Christine Todd Whitman, co-chair of the Republican Leadership Council and former head of the EPA, in a Washington Post Editorial today says that the reason Republicans were swept out of office all across the country is that they are held hostage by social fundamentalists, unable to move to the left where they really ought to be.
Our central thesis was simple: The Republican Party had been taken hostage by "social fundamentalists," the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. Unless the GOP freed itself from their grip, we argued, it would so alienate itself from the broad center of the American electorate that it would become increasingly marginalized and find itself out of power.
The only problem is that she is completely wrong. Her argument that Republicans must move more to the middle is easily refuted. John McCain is without a doubt the most moderate voter in the Senate, and he made no headway with the so-called middle. Whitman's assertion that he "tried mightily to assuage the Republican Party's social-fundamentalist wing" is laughable. McCain barely managed to hide his disdain for conservatives and conservatism. What really happened is that Republicans, when they had the power to act, didn't behave any differently that Democrats. Republican's "Contract with America" took a principled stance, which energized the electorate, but they didn't follow through with it. Spending was out of control, and entitlements abounded. The electorate decided that since the party in power was acting like Democrats, they might as well elect Democrats.
Whitman is recommending the same strategy liberals have been advocating for turning around our failing school system despite throwing unprecedented amounts of money at it: throw more money at it. Whitman suggests that since throwing the moderate Bush, and uber-moderate McCain at the electorate didn't work, we should go even farther to the left.
Whitman's philosophy is exactly what is already wrong with the Republican party. And she wants more. Instead of differentiating themselves from the left, she says they should join it. That way lies oblivion. The Republicans will never out liberal the Democrats, and trying to will destroy their party. When the choice is between liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans there can be only one outcome. And it's not good for Republicans.
Republicans, indeed any party that deserves to exist, should take a principled stance and follow through with it. If two parties have the same stance then there is nothing at issue but power, and who holds it. That will never win an election. People have to believe in the principles that drive the party or they won't go along for the ride. In this case the electorate believed in the principles that the Republicans espoused, they just didn't believe they would follow through.
Who can blame them?
Update: Hot Air's Ed Morrissey comes to much the same conclusion, but wisely warns against excluding any part of the party in a rush to attain ideological purity.
In order to regain the majority, we need to stop attacking each other and start focusing on those issues that unite us. The only way to achieve real change is to combine our strengths and put ourselves back in position to change policy. It may feel good to stand alone with our ideological purity, but in the end, it will never afford us the leverage to make real changes. Only by agreeing to pursue what unites us can we forge an alliance that can achieve any positive change for America.
What unites us, then? We need to get back to those First Principles of fiscal responsibility (which we blew when we had the opportunity), smaller government (which we betrayed with the K Street Project and other lobbyist pandering), national security, free market economics, federalism, and lower taxes. If we can agree to pursue those as priorities, and if we can rebuild our credibility on those goals, then we can convince moderates to once again support Republicans, especially if the Democrats run off the rails in the next two years.