Party Moderate Purge

By Kellyn Brown

In response to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’ health care votes against the public option (or government-run insurance plan), liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas has aimed his sights squarely on Montana’s senior senator, vowing to strongly oppose him if he seeks reelection. In 2014, Moulitsas hopes to lure Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer as a primary opponent for Baucus.

In a scathing post last week on his blog Daily Kos, which reaches about 1.5 million people a month, according to quantcast.com, Moulitsas wrote:

“While I’ve long been tolerant of Democrats’ needs to represent their districts, even if it occasionally contradicts party orthodoxy, health care cuts to the very core of what it means to be a Democrat. And those Democrats who are more concerned with insurance company profits than they are about regular people have fundamentally betrayed what it means to be a Democrat.”

Moulitsas holds sway over the left (ABC News once called him the “world’s most powerful liberal blogger”) in much of the same way Rush Limbaugh influences his millions of radio listeners on the right. Yet more seem to be noticing the tendency of these media voices to grossly overestimate their influence – even as they maintain their entertainment value.

In 2006, Moulitsas was credited with helping defeat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in the primaries after he targeted the then-Democrat for, among other things, his staunch support of the Iraq war. Lieberman won reelection by running as an independent in the general election. That same year, Moulitsas and other liberal bloggers helped Democratic Sen. Jon Tester eke out his victory.

Yet anyone with a rudimentary grasp of Montana’s current political landscape knows how unlikely it would be for Schweitzer to take on Baucus. Unless he retires, Baucus should easily win the 2014 Democratic primary – if the recent history of weak challengers to incumbents like Baucus and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg is any indication.

David Brooks, in a New York Times column, recently questioned whether those media voices with the largest platforms actually influence as many votes as they claim. He was specifically referring to talk radio hosts on the right, such as Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Brooks pointed out that they all heavily praised Fred Thompson before last year’s Republican presidential primaries, but his campaign barely got off the ground. Meanwhile, despite the right-wing talking heads collectively and openly criticizing Arizona Sen. John McCain, his campaign surged. Brooks wrote:

“Day after day, whole programs are dedicated to hurling abuse at McCain and everybody ever associated with him. The jocks are threatening to unleash their angry millions.

“Yet the imaginary armies do not materialize. McCain wins the South Carolina primary and goes on to win the nomination.”

During their first presidential caucus on Super Tuesday in February of 2008, Montana Republicans voted resoundingly for Mitt Romney, all while McCain essentially wrapped up his party’s nomination by winning nine other states that night.

McCain, who won Montana in the general election over President Barack Obama, was considered too moderate by many conservative Montana voters who felt similarly about some Republicans in the state Legislature.

So, that same year, a conservative former lawmaker, Rep. Roger Koopman of Bozeman, launched the “Liberty Project” and enjoyed some success in replacing a handful of dreaded Republican moderates with more conservative newcomers in the primaries. But that small victory may have also succeeded in shrinking the party’s appeal.

This constant campaign to purge political parties of moderates has continued to produce mixed results at best, as these out-sized media voices draw larger and larger targets on the backs of less-liberal Democrats and less-conservative Republicans.

Independent voters will take some heart in the observation that these partisan media voices are quite often shooting blanks.

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