As the 1970s unfolded, the GOP moved right and Yarmuth moved left, wary of the growing influence of social conservatives in the Republican Party. The final straw came in 1985, he said, when the late Rev. Jerry Falwell dubbed South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu a “phony.”
Jasmine Farrier, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, lends credence to the rationale espoused by many Rockefeller Republicans that the party moved more than they did.
“Yarmuth might be consistent on a lot of issues, but the Republican Party doesn’t represent them anymore,” Farrier said.
Mary Brennan, professor of history at Texas State University and author of “Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP,” also makes the point that many moderate Republicans had a lost-in-the-wilderness feeling that began in the 1960s and grew in the 1970s, much like the former liberal Democrats who grew disenchanted with their party and eventually formed the core of the neoconservative movement.
“All these liberal Republicans found themselves with nowhere to go after Watergate,” Brennan said.
For Yarmuth, the place to go was the Democratic Party.
But life is never as simple as politicians’ explanations, and ideological comparisons across decades are as difficult to make as trying to measure Walter Johnson against Roger Clemens.
Van Hollen worked for a very liberal Republican Senator who represented a very liberal state.
But a side-by-side comparison with the other former staffer who once worked for a member of the other party — Boren, who worked for Democrat-turned-Republican in a conservative state — reveals that the Oklahoma Democrat has hugged moderation a lot more tightly than his Bluegrass colleague.
Since coming to Congress in 2007, Yarmuth has been a far more reliable vote for his leadership, backing the party line more than 98 percent of the time on votes in which a majority of Democrats aligned against a majority of Republicans, compared with Boren’s 79 percent over the same period.
And rhetorically, the Kentucky Democrat’s words are anything but the model of moderation, although they do retain a hint of Rockefeller’s acerbic style, if not content, as when he referred to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as “three Bill Buckners” at a 2008 hearing.
“Republicans are the extreme element in politics right now,” Yarmuth said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.