Republican Centrists Fight for Relevance
Big GOP gains this November are likely to bolster the conservative wing of the party. But members of the Tuesday Group, a band of moderate House Republicans, insist centrists will continue to wield significant power.
The Tuesday Group has weathered numerous losses in recent years as its members have fallen in re-election bids, run for higher office or retired.
This election year doesn’t look much better for moderates, as tea party candidates have flourished and only a handful of center-right candidates are running to replace departing moderates.
A particularly notable, if symbolic, blow came last month, when former Tuesday Group leader Rep. Mike Castle unexpectedly lost in the Delaware Republican Senate primary to Christine O’Donnell, a more conservative, tea-party-backed candidate.
But Tuesday Group leaders are preparing a new strategy to ensure they remain relevant.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, co-chairwoman of the Tuesday Group, suggested the group might change its approach by targeting certain issues instead of putting out a broader platform as in previous years.
‘I think it is going to be much more issue-based, where we can make a difference,’ the Missouri Republican said. ‘That would be my goal.’
To counter the departure of numerous members over the past few election cycles, the group expanded its membership to more conservative Republicans.
As a result, the Tuesday Group has increased its membership in recent years, proving its ability to survive, said Rep. Mark Kirk, a Tuesday Group co-chairman who is running for the Senate and will leave the House in January.
‘We are the most reported extinct species that has gone from an informal group of six members to now [more than] 30,’ the Illinois Republican said. ‘When the Republicans were slaughtered in 2006, we lost twice as many [Republican] Study Committee members as we did the Tuesday Group.’
The Republican Study group is composed of the most conservative Members in the House.
Kirk added, ‘I think when we go through this Republican wave, we will not only add Study Committee members, but we will also add Tuesday Group members.’
Emerson said the goal of the Tuesday Group was to find positions where members agree and push for them as a bloc.
‘I think that our goal is really to try and find common ground so that we can actually get things done and try to work for the best solutions, and we have the ability to work with the conservative Democrats on the other side,’ she said in a recent interview.
Rep. Charlie Dent, who also co-chairs the group, was hesitant to make predictions about the group’s role next year, saying only that its numbers will be strong.
‘I think it remains to be seen, but the Tuesday Group will be here next session, and I’m sure after the election we are going to have conversations’ about the direction of the group, the Pennsylvania Republican said.
‘This is a center-right country. A lot of our members come from center-right districts,’ Dent said. ‘Our members will play an important role in helping shape the governing agenda.’
Kirk predicted the Tuesday Group would rise to be as important in the 112th Congress as in the 109th, when the group persuaded its conservative-led leadership to schedule a vote in favor of more embryonic stem-cell research.
One House Democratic aide said the Blue Dog Coalition, the group of fiscally conservative Democrats, would continue to try to work with the Tuesday Group.
‘There are going to be a number of important issues that Congress will have to deal with in the very near future, and any time moderates on both sides can come together and find common ground, it’s generally going to mean a better policy outcome,’ the aide said in an e-mail. ‘People are sick of the extreme partisanship up here.’
Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the GOP will need its moderates to advance the party’s priorities.
‘Accomplishing our agenda ‘ stopping the tax hikes, cutting spending, repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and helping Americans get back to work ‘ is going to require the talents and hard work of our entire Conference,’ Steel said in an e-mail.
But former Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) painted a darker future for GOP moderates, saying they would have a tougher time next year because of the influence of the tea party over Republicans.
‘Sadly, what influences the people in the party still are campaign contributions, party loyalty and scare tactics from the tea party,’ he said. ‘Each Member should ask themselves what’s more important in my life, integrity or party loyalty.’
He said future moderate Members who ‘want any shred of influence’ should take to the House floor during special orders to make sure their views are recorded.
‘They have to reach out to the American people directly,’ he said. ‘There has to be a center balance.’
Gilchrest, who lost his primary in 2008 to current GOP candidate Andy Harris, said the Republican Party’s rejection of Members who hold the middle ground is to its detriment.
‘The Republican Party is grinding itself out of existence,’ he said.