The GOP Must Seize The Center Or Die

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 

2012 was a disappointing year for Republicans. The failure to win key swing states in the presidential election and surprising losses in the House and Senate have prompted some reflection. Was their embrace of small government, low taxes, and a strong conservative stance on social issues at odds with shifting American demographics? Or did the GOP embrace the right platform, but the wrong candidates?

  • David-Brooks90x90


    David Brooks

    Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times

  • Mickey-Edwards90x90


    Mickey Edwards

    Former US Congressman (R), Oklahoma

  • Laura Ingraham90x90


    Laura Ingraham

    Host, The Laura Ingraham Show

  • ralph-reed90x90


    Ralph Reed

    Chairman, Faith & Freedom Coalition

  • Moderator Image


    John Donvan

    Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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For The Motion

David Brooks

Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times

 Became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September, 2003. He has been a sr. editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.” He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2001) and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (2005), both published by Simon & Schuster.

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For The Motion

Mickey Edwards

Former US Congressman (R), Oklahoma

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, is vice president of the Aspen Institute and the director of its public leadership program. After 16 years in Congress (1977-92) as a member of the house Republican leadership, Edwards spent 16 years teaching at Harvard, Georgetown and Princeton. In addition to serving as the national chairman of the American Conservative Union, he was one of three founding trustees of the Heritage Foundation and chaired task forces for the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution. A weekly columnist for The L.A. Times and The Chicago Tribune, Edwards published his most recent book Reclaiming Conservatism in 2008. He is currently a director of the Constitution Project and an advisor to the US Department of State.

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Laura Ingraham90x90

Against The Motion

Laura Ingraham

Host, The Laura Ingraham Show

Laura Ingraham is the most-listened-to female talk radio host in the United States. The Laura Ingraham Show is ranked in radio’s TOP 5, heard in hundreds of markets coast-to-coast, and is the third-most-streamed show in the country. Ingraham is the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers including Of Thee I Zing, The Obama Diaries, Power to the People and Shut Up & Sing. She is a one of the most recognizable political and cultural commentators in print and on television, as one of the primary contributors on the FOX News Channel and the permanent substitute host on The O’Reilly Factor. In addition, she is a frequent guest on TODAY and other shows such as ABC’s This Week. Ingraham is a former white collar defense attorney and Supreme Court law clerk. She resides in Washington, D.C. with her three children Maria, Dmitri and Nikolai. Ingraham is a passionate advocate both for our troops and for domestic and international adoption.

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Against The Motion

Ralph Reed

Chairman, Faith & Freedom Coalition

Ralph Reed is founder and chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. Reed served as a senior advisor to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and chaired the Southeast Region for Bush-Cheney in 2004. As chairman of the Georgia Republican Party he led the GOP to its biggest victory in history, helping to elect the first Republican Governor and third U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. Reed is chairman and CEO of Century Strategies, LLC, a public relations and public affairs firm. As executive director of the Christian Coalition from 1989-1997, he built one of the most effective public policy organizations in recent political history. Reed has been named one of the top ten political newsmakers in the nation by Newsweek, one of the twenty most influential leaders of his generation by Life magazine, and one of the 50 future leaders of America by Time magazine. He is the best-selling author and editor of five books, including his latest novel, The Confirmation (2010). Reed serves on the Board of Visitors for The University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs and on the Executive Board of the Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He is a member of the Advisory Council of SafeHouse, a faith-based organization helping the poor and needy.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

56% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (45% voted FOR twice, 8% voted AGAINST twice, 3% voted UNDECIDED twice). 44% changed their minds (14% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 4% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 6% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 0% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 14% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 6% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST) | Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Evan Morris Monday, 29 April 2013 13:59 posted by Evan Morris

      At one point the side against, specifically Ralph Reed, brought up Goldwater as an example of the traditional strong conservatism that existed in the past. While I agree that Goldwater was staunchly conservative, I find it deeply ironic that a member ofthe Religious Right would point to Goldwater, since Goldwater considered the RR to be an invidious poison to the party. He had similar misgivings about the new breed of Neo Cons coming into the party.

      Republicans need to stop invoking Goldwater. Based on his comments I do not believe he would be a supporter ofthe current republican party.

