Purges Are Destructive Things

Many a time, I have complained about Tea Party efforts to get rid of Republican representatives and senators who are subjectively deemed to be disloyal to the right-of-center cause, even when those efforts end up throwing congressional seats to Democrats. As I have often said, only winners can afford to purge their ranks. Losers cannot. And even in the case of winners, purging ranks based on philosophical and ideological factors is not advisable; doing so will only serve to wreck whatever governing coalition a particular winning side may have been able to put together, a coalition that of mathematical necessity, will have to include people like moderates and independents.

So I guess it is more than a little noteworthy that Markos Moulitsas is now seeking to purge the ranks of Senate Democrats. As one who is right-of-center, I welcome this move; it will mean that that seats Democrats could still hope to keep may not be more easily captured by Republicans. I am fine with this outcome.

I do hope, however, that as the Democratic bloodletting and purging of ranks begins, similar activities cease on the Republican side. Republicans should be working to capture the loyalties of the very moderates and independents that people like Markos Moulitsas want to cut loose from the Democratic coalition, and they won’t do that if perfectly good Republicans are challenged in primaries because of perceived deviations from the “correct” ideological path; deviations that in the grand scheme of things, don’t amount to anything worthy of note. The sooner Republicans learn to live with a big tent, the sooner they can go back to winning elections and actually influencing policy in a measurable and lasting way.

Lots of conservatives hold up Ronald Reagan as a lodestar for how a conservative ought to behave. Well, I lived through the Reagan years, when James Baker was the chief of staff and the treasury secretary, when Howard Baker and Bob Dole were Senate majority leaders, and when George H.W. Bush was the vice president. Ronald Reagan didn’t kick out moderates. He worked with them, and won with them. I have written before that Republicans need to focus on being comfortable in their own skins, rather than trying to be the next Ronald Reagan, but to the extent that Reagan’s memory continues to influence the Republican party, let the party learn from how Reagan incorporated moderates (and Democrats!) as part of the Reagan coalition, and how he dramatically influenced the course and nature of the country as a consequence.