- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

In the new Broadway play “Democracy,” actor Richard Thomas plays an East German spy who manages in the midst of the Cold War to penetrate the upper echelons of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s government.

California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could be the Democrat Party’s “plant” inside the GOP, or so it seems from an interview he gave recently to a German newspaper. In that interview, Mr. Schwarzenegger suggested the Republican Party should move left to attract more voters.

What is interesting about this suggestion is its contrast with what Mr. Schwarzenegger told the Republican National Convention in New York last summer. Then, he said it was Richard Nixon and his conservative policies that persuaded him to become a Republican after emigrating from his native Austria. Nixon famously created the Southern strategy, which doomed the GOP’s liberal wing and began the Democrat Party’s long decline into its current anemic state.

Why would Mr. Schwarzenegger want to trade a winning strategy for one with a proven record of failure? When the Republican Party was controlled by lefties like Nelson Rockefeller and House Minority Leader Charles Halleck, the party lost elections. For 40 years, the moderate-liberal wing of the Republican Party never achieved majority status in the House of Representatives.

The change began with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. By then, the once “Solid South” on which Democrats could rely for their electoral and congressional base had all but disappeared.

In 1994 the GOP “revolution” erupted, led by Newt Gingrich. Republicans have maintained — and in the last election, they expanded — their majorities in the House and Senate. None of this was done by appealing to liberal voters.

Mr. Schwarzenegger told his interviewer Republicans could win 5 percent more of the vote by moving “a little to the left.” Since Mr. Schwarzenegger ran and has mostly governed as an economic conservative and social liberal, he can only mean having the GOP move to the left on abortion and same-sex “marriage,” among other social issues.

But what he failed to acknowledge was that even if the GOP picked up another 5 percent support, it would lose a far larger percentage of social and religious conservatives, who tend to vote more on principle than they political pragmatism.

The Schwarzenegger “strategy” — if one can call political suicide a strategy — would gain favor with editorial page editors in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, but it would return the Republican Party to minority status virtually overnight. Conservatives would stay home or vote for a third-party candidate, not so much in protest as to demonstrate that for them convictions mean more than party loyalty. This is an ideal plan, but only for Democrats. It’s a lousy plan for Republicans, at least those who think winning elections is the preferred way to advance policies.

The Schwarzenegger suggestion is for “girly men,” not for political leaders who want to “terminate” their opponents. You won’t find Democrats moving right to attract more conservative, or at least less liberal, voters. For Republicans to flirt with, or embrace, the dwindling Rockefeller wing of their party would set back the party to pre-Goldwater days.

Democrats would love this plan. No Republican worth the name should pay attention to it. Has Mr. Schwarzenegger checked the election map lately? Doesn’t he see all those red states and counties and how many there are, as opposed to the few blue states and counties?

The country is headed toward the right, which is where the Republican Party is now positioned. Why does the governor of California want to move in the opposite direction?

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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