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Redefining “Moderate” in the Era of Trump and Cruz

Redefining Moderate in the Era of Trump and Cruz

In the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary we were told over and over that while Iowa Republicans are typically more conservative and evangelical, New Hampshire Republicans tend to be more moderate and levelheaded.

Headline after headline celebrated New Hampshire’s supposed “moderate” tendencies. The New York Times cited the Granite State’s “influential bloc of moderate Republicans.” Even Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator from Texas and amateur Grandpa Munster impersonator, got in on the fun, predicting New Hampshire would see a “moderate-a-palooza.”

In its analysis of exit polls, NBC News declared it was “moderate views” that helped Ohio Governor John Kasich “nab second” place in New Hampshire with just shy of 16 percent of the vote even though Donald Trump won voters who described themselves as moderate.

In an effort to cast the GOP as a party at war with itself – conservatives battling moderates for the nomination – most in the media seem to have conflated ideology with disposition. They have confused “moderate” with “establishment.”

The truth is, not one of the Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential race is a moderate.

For decades, being a moderate Republican meant you had a difference of opinion with your party, typically on social issues but occasionally on environmental and economic issues as well.

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld was a pro-choice, moderate Republican who supported medical marijuana decades before many Democrats came around on the issue.

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman was a pro-choice, moderate Republican who trusted science when it came to climate change.

Former Maine Senator Olympia Snowe was a pro-choice, moderate Republican who supported marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I could continue this list of prominent, moderate Republicans, but you get the point: if you are a well-known moderate in the Party of Lincoln, it likely means you no longer hold elected office.

Donald Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson hold the same conservative positions on virtually every issue that one could reasonably expect a moderate Republican to have a difference of opinion.

They are all anti-choice.

They all deny the scientific consensus on climate change.

They all oppose marriage equality and important, basic, legal protections for LGBT Americans.

They all oppose comprehensive immigration reform – even those who once supported the idea.

Only in 2016, when the conversation on the right has been largely dominated by loudmouthed (Trump and Cruz) and borderline crazy (Trump, Cruz, and Carson) candidates, has the word “moderate” come to mean a difference of style rather than one of substance.

More and more, the right-wing radicals found in the Tea Party and online in YouTube comment threads have come to define the agenda of the entire Republican Party. And while this extreme element often loses primary elections to establishment candidates, they have won the fight over ideas. Even establishment candidates now parrot the views of this fringe in an effort to curry their favor.

The king of one-liners, Henny Youngman, when asked, “How is your wife?” once quipped, “Compared to what?” That sentiment is equally effective in answering the question, “Are any of the Republican candidates moderate?”

When Trump said he wanted to build a giant wall on our southern border funded by the Mexican government, the other candidates were not moderate to say they want a wall too, but will forgo the moat and crocodiles.

When Cruz wanted to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood, it did not make one of the other candidates a moderate to brag about how they defunded Planned Parenthood but would not shut down the government over the issue.

When Trump demanded the suspension of all Muslims entering the United States, it did not make one of the other candidates a moderate to oppose such a ban while suggesting that accepting Muslim refugees gives us an opportunity to assimilate them to our “Jewish and Christian values.”

When all of the candidates running for the Republican nomination oppose marriage equality, it does not make any of them moderate just because they say they would have no problem attending a gay couple’s wedding.

Rubio, Bush, and Kasich are not as loud, insulting, belittling, or bellicose as their leading rivals, but that does not make them moderate.

It just makes them unsuccessful in the modern Republican Party.

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