much ignoring moderates."

She's right. By reading news coverage of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, you wouldn't even know that moderate Republicans exist. A July 12 opinion piece in USA Today reads: "Now as Bush considers how he will fill the first Supreme Court vacancy to occur on his watch, he is under pressure from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats to name someone to their liking." According to a July 13 Voice of America article: "Special interest groups on both ends of the political spectrum have been mobilizing for a Supreme Court confirmation fight for years." And a July 15 story in Human Events, a conservative weekly, says, "All told, liberal and conservative special interests could spend upwards of $50 million by the time a nominee is confirmed by the Senate."

Why aren't moderate groups -- of which there are many -- receiving as much attention as groups like People for the American Way, the Christian Coalition or Planned Parenthood?

"We are not spending our time doing a lot of loud screaming on the outside," says Stone. "Instead, we're working directly with the senators who will be swing votes."

Republicans for Choice, a group with 150,000 members in all 50 states, is lobbying moderate Republicans to fight for a "moderate, thoughtful" Supreme Court justice who will "uphold a woman's right to choose."

Stone says that so far the female candidates mentioned to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are "horrible," while three of the male candidates, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, are "close to acceptable; [Gonzales is] the only one that is remotely pro-choice," she says. "We're not even sure that he's 100 percent pro-choice, but he's been moderate in his decisions." As far as the other two candidates go, Stone is "afraid to give their names because that would ensure they would not get nominated, especially after the smear campaign against Gonzalez from the right."

If Bush names a justice who is in favor of outlawing abortion, Stone believes moderates will leave the party in droves. "People are becoming very upset," she says. "A lot of the people who have already left the party are only giving money to us."

The next Supreme Court Justice's opinion on Roe v. Wade is also the main concern for Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), a moderate Republican group that endorses the "big tent" philosophy of inclusion and tolerance on social issues. "This is the most important decision that has ever been made for this organization," says Kellie Ferguson, RMC Executive Director. "We've done polling after polling that shows the majority of Republicans support women making decisions, not the government."

For now, the RMC is spending its resources on a judicial task force of attorneys who have been researching potential Supreme Court nominees and sharing their findings with moderate Republican senators. "Spending a lot of money up front is a waste," says Ferguson. "This vote is with the Senators and we need to focus our attention on targeting them."

Ferguson says four to five Republican Senators are close to 100 percent pro-choice; another handful support family planning. "We believe members who are not pro-choice will be hesitant to confirm a conservative nominee because there are so many ramifications involved."

RMC works with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America on legislative issues, but they part ways when it comes to endorsing specific candidates. RMC is working on a game plan if the President decides to nominate a justice who is similar to Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia.

Another group that has rarely been quoted on the Supreme Court justice issue is Republican Main Street Partnership (RMSP), an organization that reaches out to disenfranchised Republicans and fights for issues including stem cell research and the Endangered Species Act. "Moderates, of course, are not the ones who are out there first with all the rhetoric," says Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, RMSP executive director. "We're working behind the scenes with Senators."

Chamberlain Resnick says the group, which works with 68 politicians in the House and Senate and 8500 members in almost every state, is hoping Bush endorses "someone who is in a similar mind frame" of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "We realize the President will choose a conservative," says Chamberain Resnick. "We just hope it's a conservative we can live with."

If Bush chooses a conservative the group can't live with, it is prepared to take action. "The moderate wing of the party will not stay quiet," says Chamberlain Resnick. "We do have some donors who are ready."

Moderates who run blogs and newsgroups are also weighing in on the issue, but they, too, are finding it difficult to get widespread attention. "It's people like me, who aren't marching down the street, that nobody ever hears about," says David Griffith, a member of the Republican for Integrity newsgroup. Griffith broke ranks with the Republican party last February to become the spokesman for Republicans for Kerry in Oregon. "If W decides to knowingly nominate a candidate who has a history of allowing their personal political or religious views to influence and bias their decisions, then he will have a fight on his hands -- and rightly so."

"Many moderates are fed up, but are afraid to speak out. We're trying to make people aware that we exist and have strong views," says 23-year-old Jeremy Dibbell, a member of the Centrist Coalition. Dibbell, who voted for John Kerry in 2004 but still considers himself a moderate Republican, started the blog Charging RINO (Republican in Name Only) in March. Since then, a number of moderate Republican blogs have been created, and almost all of them have similar views on the next Supreme Court justice.

"Conservatives often say they don't want an activist judge. Neither do we, but we don't want an activist judge from either side. Activist judges come from both sides and that's not often articulated," says Dibbell. "I don't anticipate a pro-choice justice, but he or she should understand that Roe is law. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be a knockdown drag-out brawl and that's not healthy. We need a justice like O'Connor who can see both sides and understand the consequences of the decisions they make."

Not all moderate Republicans are as hopeful. "If the President nominates Alberto Gonzales, he'll lose support from the religious right," says Michael Cudahy, a political writer and former national campaign staff member for President George H.W. Bush. Cudahy, a moderate Republican who also voted for John Kerry in 2004, says President Bush is "one of the most pig headed, willful people I've ever met in my life. I think he's going see this as an opportunity to craft his legacy and I think he perceives his legacy as a social conservative. Here's his chance to take over the fourth branch of government. That's very disturbing, but I do believe that's what he's going to do."

Rose Aguilar is a San Francisco-based journalist gathering stories from people living in states that voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush. Track her journey at Stories in America.

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