The Charleston Gazette
April 30, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was a popular Republican moderate, respected by many across the political spectrum. When he first filed for a U.S. Senate seat, he seemed sure to win.

But the GOP takeover by far-right hard-liners and Tea Party militants destroyed his support within his own party. Ultraconservative challenger Marco Rubio, House speaker in Florida’s Legislature, soon swept all polls among Republican voters. The fact that Crist once hugged President Obama while supporting the job-creating stimulus infuriated the Rigid Right.

So Crist announced Thursday evening that he’s leaving his party and will seek the Senate seat as an independent.

This jolt underscores a clear pattern: Middle-of-the-road leaders are being forced out of the GOP. Only hard-nosed right-wingers like Sarah Palin are acceptable. A Washington Monthly commentary said:

“The ‘purge’ has been under way for a while now. It’s making the Republican Party smaller, more rigid, less reasonable, and far less open to diversity of thought.”

One of the first moderates to quit was former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H. After leaving Congress, he wrote a bitter book saying the frugal, practical, businesslike GOP of his youth had been usurped by zealots. He protested:

“If someone had told me in the 1960s that one day I would serve in a Republican Party that opposed abortion rights — which the Supreme Court has endorsed — advocated prayer in the schools, and talked about government-inspired ‘family values,’ I would have thought he was crazy.  . . .  Yet I could see the Republican Party gradually being taken over by ‘movement’ conservatives and self-commissioned Christian soldiers whose social agenda I found repugnant.”

Another troubled moderate Republican is Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and former Cabinet secretary under President George W. Bush. She quit because the Bush White House was too soft on polluters, then she wrote a protest book titled “It’s My Party Too.” She complained that intolerant “social fundamentalists” had seized control of the GOP, which might “move so far to the right that it ends up alienating centrist voters and marginalizing itself.”

And there’s Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., who quit the GOP in 2001 and became an independent aligning with Democrats. His Senate seat had been held by a Republican continuously since 1857. After he retired in 2005, his seat was won by independent Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist.

Then came Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who left the GOP in 2009 and became a Democrat. He declared: “As the Republican Party has moved farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy.” He’s running this year as a Democrat.

Meanwhile, in Utah, conservative Sen. Bob Bennett is trailing rival Republicans because he cooperated with a Democrat to sponsor a health-care proposal. Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein commented: “If the Republican Party kicks him out, then that is as clear and final a statement that they have no interest in good-faith cooperation as you could ask for.”

Commentator Matt Yglesias says the party has become locked into an unflinching position that “everything Barack Obama supports must be evil.”

In these Tea Party times, moderates aren’t welcome in the GOP.