At Long Last: the GOP Coalition Splinters

Jeff Alworth

Mahonia Hall became the official residence of the Governor of Oregon in 1988.  No Republican has ever resided there.  At the start of 2006, it looked like 2007 might finally break the streak: with an incumbent Dem sinking in the polls, a progressive independent to siphon off votes, and a moderate Republican candidate, this should have been the best opportunity since Al Mobley helped Barbara Roberts beat Dave Frohnmayer.  But then came Mary Starrett.

In the legislature, the battle to depose the Speaker of the House is Job One for Democrats, who have a very strong candidate in Rob Brading and a slightly Dem-leaning district.  Karen Minnis has the power of incumbency, the backing of state Republicans, and a massive war chest.  And now she has former Republican Brad Fudge running as a Libertarian in the race, too.  At the start of the year, Oregon Republicans were planning to buck the national trend, capitalize on the reddening of the state, and seize back some power from Dems.  So what the hell is wrong with them?

What we're witnessing on the state level echoes the pattern of the national GOP: a once powerful, but quite disparate coalition, is now in the first stages of disintegration.

The Republican coalition is built around several interest groups that have little in common: the corporate/tax-cutting lobby, religious conservatives, libertarians, and on the national level, foreign policy radicals (neocons) and isolationists.  While Republicans were sailing to victory after victory, these groups had little reason to complain.  Religious conservatives didn't mind the adventure in Iraq so long as abortion and "intelligent design" policies were being pushed along.  Stogie-chomping corporate leaders may have had little interest in monuments to the Ten Commandments, but they were happy to vote with their religious comrades so long as the massive tax cuts kept coming. 

This patchwork coalition was held together with rhetorical baling wire--red meat to keep voters coming to the polls while Republicans did business.  But as happened with the Democrats in the 60s and 70s, some of those coalition partners weren't happy just getting crumbs.  They wanted a more and more outsized share of the Republican pie. 

Religious conservatives have pushed their agenda far past voters' comfort zone on stem cell research, end-of-life policy, and abortion.  The K Street Project is imploding in a riveting display of corruption, graft, and greed.  As state and federal infrastructure begins to fail (Oregon schools, FEMA, health care, etc.), it is beginning to dawn on voters that Grover Norquist really did want to drown government in a bathtub--witness the Oregon TABOR initiative that is so radical that even Ron Saxton is distancing himself from it.  And poor libertarians--they're looking at the secretly-jailing, renditioning, torturing, and spying White House and wondering whose party this is.

The great irony is that it's the Dems, following the Lieberman ouster, who are being targeted as the party of dissension.  Republicans, so used to nipping at their own kool-aid that they've started to believe themselves, somehow think Americans are pro-war.  In issue after issue, it appears that the Dems are finding party consensus while the dazed Republicans wonder why they're fighting each other. 

Mary Starrett, whom I wish all the best in her gubernatorial bid, sounds a little bit like a cranky old liberal I recall dimly from 2000.  Like that erstwhile consumer advocate, this erstwhile TV personality is in no mood for compromise.  Her party has abandoned her, and she's out to make conservatism pure once again

The supposition is that the Republicans are in any way different from the Democrats. There is no difference between the parties at this point. There is absolutely no difference.  People say, "You're going to ruin it for Ron Saxton," and I say Ron Saxton is going to ruin it for Ron Saxton....  I don't know how I could trust him. I don't trust somebody who does a presto change-o from one election to another.

More power to you, Mary.  Funny thing about purity, though--it's a crappy way to build a coalition.  May your crusade for conservative purity sabotage the dreaded Saxton and allow the Dems to renew their lease at Mahonia Hall.  Again.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Nice post. But Ben's no progressive independent. He's a conservative independent, and his record shows it. Similarly, Saxton's not all that moderate. But just an inkling of moderation on both of these people's records can shatter the base. Go, Mary, Go!

  • (Show?)

    Fair enough, but I think the current perception is that he's progressive, and the conventional wisdom--for whatever THAT'S worth--says he'll steal more of Ted's votes than Ron's.

    (There were other controversial comments/claims in the post, and I expect someone will protest to the characterization of Oregon as "reddening." Call this pre-emptive awareness.)

  • (Show?)

    Nicely written Jeff! If the voter disatisfaction with Republicans at the national level reverberates to the Oregon Governor's race we'll retain our very principled Governor Kulongoski in office, right where he should be. If David Broder, columnist for the Washington Post is correct, the broad swarth of centerist voters looking for a voice of reason will support Kulongoski, who certainly fits that description. Starrett calls Saxton on his flip-flops prcisely because she knows what he's said before and what he's saying now and she's having none of it. If elected, which Saxton will show up for duty? Minnus bought the national Republican agenda, hook-line-and-sinker and Oregonians have done nothing but suffer under her(leadership?) in the State Legislature.

    Come on, how much more can Oregonians take? Vote for Governor Ted Kulongoski and support Rob Brading..they both realy need you.

  • verasoie (unverified)

    This article pretty much seals it for me. The death knell for the Right would be instant run-off voting, because it would promote their splintering up into their different factions, and the progressive and Democrats agenda would govern.

  • (Show?)

    when Tito died, Yugoslavia exploded into violent, bloody pieces. "Yugoslavia" turned out to be a myth, a bludgel Tito had used to hold mutually hating territories together as his own power base.

    the GOP has been forced into Yugoslavianism for years, with the Thought of the Day being broadcast from Party Central. we're now seeing the Balkanization of the Right, and it's going to get very ugly. as they fall from power, they will increasingly turn on each other. already Bush is being attacked (albeit quietly as campaign after campaign exorcises his presence from their websites, appearances, etc) and soon "liberal" Rs will be set up by the neocons -- as we see Starrett attacking Sexton.

    suddenly the unending diversity of the Democratic Party appears as a healthy thing -- as i've written about in here many times. it makes campaign slogans and sound bites a bit difficult, but out of the deomcratic struggle with the Democratic Party comes a true and honest version of what this country is. i hope more Dems decide to stop attacking themselves for not being more unified and realize that if we can respect one another -- as Lieberman refuses to do -- we may not have the big happy face but we'll have victories that lead to a multiplicity of happy faces.

  • spicey (unverified)
    <h2>nice post, TA. Agreed.</h2>

connect with blueoregon