Olympia Snowe Purged From Republican Ranks

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine surprised the political world Tuesday with the announcement that she will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.  The decision puts what was considered a safe seat for Republicans into play, and possibly the best potential for Democrats to pick up a seat from Republicans.

Republicans have looked at Senate takeover to ensure a newly elected President would not be saddled with Congressional gridlock.  Republicans need 4 seats to attain a majority.  Only 10 Republican Senators are up for re-election, while the Democrats will play defense on 23 seats.

Despite the unneeded speed bump placed in the Republicans path to a Senate majority, many conservatives have reacted with a “good riddance” attitude to the announcement.  Snowe, along with her counterpart from Maine Senator Susan Collins, are among the Republican caucus’ least reliable members when party line votes are cast.

Snowe herself cited the partisan rancor that is not likely to subside in the near future as the primary reason she was not willing to commit to six more years in Washington.  Real Clear Politics quotes her as saying “I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies [have] become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

As one of the members in the Senate most likely to work across the aisle, Snowe has frustrated movement conservatives who believe that not holding a party line is tantamount to treason.  They tend to point to Senators such as South Carolina’s Jim Demint as the prototype of their favorite non-compromiser de jour.  They usually overlook the fact that Demint hails from uber-conservative South Carolina.  Maine is not exactly South Carolina, and Maine Politics is about as similar to that of South Carolina as each state’s weather.

Zell Miller wrote the book “A National Party No More”, warning Democrats that their policies, values, and insistence that all Democrats match the policies of people in New York and Los Angeles were ending their viability to attract candidates and voters in much of the country.  Perhaps Miller should pen an equally prescient warning to Republicans as they seek to purge all that do not speak the language of Republicans with a southern accent.

When Republicans became serious about building a majority party during the eighties and nineties, phrases such as “big tent” and “winning the hearts and minds” were operational battle cries.  Ronald Reagan was quite proud to have his “Reagan Democrats” as part of the coalition that propelled him to victory, a group that even included a formal endorsement from the Teamsters.

Republicans in the 80’s and 90’s were much hungrier for victories than today.  A forty year stint as the minority party will do that to you.  Today, however, Republicans live with the contrast that they were “fired for cause” in 2006, only to return to a House Majority in 2010 and have a respectable shot at adding the White House and Senate in 2012.  Lessons learned the hard way as the minority party are quickly forgotten with the arrogance and entitlement of majority status.

Yet math remains math, and retaining the majority requires 50% plus one vote.  The math of primaries, however, favors the most unrelenting hardline positions be adopted.  It is generally assumed that the other party will also favor an opposite extreme position, leaving voters in the center being volleyed between parties not as much in support, but as those running away from the positions of the last created majority.

Republicans at the national level face a stark choice.  They can either understand that all Republicans are not created from the same political bases, and issues that play well with the Southern base are themselves insufficient to build a lasting national majority.  Or, they may continue to try and purge those who do not fit within a pre-determined regional mold and ensure a uniformly principled party – one with a minority status.

Republicans are quick to quote Ronald Reagan when it serves their purpose, and even mis-quote him if necessary.  Yet they don’t like being reminded of the Reagan Democrats, nor the line that an 80% friend is not the enemy.  Republicans need to think long and hard about being a big tent, winning hearts and minds, and finding many more 80% friends rather than purging them.


  1. ricstewart says:

    It is sad that “moderate” has become a four-letter word. Especially here in Georgia, where our state motto is “Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation

    I disagree with Senator Snowe more often than I agree with her, but I do have a lot of respect for her; she has always been up front and honest about where she stands on the political spectrum.
    Unlike folks like Saxby Chambliss or Johnny Isakson (or depending on the day of the week, John Barrow), she has never claimed to be a staunch conservative.
    I wish more elected officials would own up to their voting records and ideologies.
    There is a big difference between being a moderate and being spineless. (I’m talking to you, John Barrow.)

  2. CobbGOPer says:

    In this land of never ending choice, it’s so funny to me that when it comes to politics we intentionally limit ourselves to a choice between just two parties. And that’s the root of the problem: Democrats and Republicans don’t care what you believe, because you can only choose between them and not voting. And before you scream Libertarian at me, the D’s and R’s make it as hard as possible in the states for Libertarians and other parties to participate. We know for a fact how hard it is to run as a third-party just in Georgia. Third parties face similar challenges in much of the rest of the country. It leaves people like Snowe (and me as a voter, for that matter) with nowhere to go but home on election day.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      The party system is dysfunctional. Nothing gets done with these squabbling political parties. It is time to make all legislators independent and individually responsible for their legislation.

  3. wicker says:

    Olympia Snowe was no “80% friend.” The tag RINO gets thrown around a lot, but in Snowe’s case it actually applies. To put it another way … “Republican” does not equal “conservative.” On what important issue does Snowe ever actually side with conservatives on? She is neither a fiscal or a social conservative. She falsely gets credit for being a fiscal conservative because of the liberal tactic to brand ALL socially liberal Republicans as fiscal conservatives, or moderates. But she is ideologically indistinguishable from most southern or midwestern Democrats. Her only value to the GOP is voting for the Senate Majority leader.

