Oct. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Debate Rages Over Price of GOP Pragmatism

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, says the party should “welcome as many people as possible.”

Following a contentious GOP primary season, an intraparty debate has ensued over the importance Senate Republican leaders have placed on pursuing a majority, which has sometimes resulted in their embrace of moderates who hold viewpoints that make conservatives wince.

Most Republican Senators across the party’s ideological spectrum argue against imposing a philosophical litmus test on GOP candidates and prefer to err on the side of winning as many seats as possible. They contend that controlling the Senate floor and running the chamber’s committees carries inherent value, and that only under this scenario can a center-right governing coalition hope to enact conservative legislation and block a liberal agenda.

“I think you want to maximize the number of Republicans that you can elect because in order to govern — in order to set the agenda and organize the Senate — it starts with getting a majority,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said Tuesday. “Obviously, it would [be] nice if that would be a conservative majority. But there are certain places in the country where you’re not going to elect the same brand of Republican.”

“I’m for the most conservative, electable candidate,” added National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas). Both Cornyn and Thune received a perfect score for their 2009 voting records from the American Conservative Union. Cornyn’s lifetime ACU rating is 93.14 out of 100; Thune’s is 87.87.

The notion of retaking control of the Senate as paramount, as expressed by Cornyn and Thune, tends to reflect the views of the 41-member Republican Senate Conference — from the conservatives to the moderates, from the veteran pragmatists to the self-styled deal-makers. But a few conservatives quibble with the notion that getting to 51 seats — and beyond — requires growing the caucus with Republicans prone to straying from the party’s core positions.

First-term Sen. Tom Coburn, a stalwart conservative who has shown little interest in compromising and cutting deals during his Capitol Hill career, said flatly that doing so is unnecessary, although he conceded he would prefer to be in the majority.

“I think the Republican Party ought to give Americans what they want — that’s a government that’s efficient, that doesn’t waste money, that doesn’t spend money it doesn’t have on things it doesn’t need — and that’s the prime thing that’s important to the American people,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “I would love to have a majority. But we’ll find out after Nov. 2,”

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