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Column: What should GOP moderates do?

Posted: August 23, 2018 4:30 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.

I make no bones about the fact that I consider myself a centrist, moderate Democrat. When it comes to the country’s finances, I don’t believe in the pie-in-the-sky schemes of the extreme left-wingers in the party. On social issues, on the other hand, I admit to being pretty liberal, and yet am completely open to finding middle ground with moderate Republicans.

Which is why I was quite disheartened by a TIME magazine story this week out of Arizona. There, there’s a three-way race for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate, which will be decided on Tuesday.

There’s Joe Arpaio, the (in my view) disgraced former sheriff whom President Donald Trump pardoned of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stop racial profiling in his county. If I lived in Arizona, he would be far too extremist for me.

Next up is Kelli Ward, a former Arizona state senator vying to move up the political food chain. Her biggest faux pas came when she asked if Sen. John McCain would live long enough to finish all of a new six-year term he’d just been reelected to serve. She’s “cleaned up her act,” according to one friend who spoke to TIME, but from what I can tell, she is firmly standing behind Trump, and that just doesn’t sit well with me at all.

The third candidate is Martha McSally. Unlike Ward, who I’d never heard of before, and Arpaio, who is simply distasteful to me, I had heard of and liked McSally. She’s a retired two-term U.S. representative, retired Air Force colonel and was “the first female pilot in U.S. history to fly a combat mission,” according to TIME.

I remember when I first heard of her that she seemed like a moderate GOP-er I could have gotten behind were I in Arizona. Unfortunately, TIME reports she’s having a tough time and could face a tougher one if she ends up facing Ward alone should Arpaio drop out.

What dismays me is her response to her predicament. As TIME put it, she’s chosen to “reinvent herself as a Trump acolyte.” She had been critical of Trump, but is now backing off sponsorship of bills to protect immigrant children and removed videos supporting Dreamers. Clips now show her closeness to Trump and his backers.

The conclusion TIME makes (the one thing I don’t like about the magazine is how its writers try to do that for the reader rather than rely on the reader’s own intelligence) is that it is very hard for moderate Republicans to win nominations in a party that has been taken over by Trump and his supporters.

So, what should GOP moderates do?

My first hope is that they stick to their principles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be doing them any good as they are either defeated by hard-right candidates in the primary and, possibly, by Democrats in the fall.

And maybe that just simply needs to be what happens. A moderate Republican losing now -- while not compromising on their centrist leanings -- could be a winner two or four years down the road after voters continue to see the mess I think is being created by those so rigidly (or timidly) following Trump.

The simple fact is that Trump and his “acolytes,” to borrow from TIME, have hijacked the Republican Party. I don’t believe they truly represent the majority of Republicans. I think most people, of all political stripes, are tired of division -- all kinds of division -- and wish we could truly cross those gaps and fill them in behind us. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I try to think the best of people.

So, again, what to do?

I’d love to suggest kicking Trump and his like out of the party, but seeing as the party’s leadership doesn’t appear to have the will to oppose him, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

Instead, moderate Republicans could leave the party. I’m not suggesting they become Democrats. In fact, I don’t want Republicans to leave their principles behind, especially if those principles include truly working with Democrats and others to come up with non-partisan solutions to all kinds of problems.

Existing third parties (Green, Libertarian, even the recently formed American here in South Carolina) don’t seem to have the clout to make joining them feasible.

What we might need is a new GOP -- I’ll let someone else come up with the name -- where a large swath of Republicans, including some big names, form a new party that reestablishes its core principles with firm action in reaching across the aisle to work with like-minded Democrats.

We can have our differences -- that’s what makes America great -- as long as we promise to work together, compromise (in the good sense of the word) and treat each other with respect rather than constantly battling one another on social media as if we were on a virtual school playground.

I’ve voted for Republicans when I truly thought they were the better candidates. It’d be great to once again have great candidates from which to choose.

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