A Republican Litmus Test?
What is a Republican? Depending on the outcome of Florida’s upcoming Senate race, that might become a pretty simple question to answer. Searching for ideological purity, some conservatives, it seems, cannot countenance associating with anyone who favored Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill.
Charlie Crist, the less-than-centrist Republican governor of Florida, announced today that he is running for the state’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, and he’s already getting blasted by his more conservative primary opponent, Marco Rubio, the former state House speaker. Crist, of course, was one of the loudest Republican exponents of the stimulus bill earlier this year, and Rubio is letting him have it with a new ad on how the governor palled around with the free-spending Obama.
Analysts are billing the looming primary battle, in a critical swing state, as a referendum on the future of the party. For their own sake, Republicans had better hope the primary doesn’t achieve that level of significance. Or, if it does, that Crist wins.
Litmus tests are clumsy tools, cramming people into too-neat categories when politics is so often about working in the gray areas. But this is a particularly bad litmus test for Republicans to choose. Not only are conservatives wrong on the bill, which, though flawed, was not fundamentally unwise given the economic crisis and the broad, sensible outlines of the policy. They're on the wrong side of public opinion -- only a rightist rump opposed a compromise stimulus bill, according to opinion polls. And they're setting the bar so far to the wingnutty right that any centrist of good faith could hardly qualify for membership in the party. The resulting loss of potential front-men such as Crist would be a disaster for the GOP. No wonder Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, quickly endorsed Crist today.
Besides, the stimulus is yesterday’s news. Good to rile some angry conservatives -- but an issue that has already been decided. Going forward, the bigger battle, as Bill Kristol argues today, is over Obama’s budget -- a subject far better suited to a wide-ranging and inclusive debate over the nation’s fiscal future.
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