Ron Brownstein describes the dual pressures eroding the last remnants of the GOP's moderate wing, as the party continues its process of self-marginalization:
Some moderate Republicans, including Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, also have confronted arduous primaries from conservative challengers in recent years, and Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest, a leading House centrist, is facing one now. But for most of the remaining GOP moderates, primaries are no longer the principal danger. Instead, because they mostly now represent swing or even Democratic-leaning constituencies, the moderates face a growing danger in their general election campaigns. In 2006, the Republican Party suffered heavy general election losses in the affluent, white-collar suburbs where moderates tend to be located and where they once thrived (especially along the coasts and in the upper Midwest). And "the environment for them in 2008 could be as bad or worse," said independent election analyst Stuart Rothenberg.As Brownstein says, "moderate Republicans have been in decline for so long that decline itself has become part of their tradition." This is not a simple process of evolution: it's the result of decades of deliberate and determined efforts by the conservative movement. As the conservatives see it, there's only room for one queen in the hive, and the Goldwater bee has accordingly gone to work stinging the Rockefeller bee to death.
This difference is rooted in the fact that the Democrats today are much more of a coalition party than the Republicans: Polls show that only about half of Democratic voters consider themselves liberals, while three-fourths or more of Republicans call themselves conservatives. That means to win elections, Democrats depend more than Republicans on the votes of moderates -- which compels them to accept more dissent from party orthodoxy.It's unfortunate that Brownstein resorts here to the old ideological self-identification canard. As we've seen, on the issues, and on basic questions of political philosophy, moderates have much more in common with liberals than they do with conservatives. The difference is that people with liberal views are not necessarily trained to think of themselves as liberals, whereas conservatives have paid close attention to building their "brand." The conservative movement has spent the last 40 or so years working both to get its people to self-identify as conservative, and to recognize the importance of killing off the moderates. In so doing, I think they've created a new kind of political actor. When voters are asked whether they think of themselves as liberal, moderate, or conservative, I suspect those in the last column are defined as much by their unique ways of understanding strategy and tactics, as by any differences over policy.