Squishy Republicans are the first to insist the party must move leftward any time an election doesn't go their way. Squish is a hard sell in other places, too, as British Prime Minister David Cameron is learning.
Mr. Cameron is the Conservative who came to power three years ago on a promise to cut the deficit and reduce the size of government. He fell prey early to the temptation to expand his popularity by embracing the central positions of the liberal orthodoxy, including global warming and homosexual marriage. He didn't broaden. He got no bump on the left, and he's taking a painful thump on the right. "Reaching across the aisle" doesn't work in London any better than it works in Washington. That aisle nearly always turns out to be a one-way alley.
Mr. Cameron worked hand-in-hand with the Labor Party last month to push the House of Commons to confer legality on homosexual marriage, driving many Conservatives to work against their leader. This lurch to the left had no political payoff. Liberals weren't drawn to Mr. Cameron, measured by a public-opinion poll by Survation. Support for Conservatives dropped 5 percentage points, as small-c conservatives defected to the U.K. Independence Party, which added 6 percentage points to its favorability.
Tories are miffed that Mr. Cameron has been blowing limited public resources to promote fringe energy sources, particularly in subsidies to large and ugly onshore wind farms that are far more expensive than traditional energy sources. More than 100 Conservative backbenchers called their party leader out in an open letter complaining about requiring taxpayers facing tough times to spend money on "inefficient and intermittent energy production." The internal party strife intensified when a senior member of Mr. Cameron's team referred to angry grass-roots Tory party backers as "swivel-eyed loons."
London's daily Independent released a poll Sunday demonstrating the extent of "Cameron fatigue," showing Labor with a prospective majority in the House of Commons, despite Mr. Cameron's watering down of Tory policies.
Comparisons are always odious, but they can be instructive if taken with salt. Sen. John McCain won no friends when he characterized three of his conservative Republican colleagues as "wacko birds." The 2014 elections are far away, but Republican moderates probably damaged the party's electoral prospects for next year with attacks on Tea Party conservatives. Establishment Republicans are always fond of hand-wringing and fret over demands to be more moderate and "inclusive" in the wake of the re-election of President Obama and the loss of a handful of seats in Congress. The Grand Old Party is always tempted to run on a platform of "vote Republican, we're not as bad as you think."
There was no comparable anguish among Democrats about the need to move to the right after the far greater "shellacking" they took in the 2010 congressional midterm elections. Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010; the Republicans lost 8 in 2012. The party's electoral problems have less to do with its message than with its timid messengers. True conservative principles, properly executed, work every time — on both sides of the Atlantic.
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