Nixon was a moderate and a pragmatist. He was not a conservative. Nor were all his supporters. Did some Nixon voters later vote for Reagan and become Fox News fans? Absolutely. Yet there also were people such as my Mom. There’s a lot in the mix. As with all issues Nixonian, working through the motives and objectives requires discernment.Among other things, one discerns that moderates are dissed, devalued, and demoted. We don't have a cable station. Few if any Republicans would dare utter the word "moderate" without swearing or spitting. At first blush, we indeed appear to be a dwindling tribe. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as moderates has fallen from 43% to 35% since 1992. During the same period, self-identified conservatives increased from 36% to 40%, while the liberals edged up from 17% to 21%. That means we've lost 4% each on both ends of the spectrum, a symptom, Gallup says, of our increasingly polarized politics.
But those numbers, while great news for Fox News' and MSNBC's ratings, aren't so great for the GOP's general election chances in 2012. Conservatives are prone to saying that moderates are really liberals. Spend three minutes on FreeRepublic, and you'll get the picture. Stipulating their point for the purposes of argument, that makes the U.S. electorate 56% (liberals plus moderates) to 40% conservatives. Nixon's oft-quoted dictum was that Republican candidates always had to scurry to the center to contend in general elections. This year, primary-season contenders will have had to spend so much time in birtherland and Obama-ignored-Easterland that reclaiming a sufficient share of the center back from the president may be impossible.