Moderate Republicans Lost In GOP's Official Platform

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Two moderate Republicans — former congressmen Mike Castle of Delaware and Tom Davis of Virginia — wonder whether that wing of their party can survive. In years past the party had a component referred to as "Rockefeller Republicans" — named after former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. The group tended to work well with middle of the road Democrats.


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All those in favor indicate by saying aye.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All those opposed, no.

SIEGEL: The party's platform was adopted here yesterday and it is a very conservative document. For example, on abortion it is absolute. The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed, it says. That leaves no room for the exceptions to pregnancies caused by rape or incest, exceptions that Mitt Romney supports.

It's hard to recall that a few decades ago, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York State, championed legalized abortion, not to mention liberalized divorce, and he led a significant block within the GOP. At the 1964 Republican convention, the one that nominated conservative Barry Goldwater, the party saw a glimpse of its future when Goldwaterites hooted down Rockefeller, who opposed them on any number of issues.


NELSON ROCKEFELLER: These extremists feed on fear, hate and terror. They encourage disunity.


SIEGEL: GOP moderates have long been in the minority. They are typically liberal on social issues and on the economy pro-business, fiscally conservative, but not instinctively opposed to federal regulation. Now they are a vanishing breed. At recent conventions, moderates have gathered under the banner of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that says it promotes pragmatic common sense solutions to the challenges our country faces.

Its president is former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis.

TOM DAVIS: You know, we consider ourselves the governance wing of the party. We have members from all stripes in the party, but we recognize, A, politics is a game of addition, not subtraction; and B, you got to ask yourself, would you rather be a church welcoming converts or a church that's chasing out heretics? And we think the party needs to grow and, you know, accommodate a variety of views, but we're basically a center-right party.

SIEGEL: Tom Davis says Republicans like him are casualties of a broad trend of ideological sorting.

DAVIS: Basically, the most liberal Republican in the Senate now, Olympia Snow, is more conservative than the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, Ben Nelson, and they're both retiring. So it's just moving out, and that's the way it's been. There are two Democrats in the House who are more conservative than several Republicans, Ross of Arkansas and the member from Oklahoma.

SIEGEL: Boren of Oklahoma.

DAVIS: Boren. And so they're both leaving. So, basically, I think, what you're finding is the parties are just moving right and left.

SIEGEL: Do you see any possible change to that?

DAVIS: No, I think it's going to get more accelerated over the short term.

SIEGEL: Still more ideologically divided?

DAVIS: And I'll explain to you why. First of all, these congressional districts today are drawn to favor one party. About 80 percent of the districts are pre-drawn to elect one party or the other, which means their race is the primary election. That means members are not rewarded for compromise. They're punished in their primaries for compromising. Reinforcing that are the fact that your media models today tend to be polarizing models, whether its Fox and MSNBC, talk radio. These sites basically thrive on polarization.

And then the third is, and probably the most important now, is the way campaigns are financed. McCain-Feingold, I think, was a terrible mistake because all it did is it starved political parties for money, which in a vacuum sounds pretty good until we remember that money didn't disappear from the political system. Instead of going to the parties, which have been the centering force for 200 years, it went out to the extremes.

SIEGEL: Tom Davis says what unites Republicans of all stripes is a commitment to balanced budgets and economic policy. Mike Castle says the same thing. He was the popular Republican governor of Delaware and then the state's lone congressman. He says he was disturbed by Missouri Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin's recent comments about abortion and rape.

MIKE CASTLE: It just bothers me that Republican Party's platform sort of endorses his concepts of, you know, no abortions whatsoever, even in case of rape and incest. So there are things that concern me. On the other hand, the basics of dealing with the economy, of dealing with providing economic opportunity for people in our country, of straightening out what is frankly an economic mess, as far as Washington, D.C. is concerned, is something which I think Republicans can do better.

SIEGEL: Two years ago, Mike Castle was the odds-on favorite to win the U.S. Senate seat from Delaware that Vice President Joe Biden vacated. Instead, a Tea Party candidate beat him in the primary and then proved hapless in November. A few years ago, the then pro-choice, pro-gun control Mitt Romney would have been considered politically close to Mike Castle. So what does the Delaware Republican make of Romney's steady move to the right?

CASTLE: I understand that he's had to take positions that are different than he might have as governor of Massachusetts just to meet the tenets that is the Republican Party today, but I think those are minor parts of governing the country. I think the major parts are dealing with the economic issues, are dealing with the Congress of the United States, dealing with foreign countries. I think he could do very, very well in all of those categories.

SIEGEL: At this convention I've spoken with Tea Party Republicans who felt that 2010 was their year. I've spoken with Ron Paul, so-called liberty Republicans who feel this is their year. Is it their party? Is your kind of Republicanism something that peaked in the 1960s?

CASTLE: Well, it's a strange conglomeration of people now. You still have those of us who are a little moderate. You have the very conservative people. You have those who are really ideologically conservative in the Tea Party. And then you have certain levels of support for Ron Paul and certain other individuals in the party. But I see a certain coming together since Mitt Romney got the nomination. I think with Republicans, his vice presidential choice, Paul Ryan, was helpful.

I think their mission now is going to be to go out and to win over independents and Democrats, which is never going to be easy, but I do feel they have a reasonable chance of doing this.

SIEGEL: Former Delaware Republican Congressman Mike Castle. Moderates like him and Tom Davis of Virginia say what also unites them with their fellow Republicans is a strong desire to deny President Obama a second term.

BLOCK: That's our co-host, Robert Siegel, reporting this week from the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

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