FROM ALMOST THE MOMENT he was appointed to the United States Senate, Georgia Democrat Zell Miller began to warn his party from the floor and via op-ed that it was allowing its ideology to cripple its appeal. Miller warned Terry McAuliffe and he warned Hillary Clinton. Eventually wrote a book that detailed how the Democrats' intolerance of anything but left-wing orthodoxy had driven it into the electoral ditch.
A National Party No More remains required reading--but now for Republicans. For the first time in decades, the GOP has the margins in both House and Senate to cooperate with a Republican president in the defining of the country's course for the next century.
So what could go wrong? Fast forward four years. The Democrats have convened in late summer in Cleveland to nominate former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Senator Barack Obama. It is the third night of the convention, and the Democrats have chosen as their keynote speaker . . . Arlen Specter. Or Olympia Snowe. Or Chuck Hagel. Or some other GOP big who has grown disgusted with his or her inability to have any influence on Republican deliberations. So they have bolted, bringing a message that their party breached its pledge to govern with the interests of the entire country in mind.
The prevention of just this sort of scenario is at the core of the debate over Senator Arlen Specter's rise to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A national party would welcome the visibility of a member whose views are not always--or even often--in step with the majority's ideology. A national party intent on a generation of authority would avoid the mistake Democrats made when they drove every pro-life official from its leadership ranks.
Parties do have to agree on some non-negotiables. For Republicans that list includes a commitment to battle obstructionism in the judicial confirmation process, but it ought not to include a loyalty oath on every nominee. I and the vast majority of Republicans are pro-life, but I know there aren't enough pro-life votes in the country to empower a governing coalition.
George W. Bush collected around 59,750,000 votes, about 3.5 million more than did John Kerry.
What percentage of Bush's votes were pro-choice, I wonder? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?
Even if it is only 10 percent, those 5.7 million votes provided Bush with his margin of popular-vote victory. Should the first action of the new Senate be the announcement that pro-choice Republicans will not be trusted with power?
Four years ago, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Missouri were swing states. Now they are solidly red.
This year the battle was tightest in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Securing majorities in those states will give the GOP a huge advantage in the years ahead. But building majorities means tolerance for minority views on controversial issues--provided those minority views are committed to fair debate and closure.
There is another great role for minority voices within a national party--as a check on excess. The voices of any party's counter-majoritarian caucus are an alarm that sounds whenever ideological excess rears up. Had the late Bob Casey, pro-life Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, not been humbled by Democratic pro-choice absolutists, but instead been allowed to leave a legacy of respected center-left voices among the Democrats, perhaps wiser heads would have prevented the rise of Michael Moore--a rise that actually landed him in the presidential box at the Democratic convention in Boston. A party without a vigorous minority loses the ability to police itself. And then the nuts rush in.
Finally, conservatives should pause before overthrowing a system that celebrates seniority in the Senate. Where will it stop? Some conservatives are particularly annoyed with Specter, but it isn't as though he's the only moderate Republican who has offended GOP majoritarian beliefs in the past.
Beginning a new era with a purge is simply the worst possible politics, a self-inflicted wound, and one the consequences of which could be far reaching and awful.
Prudence. Prudence. Prudence.
Jeffords. Jeffords. Jeffords.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends Upon It. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.