The Spectacle Blog

Of Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats

By on 1.7.10 | 10:59AM

The general point that Dick Morris is making in this column -- that congressional districts once represented by liberal Republicans now tend to be represented by liberal Democrats and the districts once represented by conservative Democrats now tend to be held by conservative Republicans -- is sound. But this bit of history about liberal Republican senators isn't quite right:

When liberal Republicans failed to rally to Bill Clinton's 1993-1994 agenda - including his failed healthcare proposal - they laid the basis for their total demise in subsequent years. Sens. Jeffords, Chaffee, D'Amato, Packwood, Hatfield and Specter (as a Republican) are gone. Sens. Snowe and Collins are all that remain of the once-dominant Rockefeller wing of the GOP. They have been replaced by real Democrats.

All of those Republicans are indeed gone, but the idea that they paid a steep political price for opposing the 1993-94 Clinton agenda (to the extent that they opposed it) is wrong. Jim Jeffords -- who actually supported the Clinton health care plan but opposed many other administration initiatives -- was reelected in 1994. John Chafee was reelected in 1994 and replaced by his even more liberal Republican son Lincoln in 2000. Arlen Specter was (fairly easily) reelected in 1998. Mark Hatfield opted to retire after five terms in 1996 but was replaced by a somewhat more conservative Republican, Gordon Smith. Bob Packwood's departure was due to his sexual harrassment scandal, not his voting record.

The only senator on that list to lose a reelection bid during Clinton's presidency is Alfonse D'Amato of New York, who went down in 1998. But D'Amato was the least liberal member of that group. In fact, he ran in all of his elections with Conservative and Right-to-Life Party support and set himself on a path to win his Senate seat in 1980 by beating liberal Republican Jacob Javits in the primary.

Morris is on more solid ground when he points out that supposedly "center-right" Democrats will pay a political price for supporting the Obama administration, like their predecessors did during the Clinton administration. In 2006 and 2008, national Democrats recruited candidates in purple and red districts who ran on fairly conservative platforms. But few of them have compiled recognizably conservative voting records.

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