by Rod D. Martin
September 16, 2002

It turns out that, thanks to an obscure Missouri law, the GOP may regain the Senate as early as November, at least for the rest of the year.  And they may lose it again almost immediately, courtesy of The Big Tent.

First the good news.  Capitol Hill is abuzz with talk that a win by Republican Jim Talent in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race could shift control of the chamber, at least for the remainder of the year.  Talent is running against Sen. Jean Carnahan, widow of Mel Carnahan, the corpse whom Missouri voters elected over then-Senator John Ashcroft two years ago.  Mrs. Carnahan was appointed to fill the vacancy.

By Missouri law, Mrs. Carnahan must win the seat in her own right this fall.  But it now appears that, if she loses, Missouri law forces her out of the seat immediately:  Talent would become Missouri’s junior senator this November, not in January.  That would shift the Senate back to Republican control, at least for the following two months:  50 Republicans (plus Dick Cheney to break ties), 49 Democrats, and one “independent,” Vermont’s Jim Jeffords, the senator whose one-man coup in 2001 handed the chamber to Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy in the first place.

The shift could prove earth-shattering.  From Bush’s scores of bottled-up pro-life judicial nominees to his tax cuts to Iraq, a flood of initiatives would burst through the Democrat dam.

They would, that is, if they could.  That they may not is a testament to the disloyalty of the Republican left, and the suicidal shortsightedness of the national party leaders who support and even promote them.

The time bomb in this case is an extortionist named Lincoln Chafee.  Termed by the media a “centrist” due to his voting record, almost identical to that other famous centrist Diane Feinstein’s, the Rhode Island Senator is a leftist of the sort only New England can produce.  And just days after Jeffords’ defection, Chafee told Fox News and CNN that he would continue to work to move the GOP to the left, but assuming he didn’t get his way, if they ever got back their one-seat majority, he’d switch parties to give control right back to the Democrats.

Would Chafee follow through?  Probably, if the Democrats win enough races in November to keep control in January.  In that scenario, a Chafee defection would thwart Republicans’ “one big chance,” and would probably reward the turncoat richly as well.

The irony, of course, is that the Republican leadership gave Jeffords and Chafee this power.

How did they do it?  By their insistence on “running to the middle” as a general election strategy.  In 2000 alone, Republicans lost two key Senate races – in Washington and Nevada – by just a few hundred conservative votes lost to third parties.  Had the party won that handful of votes, or those of the countless others who just stayed home, a 52-48 Senate would have been impervious to Jeffords’ and Chafee’s treachery.

Bush lost New Mexico – and nearly lost both Florida and the presidency – for the same reason; and indeed recent history is littered with such, from the recent loss of the Colorado state senate to both George H. W. Bush’s and Bob Dole’s disastrous runs against Bill Clinton, each of which was originally thought a cake walk.

Running to the middle – whether by actually moving left or by sticking to mushy, vague platitudes – fails because it ignores simple math.  In elections where less than half (and often less than a third) of the people vote, simply turning out all your own people will win time and again.  What’s more, the “middle” is largely irrelevant.  Most people who vote are, by definition, interested, and therefore have an opinion; therefore, running to the undecided middle means trying to convince people who probably won’t vote, while turning off the people who would elect you, if you gave them a reason to do so.

Who are the Republicans’ people?  Certainly not the loony leftists who populate Chafee’s Providence.  They are the social and economic conservatives who happen to make up most of America.  They long for a Reagan, yea a whole party of Reagans, leaders who will lead, not just mark time.  And though their fates may be wedded to the Republican Party, their hearts and votes are not.

Reagan offered a compelling, winning vision of a different, better America.  For too many Republican “leaders,” this is almost inconceivable.  Until that changes, people like Lincoln Chafee will continue to hold Republicans hostage; and the left, whether in or out of power, will continue to dominate America.


Editor’s Note: This op-ed from Rod D. Martin was originally posted at Insight Magazine.