“The moderates have had their candidate in 2008 and they had their candidate in 2012. And they got crushed in both elections. Now they tell us we have to keep moderating. If we do that, will we win?” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader. Vander Plaats is an influential Christian conservative who opposed Romney in the Iowa caucuses 10 months ago and opposed Sen. John McCain’s candidacy four years ago.
The conservative backlash sets up an internal fight for the direction of the Republican Party, as many top leaders in Washington have proposed moderating their views on citizenship for illegal immigrants, to appeal to Latino voters. In addition, many top GOP officials have called for softening the party’s rhetoric on social issues, following the embarrassing showing by Senate candidates who were routed after publicly musing about denying abortion services to women who had been raped.
Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, trounced Texas’s establishment candidate in a primary on his way to becoming the second Hispanic Republican in the Senate, and the battle he waged in the Lone Star State epitomizes the fight between the two sides. Although he is considered a rising star with a personal biography that GOP leaders wish to promote, Cruz falls squarely in the camp that thinks Romney was not conservative enough and did not fully articulate a conservative contrast to President Obama, except during the first presidential debate.
“It was the one time we actually contested ideas, presented two viewpoints and directions for the country,” he said at the Federalist Society’s annual dinner in Washington. “And then, inevitably, there are these mandarins of politics, who give the voice: ‘Don’t show any contrasts. Don’t rock the boat.’ So by the third debate, I’m pretty certain Mitt Romney actually French-kissed Barack Obama.”
Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania who finished second to Romney in the GOP primary, lampooned Romney’s assertion that Obama’s victory was fueled by “gifts” to core liberal constituencies in the form of legislative favors.
“The American people do not want ‘gifts’ from their leaders, particularly when these gifts leave a steep bill for our children to pay, but they do want us to be on their side,” Santorum wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Monday. He placed the blame on the national party, saying it lacked an appealing agenda: “We as a party, the party of Ronald Reagan and ‘Morning in America,’ failed to provide an agenda that shows we care.”
The dispute began to take shape soon after Obama was declared the winner and Republicans, who had hoped to claim the Senate majority, lost two seats. Two days after the election, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC News that the Republicans’ mission was to appeal to nonwhite voters: “How do we speak to all Americans? You know, not just to people who look like us and act like us, but how do we speak to all Americans?”