Friday, March 26, 2004

Take That, Zell


Victor Fasciani, a 40-year-old asset manager, pays membership dues to the Republican National Committee, the only party he’s ever belonged to. He was at the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, where he was a New York delegate for John McCain. He’s no fan of John Kerry, but come November, he says, “I’m probably not voting for Bush, and I’m not voting for Ralph Nader, so that leaves me with a quandary.”

It’s a quandary afflicting many moderate Republicans, who feel alienated by their party’s rightward lurch and economic irresponsibility, and who fear that another four years of Bush will consolidate the power of the party’s most hard-line conservative elements. Even as moderate Republicans make gains in liberal states like New York and California, they’re feeling squeezed by their own party. Elements of the Republican right have declared jihad on the values party moderates hold dear, and though the White House claims to embrace all Republican factions, for most moderates there’s little doubt where its loyalties lie.

Few politicians want to admit the split, but it’s getting almost impossible to ignore. Former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, a Republican who has served four administrations — three of them Republican — slammed Bush this week for a weak response to the threat of terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks. Now he’s being savaged by fellow Republicans who have, in essence, accused him of working to aid the Democrats. McCain, the Arizona senator, along with Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, have made headlines by openly defending Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a fellow Vietnam vet, against Bush campaign charges that Kerry is weak on national defense. The White House is incensed.

McCain and Hagel insist they still support Bush for reelection. The same holds for the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of GOP moderates that includes Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gov. George Pataki of New York, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California; all of them claim to avidly support the president’s reelection.

But there’s little doubt that behind the scenes, some moderate Republicans are rooting for the other side. If Bush wins, one aide to a moderate Republican says privately, “that would be the worst possible situation.”

That’s because some Republicans say that a Bush loss may be their last chance to take their party back. “If Bush were defeated by Kerry, it would certainly call into question the Republican leadership, people like Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert,” says Fasciani. “That axis of the party may lose its weight and its power. The Powell and Giuliani wing of the party would certainly gain some prominence and may, during the next four years of a Kerry administration, perhaps even gain control of the party and increase the tent.” Such hopes have even led some Republicans to found a grass-roots group called Republicans for Kerry.

Ironic that the best thing for the Republicans would be for Bush to lose. BTYFO.*

*Definition of “BTYFO” here.