    • Comment Link Phil Ashford Sunday, 28 April 2013 18:54 posted by Phil Ashford

      I vote against the proposition. Becoming democrat lite will only cause the conservative base to stay home. And why would any knee-jerk democrat switch votes when they are getting the class warfare mob message and promised freebies paid for by someone from the genuine left?

    • Comment Link Rebecca Hughes Sunday, 28 April 2013 18:46 posted by Rebecca Hughes

      I just received a survey from the RNC that was perfectly indicative of the problem... the questions were so skewed to be laughable. There was no desire to hear from the members - only a desire to reinforce the existing extremist, uncompromising beliefs of what amounts to a cabal controlling the platform.

      Igrahm is delusional if she thinks moderates lose elections because they're moderate - they lose because the GOP forces the primary candidates hard right, and that leaves the nominee in a terrible position in the general election, when moderate voters no longer trust the candidate IS a moderate and the hard right doesn't constitute a majority of voters.

      McCain and Romney were forced away from their natural centrist positions to push hard right in the primaries, and they were never able to recover. I voted for them both ONLY because i trusted that once in office they would get their guts back, tell the RNC hard liners to take a hike and govern from the center where they had been before the primaries.

      I am furious with the RNC and Republic party. I registered to vote as Republican when I was 18, but this party no longer represents me as a single woman. It is a party that believes government is bad - except when it wants to invade my body and my bedroom. 22% of citizens self-identify as Evangelicals BUT even an Evangelical researcher admitted that only 7% actually live by the true Evangelical platform.

      Ultimately, the United States is not a Theocracy and the modern Republican party is determined that the American public wants one - which is ironic, because it's also generally xenophobic and Islamaphobic - and if the same statements coming from many Republican legislators were coming from Muslims, the party would rail against it. Where did separation of church and state go?

      All the polls the party quotes are pointless because the phrasing is so extremely biased. If you ask are you in favor of gay marriage, you get a statistically different outcome than if you ask if you are in favor of marriage equality. If you ask whether the public are in favor of "some" kind of restriction on abortion, you will get a different outcome than if you ask whether someone favors outlawing abortions after 12 weeks. Obsfucation is the party's only method to get polls to come out in their favor anymore.

      BTW - it's a fascinating difference between the in-person and on-line voting. I'd like to know the average age and ethnicity and gender of the in-person audience, compared to the online audience.

    • Comment Link Jamal Jordan Friday, 26 April 2013 16:38 posted by Jamal Jordan

      I think the proposition itself is flawed, "The GOP Must Seize The Center Or Die." I would argue the GOP has moved so far to the right that what was once a Republican is now a moderate or conservative Democrat. If anything, the Democrats need to move further left because the entire political paradigm has shifted to the right. Otherwise, I enjoy listening to the show.

    • Comment Link Spec Tuesday, 23 April 2013 17:47 posted by Spec

      The Republican dug their own grave. They sided with the wrong side of history on gay rights and preemptive wars and it has now come back to haunt them. And 'cutting taxes' is not an evergreen policy. As Reagan found out, eventually you cut too far and just create massive deficits. So they just have no useful policy prescriptions to offer.

    • Comment Link Tiring Saturday, 20 April 2013 02:52 posted by Tiring

      Two observations:

      1. Why did Ralph Reed and Laura Ingraham feel it necessary to incessantly argue the parameters of the topic of the debate. Both Mr. Reed and Ms. Ingraham knew well beforehand what the topic would be. Both agreed to take part. Both used not merely their openings but repeated statements throughout the event to alter or even denigrate the debate's central topic.

      2. Ms. Ingraham's effort disappointed me. I find Ms. Ingraham to be a credible intellect with a trained background and a fine education. Yet Ms. Ingraham repeatedly made sarcastic comment, talked over and around issues, interrupted other speakers, and, in general, acted as if she were talking her daily radio show and NOT a public debate featuring three other individuals. Ms. Ingraham's efforts or lack thereof and rather unprofessional, rude attitude really reduced the quality of not only her own arguments and positions.

    • Comment Link fred b Thursday, 18 April 2013 18:51 posted by fred b

      "...the party of...economic growth, job creation..." When the GOP stops pandering to economic bullies such as Big Oil, Big AG and Big Pharma, when they take a stand against the corrupting influence of money on the US political system, when they support the seemingly inevitable necessity for job creation and economic growth through a green tech lens and a return to (at least moderate) tariffs and import quotas to keep jobs in this country, they'll see nothing from me but the back of my head.

