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The Northeastern Republicans: The Last Stand for Centrism in the GOP?

By: Luke Montalbano

One of the four remaining GOP governors in the Northeast, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has also proven to be (alongside his Northeastern counterparts) a relative moderate on most issues. Photo Credit: NBC News

With the recent announcement that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker will not seek a third term, many moderates amongst both the Democrats and Republicans fear that centrist politics, especially on the right-wing, are fading into obscurity. Additionally, with the moderate Republican Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan terming out, the losses of political heavyweights for moderate voters in the 2022 election cycle are severe.

With only two remaining Republican governors in the Northeast, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont, the moderate GOP stronghold that existed for decades, in fact, centuries, has almost totally evaporated. Furthermore, these two governors have proven to not only be uniquely situated as the only GOP governors seeking re-election in their region (and almost assured to win as well) but also to be some of the few remaining truly moderate Republicans at both a gubernatorial and national level.

Although neither Gov. Hogan nor Gov. Baker is running for re-election, this is not necessarily a bad sign for how well centrist Republicans are able to perform in the general election. In fact, the concern for centrist Republicans is if they can even win their primary (there is speculation that this is the cause of Gov. Baker’s retirement). In Massachusetts, for example, although polls predicted a gubernatorial landslide for the Republican Party under Baker, polls indicated that he would face a difficult campaign against the Trump-endorsed former State Representative Geoff Diehl in the primary, who is almost certain to face defeat against any Democratic candidate this November. Although centrism is popular amongst the general Northeastern electorate, it seems to have no place in the minds of much of the Republican Party, at large, regardless of state and regardless of the general election outcome.

In almost every state, a similar trend is being seen: centrism is being ditched for paleo-conservatism and the novel ideology of Trumpism. Although it is evident that the Northeast GOP is now seeing the effects of this shift, the process will certainly be slower than in other states such as California, Ohio and Georgia. As a consequence of this, liberal Republicans (AKA centrists or Rockefeller Republicans) of these states would be well served to consolidate power as swiftly as possible, before populist sentiments take hold as they have elsewhere. In New Hampshire, Gov. Sununu has proven effective at consolidating a moderate base within his own party by breaking with Trump, essentially from the get-go, on most social issues while retaining some support on economic issues. In this way, Sununu has been able to keep the more right-wing faction of the New Hampshire Republican Party in check, while also retaining an image independent of Trump, unlike many other red-state governors. For centrist Republicans, it is crucial to maintain an arms-length (or more) distance from former President Trump, while carefully weaving through the intricacies of the party’s economic platform to prevent internal revolt.

In Massachusetts, Governor Baker was unable to prevent such a mutiny (although one must admire his courage in sticking with his convictions, rather than abandoning them in favour of electoral success). Moderate governors must consider moving off of the defensive as soon as politically possible and must prove their case to primary voters in their own states and others as well. Socially moderate Northeast Republicans, embracing fiscally conservative platforms, could readily become competitive for gubernatorial elections across most states in the Northeast, particularly where Democratic governors are unpopular (such as Connecticut and, to a much lesser extent, New York.) Strategically, they must take a similar approach to that of their fellow Republican governors on the right-wing of the party.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is a great example of how a state-level official can make a national name for ones’ self. Although he is the governor of one of the largest states in the United States of America, his use of national issues to define policy has proven effective at drawing media attention from not only local outlets, but national outlets as well. While his press conferences are primarily focused on Florida, they oftentimes have been dedicated to responding to national developments. Arguably, this has allowed DeSantis to become the new face of the paleo-conservative movement (even overshadowing Trump). Moderate Republican governors would be well served by developing a national presence that reinforces moderacy is not dead in the GOP and can be the greatest asset to winning the undecided voters as well as moderate Democrats. Through this, they would be capable of spreading the centrist message and would have a greater chance of striking a chord with voters in states more inclined to vote for a centrist candidate. At this point, Gov. Sununu or Gov. Scott are the only two viable options for this (although Sununu would likely be more effective at receiving national coverage considering the earlier attempt to draft Sununu as the senate candidate for New Hampshire in this year’s midterms).

There is an opportunity for centrist Republican politicians amongst the American electorate, especially in the Northeast. As long as the remaining centrist GOP governors fail to take the national limelight, it is quite possible that centrism in the GOP, in even the most liberal of states, will soon fade into obscurity. One can argue that Governor Scott of Vermont and Governor Sununu of New Hampshire are the last lines of defence for centrism in the Republican Party. It will require them and others to find their courage to stand for centrism or it may well disappear in Republican politics for decades to come.

Written by writer Luke Montalbano

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