Rockefeller's Revenge

02/16/2012 02:37 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012

Should moderate Republicans exploit the Citizens United ruling for their own ends?

I can still hear Rush Limbaugh's on-air celebration in January 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the McCain-Feingold law as unconstitutional. Limbaugh, who spent years denouncing the law on air, declared the ruling a victory for free speech in general and conservative speech in particular, insisting that McCain-Feingold simply allowed the "liberal media" to unfairly influence elections in favor of Democrats.

I thought Limbaugh had lost his mind. What if progressive groups outspent conservative groups in elections? Wouldn't Citizens United work to the benefit of the left in that scenario?

As it turned out, the right exploited Citizens United to regain control of the House as well as numerous governorships and state legislatures. Rachel Maddow has persuasively argued that the recent Republican crusade against public-sector unions is in fact an effort to prevent those unions from influencing elections on behalf of Democrats, clearing a path for Republicans to use special-interest money to dominate elections.

There has been plenty of hand-wringing from progressives about the threat Citizens United poses to American democracy. So long as the ruling can be used by ultra-conservative special interests to push the GOP as rightward as possible, it is indeed a threat. However, what if old-school moderate Republicans started using Citizens United to bring the GOP back to what it should be?

Surely, there are some centrist members of the "one percent" who are looking on in horror as the GOP doubles down on retrograde recklessness. Surely, there are some moderate moneymen who miss the days of Nelson Rockefeller and Edward Brooke, who recall a time when the GOP cherished common sense and revered rationality.

Why not form a series of moderate Republican SuperPACs and 527 groups? Why not buy back the past?

If centrist Republicans considering Congressional bids knew that big money would help them combat well-funded ultraconservative opponents in House and Senate primaries, they wouldn't be afraid to run in key races. If incumbent centrist Republicans -- the few that are left, that is -- knew that they'd have someone protecting them in the face of challenges from Tea Party upstarts, they wouldn't retreat from their reasoned positions on the issues.

Yes, some progressive activists are pushing for a constitutional amendment to effectively nullify Citizens United. However, the odds of such an amendment passing are about as slim as the odds of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage being enacted. From a certain perspective, wouldn't it be wiser to use a "wrong" ruling to achieve a "right" result?

The GOP won't stop wooing the far right on its own. Even if the GOP fails to recapture the White House and loses its House majority, the dollars and dynamics driving the GOP rightward will still be in place. It will take money to beat money.

Recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman lamented the GOP's drift into dementia, and declared that the country needs a responsible Republican Party again:

The party has let itself become the captive of conflicting ideological bases: anti-abortion advocates, anti-immigration activists, social conservatives worried about the sanctity of marriage, libertarians who want to shrink government, and anti-tax advocates who want to drown government in a bathtub.

Sorry, but you can't address the great challenges America faces today with that incoherent mix of hardened positions. I've argued that maybe we need a third party to break open our political system. But that's a long shot. What we definitely and urgently need is a second party -- a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country.

Unfortunately, Democrats won't have a "coherent Republican opposition" until Rockefeller Republicanism makes a roaring comeback -- and that won't happen until and unless those who are disgusted by the radical rightward turn of the party use their resources to pull the GOP back to the middle.

We need real Republican leadership in this country -- the sort of leadership that knows better than to turn women's rights and gay rights into political footballs, the sort of leadership that knows better than to declare supply-side economics infallible, the sort of leadership that knows better than to proclaim anthropogenic climate change a hoax, the sort of leadership that knows better.

It's not enough to complain about the influence that Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers have on the GOP. It's time for moderate Republicans with money and motivation to fight back, strike back, and take their party back.