    • Comment Link Richard Fluhman Thursday, 18 April 2013 14:52 posted by Richard Fluhman

      In my opinion: there should be no political parties. All independent elected representatives should represent the citizens Not the lobbyists, etc.

    • Comment Link Martin Thistle Thursday, 18 April 2013 14:45 posted by Martin Thistle

      Republicans just need to disappear. It's highly unlikely they have what it takes to evolve into a more thoughtful, caring political party. They are modern day Whigs, and they should take the same path to oblivion that party was relegated to. The Repugnican platform contains far too many ideas which simply don't make sense in today's modern societies, and they express these antiquated ideas with words and phrases that have lost most of their meaning or impact; words such as Freedom, Justice, Opportunity, small government, Free Markets, and the like. I've got an idea; instead of 'small' government(which works best to promote the needs of the extremely rich), how about an appropriately-sized government that works for all(irrespective of size). Republican freedom is a sham as well; republicans only want true freedom for the wealthy, drones and SWAT teams and unwarranted surveillance and Gitmo for the rest of us poor schmucks. We as a society would be better off if they simply disappeared.

    • Comment Link Kathleen Berger Thursday, 18 April 2013 11:38 posted by Kathleen Berger

      I would like to think the GOP could naturally move towards center, but I think it would be more of a manipulation to appear more towards center. Must they or die? I think they really do need to move more towards center but a part of me (untrusting of their motives) , would like to see them (truthfully not die) but evolve to a less inhumane group of people. Therein lies our differences...sympathetic vs. unsympathetic to the sufferings of life. They must do what they must do until they are awoken; my hope today is that some will hear the cry of the people! On further thought, don't seize center just die, rebuild from a healthier platform.

    • Comment Link Bastian Sunday, 14 April 2013 19:27 posted by Bastian

      The Republican party has grown so out of touch with the general population that it will take a drastic platform shift by the GOP in order to survive. Generation X, Generation Y and the Millennial Generation have very different priorities than the older generations. Differences in the marriage trends and the birth rates are worrisome, the deteriorating presence of religion is a problem for GOP, and the massive shift of demographics the U.S. is experiencing is not helping the Republican effort. These younger generations have little patriotism or confidence in their elders wisdom, as they have inherited their predecessors' SS debt, a inefficient government, and a struggling economy. That being said, Ron Moore captured it well, "Political opinion can't be accurately expressed on a single left/right dimension with a moderate center... Reinforcing the left/right paradigm reinforces voters tendency to pick the side they disagree with least." This results in the parties having the ability to pursue their own agenda that does not reflect the wants or needs of the American people. It has become ridiculous, case and point: the current agreement to discuss the idea of debating gun control. Really.?.? The parties had to debate the idea of debating gun control. That's productive...

    • Comment Link Nam Friday, 05 April 2013 13:01 posted by Nam

      I think only way for the R to win the next election is to become the D.

    • Comment Link Ron Moore Friday, 05 April 2013 09:50 posted by Ron Moore

      First, thanks for doing so many excellent debates. I've attended several and they are always thoughtful, engaging and fun.

      However, this topic misses the point completely. Political opinion can't be accurately expressed on a single left/right dimension with a moderate center. There are at least two dimensions; personal freedom and economic freedom. Traditionally democrats are for personal freedom and against economic freedom and republicans are for economic freedom and against personal freedom. The average person understands personal freedom better than economic freedom and therefore recognizes the errors of the GOP while thinking the errors of the democrats are "helping people".

      Meanwhile neither party is at all effective in the only legitimate role of government: protecting our freedom. They should be more extreme about that - not less. It's not misguided to be extreme about freedom whether it's civil liberties or fiscal responsibility. But the left/right paradigm doesn't capture someone who supports both political and economic freedom.

      Reinforcing the left/right paradigm reinforces voters tendency to pick the side they disagree with least. We need less of the left/right paradigm and more of the excellent issue-focused debates that Intelligence Squared does so brilliantly.

