Rep. Jim Ramstad's (R-Minn.) career provides a useful prism through which to view the Republican's disappearing moderate wing. He announced in September that he will not be seeking re-election in 2008. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
When Minnesota's Jim Ramstad was first elected to Congress in 1990, the Republican Party was approaching a critical juncture. President George H. W. Bush, a mainline Protestant and former abortion-rights supporter who had just appointed moderate David Souter to the Supreme Court, was riding strong popular approval in the wake of the Gulf War. But the Souter appointment, coupled with Bush's broken pledge to not raise taxes, awakened a conservative movement that had become powerful enough to make or break Republican presidents. Bush tried to appease conservatives with his 1991 selection of Clarence Thomas for the high court, but it was too little too late: He had become an apostate. Ramstad, the moderate rookie, held on to his seat in 1992. Bush did not.
At this month's presidential debate in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Republican presidential hopefuls struggled like 10 puppies trying to climb out of a box to prove who among them is the next Reagan. In future debates, or when they are campaigning individually, expect to hear each of the GOP candidates continue to assert that he is the one, true heir.
After 12 years of GOP control of both chambers of Congress and a majority of American governors' offices, the Republican era has finally imploded. And while it was accelerated by self-inflicted wounds from bribery and a child-predation scandal, the Republican demise was chiefly caused by a congenital self-denial about the growing disconnect between the party's pursuit of power and the inability to deliver on its promises. Simply put, the GOP could no longer sustain a majority that elevated public relations over policy performance, mantra over management.
A few weeks before the Democrats' 2002 midterm disaster, I found myself at a political event seated next to a longtime Democratic congressman. During a lull, I asked him why Democrats were unable to nationalize the congressional elections as Republican Newt Gingrich did in 1994. “It's a lot tougher for us,” he bemoaned. “We're more heterogeneous, and it's hard to find a message we can all agree on.”