As the Republican presidential primary mud fight continues, one of the main attacks being bandied about between the remaining candidates is that their GOP opponents are 'moderate.' That's right - moderate, defined as 'keeping within reasonable limits,' is an evil word in Republican circles and a favorite attack on one's opponent. It is the main attack against Romney, who was the governor of conservative's favorite punching bag state - Massachusetts. It has also been thrown at Gingrich for (gasp!) sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi in a commercial to talk about global warming. Even extremist Rick Santorum was called a 'war-mongering moderate' by Rand Paul, son of candidate Ron Paul.
Moderate is the scarlet letter of the Right. Yet moderate or reasonable views are a complete myth among the remaining crop of GOP presidential candidates.
While many pundits were betting that the economy would be the top issue in the campaign, it seems the old "culture wars" are back. In the attempts to be more conservative than the next candidate, the GOP has drug its knuckles far back in time to dig up unpopular toxic wedge issues in an attempt to divide the electorate. As the primary drags on, the views of the candidates are sure to get more extreme. Yet you can bet that when the general election comes around, whoever the GOP nominee is will try to embrace the moderate myth and distance himself from the extreme stances he took in the primary to win swing voters, an issue I have talked about in previous articles like "Why the GOP Primary Still Matters."
Nowhere was this moderate myth busted more than at the annual CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. This must-attend conference for extremists always highlights just how far out-of-the-mainstream many in the GOP are willing to go to appeal to the activists on the far right. And this year was no exception. All three of the remaining frontrunners for the GOP nomination (Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum) appeared at CPAC and were more than happy to throw read meat to the hungry crowd.
While the odds of Newt Gingrich ever getting the nomination are slim, to call the scandal-ridden former Speaker of the House moderate is simply laughable. The thrice-married Gingrich was been screaming about upholding "traditional marriage" against gays and lesbians the entire campaign, going as far as to support a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage equality (small government at it's best, I suppose?). Yet beyond just the marriage issue, Gingrich has also suggested that gay people shouldn't be able to adopt and that LGBT employment protections should never see the light of day. There is nothing moderate about any of the stances he reiterated at CPAC, which the majority of Americans oppose.
Obviously, there is nothing moderate about new front-runner Rick Santorum. But the glaring national spotlight seems to be showing the general public a deeper extremism regarding not just LGBT people, but women and other minorities as well. Santorum's view on the so-called culture wars seems to be summed up by saying he wants us all to go back to world of Leave it to Beaver, with women stuck in the home bringing a man his slippers, while gays, blacks, and Hispanics simply don't exist. His long anti-gay history is well-known. His "google problem" is the result of his many comparisons of LGBT relationships to "man on dog sex", pedophilia, or polygamists. He has even gone as far as to say he would annul existing same-sex unions once he becomes president. Yet his views on black people, that he doesn't "want to make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money" for example, have been little known outside of his home state of Pennsylvania. His shocking views on women are also raising eyebrows, from his blanket condemnation on ALL birth control to his attacks against working women saying that feminists have won by "convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness." While he has made attempts to either backpedal or rewrite his extreme views, there is no way Santorum will ever be able to move towards a moderate middle.
Then, of course, we have the ever-mercurial Mitt Romney. Romney, out of the necessity to combat the "moderate Massachusetts Governor" attacks from his GOP rivals, has once again flip-flopped to embrace the fringe of anti-gay conservatism. In his "please like me" speech to CPAC, Romney called himself a "severe conservative." While just a few months ago in a GOP debate he claimed to be a "defender of gay rights" (another pandering claim to what he thought the audience wanted to hear with no real record to back him up), he has gone full bigot guns blazing at gays now. In his CPAC speech, Romney said he prevented Massachusetts from "becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage" AND that he supports a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. He also supports reinstating"Don't Ask, Don't Tell", has vowed to defend the odious "Defense of Marriage Act" from court challenges, and even questions the rights of gay people to adopt. His views on women's health, from abortion to birth control, have also swung into extreme territory to fight off the moderate myth. His views change depending on who he's talking to, making it clear that he is easily controlled and influenced by the most extreme in his party- a dangerous thing in a President and leader of the free world.
The attacks or beltway commentary that any of these candidates are moderate is simply false. While many of us hoped that divisive culture war issues were losing favor as a wedge, since the shifting demographics and views of America are more accepting of LGBT people and other minority rights, it seems that the GOP leadership and their figurehead candidates are reviving them. The Republican party is quite literally looking to drag our country's social progress back decades. While I'm sure you will hear an effort to move back to a more moderate position as the public rejects the radical social conservatism being offered by the GOP candidates, any claims of moderation are just a myth created by a party willing to say or do anything to advance their regressive policies.