    • Comment Link Mike R Monday, 25 March 2013 03:14 posted by Mike R

      Winston Churchill: "Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

      Polls have shown that Republicans do well with older Americans, but not with the young. The notoriety of a few, a small minority of republicans, who are extreme social conservatives or just plain idiots ("legitimate rape") is part of the problem. But the party could do a better job connecting conservative economic positions -- economic freedom, smaller government -- to what young people care about: jobs, opportunities to excel, quickest path to rising standards of living for all, etc.

      While I think the motion is a healthy self-examination for the republican party, it's a free country and candidates of all stripes will emerge. The best thing for the country, IMHO, is to disenfranchise extremists in both the Democratic and Republican party. The "top-2" open primaries adopted in Washington, California and Louisiana should all but eliminate the possibility of fringe candidates (eg, Sharron Angle) surviving to a primary election. In the longer-term taking redistricting (gerrymandering) out of state legislatures, such as recently done in California, will further help tamp down extreme candidates from "safe" districts.

    • Comment Link Bill Kitsch Sunday, 24 March 2013 08:33 posted by Bill Kitsch

      Patrick S, right on target/

    • Comment Link Phylis Gail Thursday, 21 March 2013 19:29 posted by Phylis Gail

      The Republicans remind me of the Scarecrow and the Tin man -- they need to get a heart and some brains. With a brain they could think how well religion in government works in the Middle East. With a heart they might put good governance before their need for power. Truth is, they just want to Rule -- just be in control again. All that Ditto stuff in their heads won't help them find their way back to relevance.

      So it should be obvious to all but the dead that our 2-party political system has reached the end of its Useful Life, and the Republicans were the first to fall. The U.S. Constitution, too, is obsolete and in desperate need of reform. But, right or wrong, it was built to last. And it will, along with the Gun Nuts who will hold civilization back.

      Our only hope is for some wealthy capitalists to ante up to the majority Independents who would dust off the Reform Party, jump into the fray, speak the truth, and turn this ship around. I'm not holding my breath.

    • Comment Link eric Thursday, 21 March 2013 13:51 posted by eric

      The problem with those Republicans, particularly the farthest from moderate center, is that they have either lost the ability or don't have the ability to tell the difference between righteousness and conservatism.

    • Comment Link R Kozol Thursday, 21 March 2013 12:50 posted by R Kozol

      In order to reach any substantive solutions, we must be clearer about what we are really talking about. We will get nowhere as long as we continue to equate conservative with right wing lunacy and liberal with left wing radical. They are not the same thing. Similarly, we'll get nowhere as long as we confuse health care and health insurance. They are not the same thing either, so we continue to talk past each other without solving the problems.

    • Comment Link Patrick S. Tuesday, 05 March 2013 17:05 posted by Patrick S.

      The Republicans need to be MORE conservative when it comes to fiscal issues, and LESS conservative when it comes to social issues.

      Religion should be a private matter only, and not used to base official policy decisions on. This really is the biggest problem for the GOP. When you want to create laws for others based on YOUR religion, obviously you are not going to get support from people who believe in other religions or who are non-religious and does not share your views.

      The GOP should be the party of limited government, economic growth, job creation, lower taxes, a freer society, individual responsibility, opportunity for all and the american dream, not the party of religious weirdos.

    • Comment Link Pablo K. Ramos Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:18 posted by Pablo K. Ramos

      It isn't a matter of "Seizing the Center". It's a matter of REALLY ceasing to be the "Stupid Party"; only not the way Gov. Bobby Jindal suggests.

      The republican party can perfectly define conservative principles but they need to be based on reason. It is, for example inexcusable how they continue to bury their heads in the sand before incontrovertible evidence in favor of anthropocentric climate change. Science is science, and it doesn't lend itself to subjective interpretations. Their stand on other issues like evolution, genetic research and other things are more a reflection of how they've become hostages of the radical christian factions, than their being or not "Conservative".

      Their knee-jerk defense of everything and anything representing the interests of big business interest groups is not conservative either. It's just corrupt.

      Likewise regarding their myopic stance on economics.

      You can be perfectly conservative in your approach to government, NOT move to the center, but also no be the useful fool for all kinds of special interests.

      The Republican party is facing very serious, survival-serious issues. Pandering to the left will not solve the problem, which is why I voted against the motion.

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