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Will GOP Moderates Look Left?

If current trends continue in the months ahead, growing discontent among GOP moderates may translate into Democratic gains in '06 -- if not sooner. In today's New York Times, former GOP Senator John C. Danforth, now an Episcopal minister, says:

BY a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

Danforth's remarks echo Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays, who recently said "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy."

In his SLATE.com article "The Not So Fantastic Four: The Demise of the Republican Moderates," Michael Crowley notes that Senate GOP moderates Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and John McCain of Arizona are increasingly isolated as voices for sanity in their party. Notes Crowley of the prospect of the Republicans "nuclear option" destroying the filibuster:

If Frist finds a way to drop the Bomb, the moderates' lack of clout will be proved. And in the all-out partisan warfare that would be sure to followócall it nuclear winteróthey'd be stuck in a bleak no-man's land.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Peter Wallsten reports on cracks in the GOP base in Florida:

With the GOP base polarized over the Terri Schiavo case and the public skeptical of Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security, two issues with explosive relevance in Florida are stirring up confusing political crosscurrents for Republicans preparing to face the voters there next year.

Even conservative media critic Howard Kurtz comments on the trend in "Splitsville," his wrap-up piece in the Washington Post.

One of the most common headlines around these days is "GOP Split on [Fill-in-the-Blank]." The image of a unified governing party is cracking fast.

As the article by former Senator Bill Bradley quoted below indicates, the GOP has a stronger structure than the Dems' inverted pyramid to endure such splits. And no one should be surprised if GOP leaders suddenly adopt a more moderate tone leading up to the '06 elections. Yet it is not out of the question that Senator Chafee, for example, would consider switching parties, if only because he will likely face a strong challenge from a Democrat.

Even assuming no GOP moderates switch parties between now and '06, it is clear that rank and file moderate Republicans are becomming increasingly uncomfortable with their Party's current direction. Democratic candidates should make an extra effort to reach out and welcome their support.