Moderate talk radio host Michael Smerconish advocates the forced moderation of the Republican Party via changed primary process
By Jeff Schreiber
At some point during the past nine years, during the course of my journey from the ranks of the clueless and uninformed left to the shores of common sense and principles on the right, I passed Michael Smerconish like he was standing still. Kind of like the SEPTA buses often adorned with large advertisements for “The Big Talker” 1210 AM–a right-leaning Philadelphia talk radio station–featuring his shiny cranium blinding drivers nearby.
I haven’t listened to or even considered Smerconish for years, and really the first time I looked in my rear-view mirror at him was yesterday when, in an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Smerconish wrote that the GOP should change the primary process to offer moderate Republicans more of a voice and, therefore, more of a chance to become a nominee that wins a general election.
For those unfamiliar with him, Smerconish hosts a morning drive-time talk radio program here in the City of Brotherly Love, was recently syndicated, and just a few weeks ago was the first talk radio host to interview President Barack Obama in the White House. He also filled in for Glenn Beck during his days at Headline News, and currently has an ongoing gig at MSNBC. Unfortunately, as his commentary in yesterday’s Inquirer shows, Smerconish is as politically maddening as he is immensely likable.
I stopped listening to Smerconish not because I didn’t like the guy or because I tracked more to the right than he has situated himself, but rather that I increasingly found that his arguments to be less and less intertwined with reality. Consider, for example, his column last week on Rush Limbaugh’s failed bid for minority ownership in an NFL team — the entire piece, analyzing the political leanings of NFL officials and owners in order to argue that passing on Limbaugh was purely a business decision, was based on the premise that the NFL and the NFL owners had rejected Rush Limbaugh; in reality, however, Limbaugh was dropped not by the league or owners but by the group seeking ownership. In fact, the league and owners themselves had never voted on the issue.
Yesterday’s piece, Smerconish’s recipe for Republican success in 2012, seems equally at odds with reality and fact. Here’s how it starts:
The Republican presidential-primary process begins in 27 months. That sounds far removed, but the time for action is now if the GOP wants to nominate an electable candidate instead of one suitable for nomination but not a general-election victory.
That there has been an exodus from the GOP cannot be denied. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week found that just 20 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republican – the lowest figure since 1983.
Left behind in the party are the most conservative of voters. Their standing, coupled with the fact that the most passionate at either end of the spectrum are the most reliable primary voters, sets the stage for the nomination of someone in the mold of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, or maybe Mitt Romney. Each is well-suited to excite the base, but when it comes to expanding the tent, you can check the box marked “none of the above.”
“The Republican Party’s nominating process is not designed to select the strongest candidate with the broadest appeal in the large states needed to win 270 electoral votes in a general election,” longtime GOP operative Roger Stone told me last week.
It’s time for the GOP to reshape its primary process. Now. The party needs a new strategy to give voice to its remaining middle-of-the-road voters. Recapturing the center will demand a shift in the way the Republican Party nominates its presidential candidates.
Again, Smerconish bases his entire op-ed extravaganza on something that just isn’t true. The question asked by the Washington Post and ABC News in the poll was a simple one: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or what?” Of the 1,004 adults randomly polled, 33 percent considered themselves a Democrat, 20 percent considered themselves a Republican, and a whopping 42 percent considered themselves an independent. In fact, since February, the numbers of those considering themselves either a Democrat or Republican have consistently dropped, while the number of those who characterize themselves as independents has risen.
Consider for a moment what has happened since then. Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress passed a $787 billion so-called “stimulus” plan that even Obama administration economic guru Christina Romer admitted last week has not worked as planned. Congress passed unconstitutional ex post facto tax penalties on AIG executive bonus payments. The federal government now owns General Motors and Chrysler. The executive branch is now in the business of capping executive pay for those companies who accepted federal bailout money, and has set itself up to do the same for any company deemed a systemic risk to the U.S. economy, regardless of whether federal funds were accepted. And now, Congress is poised to pass sweeping health care reform that will force private insurers out of the market and enable the government to control every aspect of our lives by rationalizing effects on future health care costs, and currently pending is a cap-and-trade bill ready to obliterate the American economy and facilitate control of any other aspect of American life not covered by health care reform. Both items will likely be shepherded into law behind closed doors, with none of the transparency and sunshine promised by our president during last year’s campaign.
Oh, and not to mention that, at $1.42 trillion, the federal deficit under President Obama is more than the total debt for the first 200 years of our nation and more than the entire economy of India. Or that the $300 billion we now pay each year to service our debt is more than we pay to completely fund the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce and Department of Justice combined. Or that the projected $800-plus billion we’ll be paying in interest a decade from now could, instead, completely fund the Defense Department, State Department and Department of Transportation.
