Thursday, October 20, 2011

The end of Republicans as we have known them?

Former Williamsburg City Councilman Mickey Chohany is facing off against incumbent Democratic Senator John Miller for the 1st District seat in this fall's elections.

There are a lot of things you can say about Chohany as a candidate. Based on recent debate performances, you might say he's not ready for prime time. You might say he's a stalking horse for Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd) and that if he's elected Norment will effectively have two votes in the Senate. (Although if we were going to give a Republican senator two votes, I'd argue that Norment -- who at least understands the importance of governance -- isn't a bad choice. I'd rather he had two votes than Sen. Steve Newman.).

But the odd thing that some people are saying about Chohany is that he's RINO (Republican In Name Only).

I'm not sure on what basis anybody is saying this. Is it guilt by association because he's an ally of Norment, who has also been called a RINO?

Because, on the issues, Chohany seems to meet all the Republican litmus tests. He's pro-life, pro-gun and anti-tax. He's tried a straddle on gay rights, but it's the same straddle that Virginia Republicans, and voters, let Gov. Bob McDonnell get away with.

Are guns or abortion what got Chohany (or Norment) into politics? No. But that doesn't mean they aren't Republicans.

This stupidity has gone so far that some in the right-wing blogosphere are calling for a write-in campaign for Tricia Stall. In case you don't remember Ms. Stall, she's a right-wing Republican who took out another "RINO", Sen. Marty Williams in a primary in 2007 only to lose to Miller in the general election. She lost that election in a 1st District that was far more Republican than the current configuration. Tricia Stall not only has no chance to win as a write-in, she couldn't win if she was on the ballot. She couldn't come close. A vote for her is a vote for John Miller.

Chohany might win. More likely, given the nature of the district now, he won't  But at least he stands a chance.

That's why the Republican Party put up a candidate closer to the middle like Chohany.

Is Chohany a Tea Partier? Well, no. He and Norment are both Chamber of Commerce Republicans. Which is to say that they are what Republicans always were for most of the 20th Century, people who are primarily concerned with low taxes and less government regulation and believe that what's good for the business is good for the country.

Until about 1980, Chamber of Commerce Republicans were basically the only kind of Republicans. Even Ronald Reagan, the poster child of the "movement conservatives," was mostly interested in keeping taxes low and cutting government regulations. Sure, he gave some lip service to the social issues that move Christian Conservatives, but he didn't do anything about them.

And not every Republican needs to. It's hard for me to see how the Virginia Republican Party is better for having purged folks like former Delegates Panny Rhodes and Preston Bryant or former Sen. John Chichester, people who certainly were Republicans in the sense of what Republican meant from Dwight Eisenhower through the first George Bush and were among the most thoughtful legislators in Richmond but somehow weren't Republican enough for Virginia purists.

If Republicans have decided that every nominee has to be a Tea Partier, or a 2nd Amendment zealot or a home schooler or a proselytizing abortion opponent, the Republican Party is going to change drastically from what we've known it as. It's going to lead to a lot more candidates like Tricia Stall and Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle. And, I'd argue that it's going to mean they win a lot less elections.

Because those Chamber of Commerce Republicans who irritate the GOP base, like center-right Democratic moderates who irritate the Democratic base, are the only representatives of their party that many moderate independents -- who hold the swing vote in most contested elections -- will vote for.

Republicans are playing out this silly melodrama on the national stage as well. Former pizza company executive Herman Cain has become the latest weekly favorite in the "Please God, stop us before we nominate Mitt Romney" sweepstakes.

Republicans have a problem. Since Romney was the runner-up to John McCain for the nomination in 2008, it's his "turn" to run for president. That's usually the way Republicans pick their nominee. But Romney so offends the base -- he's flip-flopped on abortion and he backed a state-level version of health care reform as governor of Massachusetts that included the individual mandate that Republicans hate (although it was originally their idea). Romney was the front-runner in most early polls. That's sent more conservative Republicans on the quest for a "Great Right Hope" for 2012 that's already churned through Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. It led some Republicans to hope that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would jump in the race, even though he has more "moderate baggage" than Romney and other to wish that Sarah Palin would quit her reality-TV star gig to run.

The funny thing about this is that Romney has consistently run better in head-to-head polls against President Barack Obama than other Republicans -- although even he runs less well than "generic Republican."

I think Romney would stand a pretty good chance of beating Obama next year. I don't think any of the other announced Republicans -- or the unannounced Palin -- would.

It will be interesting to see if Republicans decide they'd rather win than be "Right."

Cross posted to All Politics Is Local.

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