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The Beltway Media Has Redefined "Moderate" To Mean "Conservative"


Does anyone see a moderate here?

All my life, I always had the idea that conservatives played hardball and liberals played tiddlywinks. And it was because conservatives were playing for cold hard cash, if not survival, and liberals were playing for idealism. The Republican team seemed to be playing for their lives. The Democratic team seemed to be playing for sport (and maybe our lives, but that is hardly the same thing as playing or your own life).


This morning, before the sun was up, Politico published a piece by David Siders about how congressional Democrats are despairing over DC gridlock, gridlock meaning an inability to pass any of Biden's-- let alone Bernie's-- agenda. The Republicans, as McConnell has made absolutely clear, stand for nothing but power and using obstructionism is a key weapon in their arsenal, having lost the last round of elections. Siders began by noting that "Efforts to forge a bipartisan gun control deal in the Senate have fallen apart. A sweeping Democratic elections reform bill has failed. A self-imposed White House deadline for a police reform bill has come and gone. And while there was a breakthrough on infrastructure talks on Wednesday evening, the fate of that legislation remains unclear. Five months into the post-Trump era, the promise of Democrat-occupied Washington is crashing into reality. Donald Trump may be gone, but the sense of hope that permeated the Democratic Party’s rank-and-file after his defeat--and the accompanying capture of Congress-- is being replaced by a haze of disillusionment that threatens the party’s prospects of generating enthusiasm in the run-up to a critical midterm election."


Democratic voters are-- rightly-- getting frustrated, angry and pissed off. Voters have been led down the garden path by leaders like the Clinton, Obama, Schumer, Pelosi to support elite establishment candidates and re-make a working class party to a middle of the road bourgeois party that fears the working class and distrusts the programs needed by working class voters and the values behind those programs. The richest member of Congress is conservative Democrat, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, worth $214 million. The Democrat leading the charge-- with Kevin McCarthy-- against Big Tech anti-trust legislation in the House is ex-Microsoft executive, conservative New Dem chair Suzane DelBene (worth $79 million). Pelosi's net worth is over $100 million. Senile Dianne Feinstein's is shrouded in mystery but probably much more, wealth entirely dependent on corruption. Scott Peters, another New Dem leader and fighter for everything anti-working class is San Diego plutocrat Scott Peters. There are more Democratic multimillionaires in Congress than there are union activists. And almost all of them are conservatives, although the media refers to them as "moderates," if not "progressives." The wealthy don't want to shitcan the summer recess either!


As Carl Hulse and Nick Fandos reminded us yesterday, "For Democrats, the only way to break their voting rights legislation free of Republican opposition is by changing the Senate’s filibuster rules-- an institution-shaking step that so far remains out of reach." They quoted Harry Reid saying that "The filibuster is on its way out. There is no question in my mind that the filibuster is going to be a thing of the past shortly. You can’t have a democracy that takes 60 percent of the vote to get things done."


If you've been following DWT with any regularity at all, you know how angry I get when conservatives are called "moderates" in the media. The public loves the word "moderate" and

1- conservatives aren't moderates; they're defenders of the status quo

2- if someone like Rob Portman and Joe Manchin are "moderates," what does that make Mazie Hirono and Raphael Warnock-- communists? radicals? extremists?


This morning FiveThirtyEight published an essay about how Trump has moved the whole political system right by Dan Hopkins and Hans Noel. "In 2004, Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Toomey was the face of the conservative insurgency. An anti-taxes, anti-spending hawk, Toomey was one of many conservative upstarts who primaried a more moderate fellow Republican; in Toomey’s case, longtime Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. The Republican president at the time, George W. Bush, sided with Specter, who ultimately won by less than 2 percentage points. After Specter switched parties in 2009 when polls showed Toomey defeating him in a primary, Toomey won the seat in 2010. But despite the conservative bona fides that helped Toomey get elected, he experienced backlash from the GOP after becoming one of seven Senate Republicans to join Democrats in voting to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Toomey’s transition from conservative insurgent to a pariah among certain factions of his party is not unique, though... To be clear, Toomey, Romney and now-ousted GOP party leader Rep. Liz Cheney have not abandoned the policy views that a decade ago flagged them as conservatives. But in the interim, Trump and his presidency may have shifted the ideological ground beneath their feet."


Trump’s nomination and subsequent election set up a fight within the Republican Party over what the party stood for-- a fight the former president seems to have won. In fact, we found in our research both in 2016 and 2021 that Trump’s influence on the party has started to redefine what it means to be “conservative.”
If there’s any group of people who are likely to care about what terms like “conservative” and “liberal” mean, it’s political activists. These are the people who participate in politics beyond just voting: They volunteer for political campaigns, donate money, work for politicians, and in some cases, even run for office themselves. They also help define their parties in the eyes of voters and can be good barometers of shifting ideological winds, as they often influence and sometimes regulate politicians’ stances.
So to better understand how party activists think about conservatism and to measure Trump’s effect on how they think about it, we teamed up with HuffPost and YouGov to poll Republican and Democratic activists three times over the course of the 2016 campaign, and then once with YouGov in 2021 after Trump had left office, to ask them each time how conservative or liberal they thought a pair of prominent politicians was. For each pair, we simply asked, “Which of these two politicians is more liberal/conservative?” By random chance, some politicians are going to be paired against especially liberal or conservative counterparts, so simply counting up the number of times a politician was graded “more liberal” or “more conservative” won’t cut it. Instead, we adjusted for the politicians against whom a given politician was compared, which is akin to a “strength of schedule” adjustment in analyzing sports teams.
A few key findings immediately stand out. First, in looking just at our 2021 survey data, a politician’s support for Trump has come to define who party activists think of as conservative. Romney, Toomey and Sasse were all rated as fairly liberal Republicans despite their conservative voting records in Congress, according to DW-Nominate, which quantifies the ideology of every member of Congress based on roll call votes cast in a legislative session. Staunchly pro-Trump politicians (or Trump-adjacent politicians), like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sens. Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham, and Trump were all clustered together on the more conservative end of the spectrum, even though there is quite a bit of difference, ideologically speaking, between these men. Pence, for instance, stands out for having established a very conservative track record pre-Trump whereas Cotton, Graham, Hawley and DeSantis’s claims to being so conservative are more closely linked to their connection to Trump. What seems to matter more is not so much one’s voting record in the pre-Trump era as one’s relationship to Trump.

FiveThirtyEight's ideology scores for 114 high-profile political figures shows that there are several Republicans less conservative than Democrats Jon Manchin (WV), Jon Tester (MT), Martin Heinrich (NM), Gary Peters (MI), Jacky Rosen (NV), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) and Frackenlooper (CO). Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is less conservative than all of them. Susan Collins is less conservative than most of them and even Mitt Romney is less conservative than Manchin and Tester. They made the point that "ideology isn’t just about policies... Political scientists like to point out that ideology and party are not the same thing. And yet, our measure of ideology among political activists suggests it’s even trickier than we think. We know that the Republican Party is changing. Longtime conservatives like Romney and Cheney say that the party has abandoned conservative principles and that they’re holding out hope the GOP will return to them. Our research suggests another possibility, though: Conservative principles themselves are changing. The civil war in the Republican Party, to the extent there is one, isn’t between conservatism and some new form of populism. Instead, it’s between the old view of conservatism and the new one. That suggests a very different future for the Republican Party-- one in which reactions to Trump influence who is thought of as conservative more than views on taxes or spending."

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