Is America’s center rising again? It certainly seems that way.
After months of looking as if it was being prepared for embalming by a political mortician, several things have happened. American voters, the Republican establishment and Wall Street got a harrowing glimpse of how the Republican far right was ready to willingly shove the United States over political and fiscal cliffs in the government shutdown and debt default crisis. So now America’s mainstream has started to make known its ire and willingness to inflict consequences on ideologists. Meanwhile, a certain New Jersey governor who refuses to march lockstep with the tea party and its enablers made a shift that confirms the center’s influence.
Whether it’s called the “might middle” (by centrists, moderates and independents) or the “mushy middle” (by Republican conservatives and by Democratic liberals who now call themselves “progressives,” which is like “used cars” being called “pre-owned cars”), a new NBC News/Esquire poll found 51 percent of Americans in the middle. NBC News notes it’s a 21st century work in progress: “Yes, the center is mostly white (78 percent) but so is most of the American voting public (72 percent) — and the center is changing. Already it contains a fifth of African-American voters, one in two Latino voters and half the women in America. The center is roomy, or in other words, welcoming.”
Far-right conservatives seem to be actively working to alienate these groups. More NBC: “Among the middle groups, 64 percent are in favor of same-sex marriage and 67 percent want to see a federal minimum wage hike. Sixty-three percent believe women in their first trimester should have the right to an abortion and 52 percent believe marijuana should be legalized. Of those responding, 54 percent of the middle say the government needs to maintain public assistance programs.” In other words, the opposite of what tea partiers advocate.
Poll after poll shows Republicans reaping political sewage from the shutdown. A CNN/ORC International poll found that more than half of Americans now feel Republican control of the House is bad. A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds that only 20 percent think Republicans are interested in doing what’s best for the country. While experts such as The National Journal’s Charlie Cook still say Democrats retaking the House in 2014 is “a long shot,” the unimaginable is now imaginable.
The tea party’s poster boy is shutdown fiasco architect Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the embodiment of Rush Limbaugh’s ideological dreams, a kind of Sarah Palin 2.0, a first-termer threatening to politically take out fellow Republican senators who don’t agree with him. Humorist Andy Borowitz’s tweet underscores how Cruz and the tea party are outside America’s mainstream: “BREAKING: Bipartisan Effort in Senate to Avoid Making Eye Contact with Ted Cruz.”
Meanwhile, an open Republican civil war has begun as traditional conservatives vow to remain silent no more. As tea partiers have announced that they’ll work to defeat GOPers who voted to lift the shutdown, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican donors unhappy with tea partiers are withholding checks — and some Wall Street-linked groups will reportedly work to defeat tea partiers.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, who is heading to a landslide re-election, outraged social conservatives by dropping the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage. It was an acknowledgement of the reality where the country is on the issue — and Christie does reality-based politics.
Christie is loathed by tea partiers, many Internet conservatives and the conservative talkers, but is he a GOP nominee in waiting? The Week’s Marc Ambinder calls Christie “the leading edge of politics, the most broadly acceptable captain of a change movement that the Republican Party can embrace. That makes him the de facto leader of red-state America, even if it’s not willing to accept him just yet.”
The old saying “all good things come to those who wait” may not be accurate. All signs now point to America’s political center not waiting to give a thumbs down on tea party Republicanism. The question is whether the Republican Party can halt the tea partiers’ crusade to weed out non-tea partiers and take the party over before America’s voters and The Might Middle give a thumbs down to the GOP.
Joe Gandelman is editor-in-chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for moderates.