The transformation of the Republican Party in the mid to late 20th century from one dominated by a moderate-liberal Eastern establishment to the current conservative model is a historic fact. Even the mere hint of moderation on the part of a Republican candidate is enough to send the party’s grass roots into conniption fits. The most damning accusation that can be lodged against anyone in the GOP these days is that of being a RINO — Republican in name only — a term that is synonymous with betrayal of principle and mushy statism. But two important Senate contests this year raises an interesting question that Republicans ought to seriously consider: is it ever okay for the party to nominate a moderate?
In Connecticut, two candidates are contesting the Republican nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman: Wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former congressman Chris Shays. For conservatives in this very blue state, the choice may be an easy one since McMahon is a Tea Party sympathizer. By contrast, Shays is more or less what most people think of when they hear the term RINO. In his 21 years representing Fairfield County in Congress Shays voted more often with liberals than conservatives. Yet a Quinnipiac University poll showing the pair in matchups against the two prospective Democratic challengers in the race ought to give even the most ardent RINO-haters pause. The survey shows Shays in a virtual dead heat against either Democrat while McMahon is badly beaten in both matchups. Should that influence GOP voters?