    And by the way: the GOP should start caring about losing their moderates when the Democrats start electing some. Heath Shuler is retiring too, and the only misgivings about that was his being “the last white Democrat Congressman from the Deep South.” As far as Shuler’s moderate political views, the Democrats (in the party and in the media) didn’t shed any tears over losing those.

    • ricstewart says:

      Actually, Barrow is the only white Democrat in the House from the Deep South.
      According to most, North Carolina isn’t considered the “Deep South,” and there are other white Democratic congressman from NC besides Shuler. Not to be nitpicky…

    • wicker says:


      You are correct. Wish I could update my comment to reflect it!

      @Bucky Plyler:

      Arlen Specter actually is a moderate. Snowe is decidedly to the left of Specter. A lot of folks have forgotten how useful Specter was in advancing the Reagan agenda in the 1980s.

    • Baker says:

      @wicker: “Her only value to the GOP is voting for the Senate Majority leader.”

      Yeah, you’re right, but thats a pretty big value.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      On what important issue does Snowe ever actually side with conservatives on?

      I seem to recollect she voted against the Affordable Care Act, which is one of the few significant issue of the last couple years. The GOP lacks standing to claim deficits, entitlements and spending are important issues given the record of the six years of GOP control of both the Presidency and Congress.

  4. Three Jack says:

    Olympia Snowe might provide a GOP digit when it comes to counting senate seats, but she seldom provides the same digit when it comes to counting votes. If I recall correctly, Snowe was the deciding vote when it came to Obamacare being passed out of committee proving yet again how dangerous it is to seek a political majority utilizing people who do not agree with the basic principles of your party.

    Good riddance!

    • Joshua Morris says:

      Yep. The size of the proverbial tent means nothing when being under said tent indicates nothing about what you believe. I, for one, would rather see the Republican Party and its venerable elected class stand up for some meaningful principles rather than relish its ability to dance with the devil and make losing deals.

  5. seenbetrdayz says:

    I’m really looking forward to the day when we stop viewing things on a simple left-right plane, or left-moderate-right plane. No one really knows what those definitions are, at least not anymore.

    I’m sure some of you have probably heard of the Nolan Chart; in my opinion, it’s a more accurate indicator of where someone stands politically due to the fact it measures in 4-dimensions, rather than left-versus-right.


    • wicker says:

      First, applying the Nolan chart to Ms. Snowe (based on her publicly recorded voting and rhetorical history) gives this result: “Your answers suggest that you are a liberal.”

      Second, the “Nolan chart” is loaded, and seems to be tilted towards libertarianism. Several of the questions don’t even have satisfactory options, such as “10. Taxes, Spending, and the National Debt” for whom the only options are either supply side economics or varying degrees of fiscal liberalism. The health care question is similarly problematic, although not quite as bad. The “trade and money” section forces you to accept free trade AND hard currency, when throughout most of our history we have had tariffs AND hard currency. Add that to the “push poll” dogmatism (instead of more reflective policy positions) and it seems like the work of a Ron Paul supporter.

      In any event, Snowe is a liberal. She will be missed most by Democrats, not only for her votes, but so that Democrats can use her to claim how “extremist” nearly everyone else in the GOP is by comparison, and how “moderate” and “mainstream” they are.

  6. Mid Georgia Retiree says:

    If the media would give as much attention to the moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans as they do the extremes of each party then maybe, just maybe, partisan gridlock might start cracking a little and the voice of reason might begin to take over. Wishful thinking?????

    • wicker says:

      It is wishful thinking because there are no moderate Democrats. There are only moderate Republicans, many of whom used to be Democrats (like Nathan Deal).

  7. Calypso says:

    Charlie says:

    “Lessons learned the hard way as the minority party are quickly forgotten with the arrogance and entitlement of majority status.”

    I sure hope some GA General Assembly members are reading and heeding this post.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      That’s mighty wishful thinking seeing as we’re already a decade into this latest cycle of single-party rule.

  8. Dave Bearse says:

    The characterization of Snowe by, and the response of the right wing to, GOP to Snowe’s resignation demonstrates (barring extraordinary circumstances or a significant change in GOP course) why there aren’t going to be any GOP Presidents for the forseeable future.

    I was sorry to see Lincoln Chafee go too. The GOP is going to learn it can’t govern with enthusiastic support from 30% of the electorate if its candiates alienate 50%+ of the electorate. Continue on the current course and the Senate will be out of reach too, because Senate seats have large fixed districts that preclude political packing.

    Haven’t read the book, but I’d gues Zell Miller assumes that a party must be competive throughout the country to be competitive nationally. That wasn’t the case between Reconstruction and the Johnson Presidency when the South was all Dem. It isn’t the case now. Zell’s view is no doubt influenced by the fact the 30 year southern Dem to GOP transition period co-incided with his time in politics.

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