"Where Have All The Moderate Republicans Gone?"
Left, right, and center, one thing nearly every American agrees on: Congress is a mess. A 2013 Gallup poll found that nearly 80 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job, mainly because of partisan gridlock. With gerrymandered districts that render primary challenges a bigger threat to many members than general elections, there is little incentive for Republicans to reach across party lines and find common ground — and few moderates left who would seek to find it.
In 2007, a dwindling band of centrist Republican U.S. Representatives formed a political action committee which they hoped would “maintain the moderate wing of the party.” But seven years later, the group has followed its party to the right. Its PAC now helps re-elect some of Congress’s most radically conservative members.
The Tuesday Group PAC formed, after the Democratic landslide of 2006, to help the remaining moderate Republicans stay in Congress and to elect some new ones. It took its name from a longstanding Tuesday lunch meeting for centrist Republicans who sought to steer the party away from divisive issues. Then-Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), said at the time that it was “very important to our party that we hang on to those that represent a point of view that’s important to the party.” The group included a few dozen socially moderate fiscal conservatives.
Then and now
In the 2007-2008 election cycle, the Tuesday Group PAC distributed almost $300,000 to 36 centrist House Republicans. A ThinkProgress analysis found that these members voted with their party about 86 percent of the time, voted for abortion rights about 40 percent of the time, and voted for LGBT equality about 27 percent of the time.
So far in the 2014 midterm cycle, the Tuesday Group PAC has given nearly $250,000 to 48 Republican candidates whose voting records are far more conservative. The recipients voted for LGBT equality in the last Congress an average of just 4.8 percent of the time and backed abortion rights just 10 percent of the time, on average, in 2013. They vote with the party about 91.9 percent of the time. Of the 45 House incumbents backed by the Tuesday Group, 20 are also members of the deeply conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), up from just two members in 2008.
Even when 49 Republicans joined with 179 House Democrats last January to pass an emergency SuperStorm Sandy relief package, more Tuesday Group PAC money recipients voted against the bill than for it. Every single member of the group has voted to repeal Obamacare. Just one voted to allow President Obama to raise the debt limit and avoid a catastrophic default on the national debt.
After more losses in the 2008 elections, the Tuesday Group lurched right. More hardline conservatives, including Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, joined. A spokeswoman told Roll Call that McMorris Rodgers connected with the Tuesday gang because she believed “hearing different perspectives and different solutions is a valuable part of making decisions.” Acknowledging the group’s evolution, a retired moderate who had been in the group noted that “the Tuesday Group has never really excluded anybody.”
By 2011, a new Republican majority took control of the U.S. House. With a Republican caucus dominated by Tea Party allies and RSC members, the Tuesday Group branded itself as a “center-right group.” Co-chair Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told the Washington Post: “Some are closer to the center, some are closer to the right…This is a center-right country, and we need to govern that way.” Dent described the group as “a little more conservative today than when I first joined.”
But in John Boehner’s Congress, the Tuesday Group had little to no moderating effect. Brookings Institution Congressional expert Thomas Mann told the Daily Beast the moderates were now powerless: “None, absolutely zero, zippo. … It’s sad but it’s true. The handful that remain lie low and change positions as needed. The party is much more homogenous, and the center of gravity has moved sharply to the right.” Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, noted that while the Tuesday Group members were “stylistically more moderate,” than the rest of their caucus, “their voting records say otherwise.” While the Tuesday Group’s members, in theory, could have blocked any of the GOP’s agenda items by uniting with the Democratic minority, in practice they didn’t do so.
In the past few years, former GOP officeholders ranging ideologically from liberals like Reps. Claudine Schneider (R-RI) and Connie Morella (R-MD) to mainstream conservative Sens. Bob Dole (R-KS) and John Danforth (R-MO) have lamented that there is little room in today’s Republican Party for anyone but the far right wing. It appears that even the PAC formed to preserve moderate House Republicans now too is dominated by people much closer to the right than to the center.