Since the end of the 2012 election, political handicappers have been watching with great interest as the GOP turns on itself with teeth bared and claws unsheathed. The Tea Party and ultra-conservative members of the party have taken center stage in the major policy debates and even provide their own “response” to the State of the Union Speech in addition to the official GOP response. And not everyone is sticking with the party to see which element ultimately takes control of the party of Lincoln.
The first woman to be elected Lieutenant Governor of Nevada Sue Wagner told the Reno Gazette-Journal that she “has left the Republican Party and it’s left me at the same time.” Calling the GOP too “tea-party oriented” she is now registered as an independent rather than a Democrat. The announcement comes on the heels of Tom Taber’s resignation of the Washoe County Republican Party. Wagner does not seem to be seeking political office, so her leaving the party has to be taken at face value.
For other ex-Republicans, the motivations for leaving the party are suspected to be less about ideology and more about winning their respective elections. North Carolina candidate for Congress and combat veteran Jason Thigpen announced his party switch last October. “I’ve decided to run as a Democrat rather than a Republican,” he writes on his campaign site, adding “I simply cannot stand with a Party where its most extreme element promote[sic] hate and division amongst people.”
For candidates like Thigpen or Charlie Crist of Florida—who is running (and winning in the polls) for Florida Governor—some Democrats see the move as a cheap trick to get elected. An anonymous Daily Kos blogger decries Thigpen’s move as mere political kabuki. “I never trust ‘Fence Jumpers’,[sic] until they have actually embraced the policies and ideologies of the party,” writes “sparks1957,” as if changing political party affiliation is akin to switching religions.
Democrats like Sparky are cut from the same cloth as the GOP extremists that chased Wagner, Thigpen, and Crist from the Republican Party. Independent thinkers aren’t trustworthy and only a totalitarian acceptance of Progressive/Conservative dogma constitutes a “good” candidate. Wagner isn’t running, so she is free to be an independent, however if a former Republican hopes to serve his or her country in office, he or she needs the might of a major political party to win the election.
The lesson here for both parties is that “big tents” win elections. The GOP is hemorrhaging membership—according to a Gallup Poll—and the Democrats are reaping the benefits. Demanding that a party member “prove” his or her loyalty by insisting on a blanket acceptance only further alienates the larger electorate.