Ryanism and the angst of moderate Republicans

Ryanism has taken over the Republican party, and party moderates are everything from fretful to aghast.

President Ronald Reagan is held up as a party hero, but as biographer Lou Cannon notes, “He didn’t personally think compromise was bad,” and he crafted much legislation with Democrats.

Maine’s center-right U.S. senators are now vocal about how the party’s far-right, uncompromising stance is something new and damaging.

While Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin was pilloried for opposing women’s ability to choose an abortion if they become pregnant from rape and saying that women who were “legitimately raped” usually can’t get pregnant, these ideas are embedded in Republican proposals.

About Akin and her party’s shifts, Sen. Olympia Snowe laments, “I have seen controversies such as this one alienate a large segment of the female population and perpetuate the gender gap among voters that has historically plagued our party. This is not where I hoped my party would be in 2012.”

Bothering the pro-choice Snowe is a Republican party platform flatly against women’s ability to choose abortion, no matter the circumstance. Defining life as starting before implantation, its “personhood” plank would outlaw in-vitro fertilization, all abortions and several common forms of birth control.

Snowe is not alone. What’s in the Republican platform matters, as a Pew poll found that more people are interested in what the platform expresses than what nominee Mitt Romney says in his convention speech. Besides the “personhood” provision, the platform endorses vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan’s approach to Medicare, which would change it from a guaranteed program to vouchers. Current seniors would lose the enhanced prescription drug and preventive care benefits received under Obamacare.

Moreover, Ryan and the entire House Republican caucus supported a personhood bill and another on “forcible rape.”

Says Senator Susan Collins: “It seems like we’ve been thrown back decades into debates most everyday people think were settled years ago. This doesn’t mean we’re disrespectful to people who hold a different point of view, but the platform seems designed to alienate a lot of moderate women. I don’t get it.” Even the Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized year after year was opposed by most Senate Republicans, something Collins calls “tone deaf.”

While Romney was once pro-choice, saying in 1994 that the death of a “close relative” from an illegal abortion made him believe abortion should be “safe and legal,” he has shifted, although his precise position is hard to pin down. Recently Romney endorsed contradictory positions: supporting the “personhood” bill but also rape and incest exceptions.

In explaining his endorsement of President Barack Obama for re-election, former Republican Governor of Florida Charlie Crist, now an independent, pointed to extremism, as “an element of [the Republican] party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.”

Another former governor, New York’s George Pataki, a center-right Republican, worries, “What I fear is that that very positive desire to limit the power and the role of the federal government could turn into a philosophy that is antigovernment. Sometimes, those who I fear have that antigovernment view, as opposed to the limited-government view, rise to the center of the nominating process. I think that is not a good thing for the Republican Party.”

Even Dan Quayle, viewed as a conservative Republican when selected by George H.W. Bush as his running mate, says, “The Republican Party needs to re-establish its philosophy of the big tent with principles. The philosophy you hear from time to time, which is unfortunate, is one of exclusion rather than inclusion.”

Romney and Ryan mislead about Obamacare’s effect on Medicare — it actually increases benefits to recipients and sustains its fiscal health — and create worry among some Republicans about their party’s desire to turn Medicare into vouchers worth less and less each year.

Meanwhile, who is happy? Look no further than Rep. Michelle Bachmann who told a Tea Party group to “take a victory lap” to celebrate the Republican party platform and promised, “The world will look very different under Paul Ryan.”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.