People are understandably frightened. They see the exponential expansion of federal spending, size, scope, and reach and are pushing back.
See, I’d venture a guess that those leaving the parties and joining the ranks of the independents aren’t doing so because they want more government interference in their lives. What I see are people who want their elected officials to err on the side of liberty rather than statism, responsibility rather than recklessness. What I see is an overall trend toward a lack of trust in either political party, brought about by a government which is increasingly perceived to not have the people’s interests at heart. The key to recapturing those people is conservatism, is the idea that we’re going to return to the role of America’s federal government as it was founded, that we’re going to tax less, we’re going to spend less, we’re going to keep your children safe, allow your business to grow, and beat the ever-loving snot out of anyone across the world who dares to compromise the health, safety, security or prosperity of America and Americans.
And, indeed, the very same Washington Post/ABC News poll cited by Smerconish in yesterday’s column supports that very idea. Consider the results from the next question in the poll: “Would you say your views on most political matters are liberal, moderate, or conservative?” From September to October, people who consider themselves liberal dropped from 24 to 23 percent and people who considered themselves moderate dropped from 39 to 36 percent, while those who deemed themselves conservative rose from 36 to 38 percent. Reconcile those numbers with the results of several other polls–the 2008 and 2009 Battleground Poll, and Gallup polls from June of this year to now, just to name a few–and you’ll find that the United States of America is very much still a right-center nation, and that conservatives outnumber liberals in all fifty states by nearly a two-to-one margin.
That the GOP should somehow do whatever it takes to become more moderate, to build a bigger tent over those in the center and on the center-left, is exactly the wrong answer for the party and, more importantly, for the country which depends upon its traditional common sense, values and restraint. The Republican Party must instead patch the holes in the proverbial tent over those on the political right who have been left out in the rain since George W. Bush began his second term. Republicans must focus intently on the proper role of the federal government with regard to every issue, from taxation to abortion to economic policy and even to gay marriage. They must reassure the American people that, across the board, the answer is always less government, not more, and that the people–not the government–are the only honest, safe depositories of freedom and natural rights.
Michael Smerconish has coupled his own unpredictable, erratic political ideology with poorly-interpreted numbers and come to the conclusion that America needs pale pastels rather than the bold colors advocated by Ronald Reagan. As we saw during the latter half of the Bush administration, moderate Republicans can spend and expand the size, scope and reach of the federal government has much as any progressive. And, as we saw during last year’s election, not to mention the mid-term elections in 2006, moderate Republicans simply do not win.
Yes, Barack Obama ran a brilliant campaign. Yes, the country was tired after eight years of George W. Bush. But Arizona Sen. John McCain lost because he was a moderate Republican. His views on immigration, cap-and-trade, campaign finance and the intelligence end of the Global War on Terror were no different than those held by Barack Obama, and Obama had oratory, popularity, youth and history on his side. Had the GOP run a truly conservative candidate that could have distinguished himself or herself from Obama’s perspective and worldview, perhaps the Republicans would have been better positioned to overcome their adversary’s ebullience, eloquence, and ability to overshadow promises never meant to be kept with soaring rhetoric and megawatt smiles.
Certainly, now that America is waking up to this White House’s habit of being economical with the truth and to the harsh realities of the liberal agenda run amok, the empty words and toothless rhetoric of Barack Obama will be no match in 2012 for a conservative Republican who engenders trust and errs on the side of freedom rather than tyranny. Anything less, however, and Obama will undoubtedly prevail.
But even John McCain must have been too conservative for Smerconish, who endorsed Barack Obama for president in October of last year. Which leads me to ask: is this really the man from which the Republican Party should be taking political advice?
When I think of the word “exodus,” I think of the Jews leaving Egypt, never to return. News of the so-called exodus from the Republican Party has been greatly exaggerated. Have many left? Absolutely. If you ask me what I consider myself, you’ll hear “conservative” or “libertarian” depending upon what aspect of my freedom is in jeopardy on that particular day. But unlike the Jews and Egypt, many of those new-found independents will likely return to the ranks of the GOP if people like Michael Smerconish stick to debating whether white lights or colored lights are best for Christmas decorations, and allow those of us who do the research and who know the people to make the GOP the right kind of political vehicle to ensure that the ideas, ideals, principle and values of our founders once again have a voice in Washington, D.C.
I like Michael Smerconish. I really do. He’s funny, he’s talented, and when he’s right–like in his support for the military, for law enforcement and specifically for the family of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia Police Officer murdered in December 1981 by Mumia Abu-Jamal–there is nobody better. On this, though, Smerconish is dead wrong, and if I had the opportunity to do so, I’d tell him myself.