When I say that some “reform Republicans” seem to have disdain for the entire conservative project, this is an example of what I mean. The concerns of “[c]onservatives who object to moderate Republican officeholders” are not too subtly compared to a 1960s smear campaign against moderate Republican Sen. Thomas Kuchel. Kuchel voted with his party’s conservatives on some issues (he was against censuring Joe McCarthy and for the Vietnam War) and with liberals on others, like Medicare. He supported civil rights legislation, but so did some Republicans to his right. Kuchel lost a primary to a more conservative Republican in 1968 and liberal Democrat Alan Cranston ended up holding the seat for four terms.
The moral of the story? Writes our blogger, Geoffrey Kabaservice: “Given that California has not elected a Republican senator since 1988, however, it may be time to examine Kuchel’s lessons of how to win in the nation’s largest state rather than continuing to emphasize the dictum of ‘no enemies on the right.'”
Where to begin? The Kuchel-Rafferty primary came six years after William F. Buckley Jr. denounced the John Birch Society. It came two years after Ronald Reagan — who Kabaservice acknowledges did not support the anti-Kuchel smears — beat a moderate Republican in a primary and distanced himself from the Birchers, winning the governorship in the process. It was followed by the Reagan re-election, S.I. Hayakawa, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Republicans carrying California in every presidential election for the next twenty years.
Conservatives haven’t done very well in statewide elections in California since the mid-1990s. Of course, neither have moderate Republicans: Ed Zschau, John Seymour, and Tom Campbell all lost Senate races. One moderate, Michael Huffington, and one conservative, Bruce Herschensohn, came close to winning Senate seats there in the ’90s. The latter lost in part due to allegations he frequented a strip club. Arnold Schwarzenegger arguably won his last election in California by following Kuchel’s lessons, but future generations of California taxpayers may wish their ancestors had voted for Tom McClintock instead.