Christie Whitman’s Centrist Plea
By Chris Cillizza
The Washington Post
August 3, 2009

Fifteen years ago, Christine Todd Whitman was widely touted as one of the bright young stars in the Republican party — having defeated Jim Florio (D) in the 1993 New Jersey gubernatorial election.

After spending two years as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush earlier this decade, however, Whitman was relegated to the sidelines of a party not particularly interested in hearing her centrist message.

With Republicans now at their lowest electoral ebb in decades, Whitman is lending her voice to the conversation about how the party should go about rebuilding in a new essay in the summer edition of the reform-minded Ripon Forum.

“This is still a center-right nation and I am sure the President views his declining popularity among that groups with great concern,” writes Whitman, highlighting the fact that in 2008 exit polls the largest ideological group in the country was, as it had been in 2004, moderates.

In order to capitalize on President Barack Obama’s slipping poll numbers, Whitman recommends two things: a focus on ideas-oriented messaging and an avoidance of controversial social issues that serve to thin rather than grow the party.

Whitman criticizes her party for their recent debate over Obama’s “cap and trade” energy policy, noting that the Republican attacks centered on dismissing the proposal as “cap and tax” rather than offering solutions of their own. “The irony here is that the cap-and-trade concept was first used almost 20 years ago, under a Republican president, to successfully reduce acid rain,” she writes.

She is also critical of the recent focus by Republicans on a concealed weapon amendment sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) even as the health care reform debate was raging. “Instead of issues that appeal to a minority of voters, we should focus on the core conservative principles of limited government that have served our party well and made our country great,” said Whitman.

Whitman has been making this sort of centrist argument for years without much impact as the party under Bush moved to the ideological right.
But, with moderates like Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Mike Castle (De.) as well as Gov. Charlie Crist (Fla.) leading the Republican Senate recruiting class, Whitman’s message may well find more fertile ground within the party over the coming months and years.