This is not your father’s Republican Party | NevadaAppeal.com

This is not your father’s Republican Party

Kirk Caraway
Nevada Appeal Internet Editor

It’s the day after the election, and I have a massive hangover. It’s not because of alcohol, but an overindulgence in politics, which it seems I have been swimming in forever.

Like surveying the damage after a wild party, I’m looking at the totals nationwide to get a grasp on what happened. Six incumbent Republican senators were sent packing. This is absolutely astonishing in an age where incumbency is an almost guarantee for reelection. Sen. George Allen was preparing to run for president before he was smacked down in Virginia. Rick Santorum was also testing the presidential waters before it became clear that the voters in Pennsylvania were intent on giving him the boot.

And then you have Missouri and Montana. How do Republicans lose in those states?

This certainly isn’t my father’s Republican Party. He told me as much a few weeks ago when I was visiting him in Kansas. He was preparing to vote for Kathleen Sebelius, who is probably the only Democratic candidate for governor he has ever cast a ballot for. It’s not that father left the Republican Party. It left him, and millions like him.

It’s hard sometimes to think of my home state as a bellwether for the nation, but that’s what it looks like now. Kansas saw the takeover of the Republican Party by extremist elements of the religious right, who were mobilized by the anti-abortion protests in the early ’90s. As these forces took control of the party, the traditional small-government conservatives were shoved aside.

The new Republican Party leaders made opposition to abortion and gay marriage the top issues for the state. Their Attorney General went on a crusade to prosecute teenagers for having sex. They sent a senator to Washington, Sam Brownback, who believes theocracy is something we should strive for.

This environment gave rise to extremists like Rev. Fred Phelps, whose followers flout signs proclaiming “God hates fags,” and picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Kansas Republicans used the same kind of red meat politics that propelled George W. Bush to the White House. But after a while, people get tired of red meat. As Republicans tried to out-extreme each other, they pushed the party away from the middle, where most of the voters are. Their scare tactics wore thin from overuse. People stopped believing the hype about how gay abortionists would move next door and steal their children. You can fool some of the people some of the time. …

And that’s what led to conservative Kansas being led by a Democratic governor. Sebelius’ election four years ago was the ripple that preceded the wave we saw this week that swept Republicans out of office all across the country.

There are a number of people out there who want to believe this election was all about Iraq. It wasn’t. Sure, it had an impact, but not because voters think the Democrats have a better plan.

Iraq was just one of the controversies – along with Hurricane Katrina, Terri Schiavo, privatizing Social Security, the ballooning deficit, etc. – that pulled back the curtain to show there was no Wizard of Oz. Voters clicked their heels three times and came back to the reality that we aren’t a left wing or right wing country, but a country of moderates.

At the same time the Republicans were coming apart, the Democrats were putting their party back together after a dozen years in the wilderness. Meet the new Democrats. They don’t have much in common with the Kennedy wing of the party. They are people like Jon Tester, a pro-gun rancher from Montana; and Bob Casey, a pro-life moderate from Pennsylvania; and James Webb, former Republican Secretary of the Navy. They are people who can speak to the middle, something neither party has done for far too long.

In the end, this wasn’t a victory for Democrats, but for the independents and the moderates from each party who were pushed aside by the extremists pandering to their respective bases. The Democratic leaders better realize this, or in two years they will be the ones looking for new jobs.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of nevadapolitics.com, and also writes a blog on national issues at kirkcaraway.com.