When did the GOP become too conservative?

Arlen Specter told David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday Morning that the GOP has become too conservative:

“The Republican Party has gone far to the right since I joined it under Reagan’s big tent.”

Meghan Mccain says the GOP needs to become more moderate:

“I just wish that moderates like myself — more moderate Republicans and more socially liberal Republicans — weren’t looked at as, ‘Get rid of the dirty moderates. Get rid of them.'”

We hear similar statements from Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and David Frum. I must have missed something here. In what way exactly has the Republican Party moved to the right since Ronald Reagan’s presidency?

Did his successor, George H. W. Bush move the party rightward? The man who said, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” simply raised the old ones. The senior Bush signed into law one of the most pro-civil rights bills in decades, the Americans with Disabilities Act. He increased federal spending for education and child care, and GHWB reauthorized the Clean Air Act. No, no great rightward lurch on his watch. Not even a slow drift to starboard.

Perhaps it was during the presidency of the elder Bush’s son that the Republican Party became so radically conservative. Those two tax cuts are a sure sign of it, are they not? Well, only if you ignore such initiatives as the No Child Left Behind Act (on which GWB partnered with that raging right-winger Ted Kennedy), a Medicare drug benefit program, the Medicare Act of 2003 and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. Bush also proposed an emergency plan for worldwide AIDS relief, and authorized over $100 Billion for Katrina relief. Excuse me, but I fail to see the hard right conservatism here. Compassionate conservatism, as GWB called it, was hardly the stuff of exclusion and extremism.

If not the White House, it must be in the Congress where the Republican Party became so gosh-darned conservative, then. But does anyone really believe the House has gone to the right since Newt Gingrich and the heady days of the Contract with America? Although The RSC has made a few courageous stands, the House didn’t do much to shrink the size of government while the nation’s debt continued to rise. The Senate was been even less conservative, and both houses have been under Democrat control since 2006. I look at Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, and I just don’t see the rock-ribbed, hyper-conservative leadership the Republican Party is alleged to be under.

The chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, is no wild-eyed right-wing ideologue, either. Although some Republican governors are clearly conservative, which of them leads the GOP down the path to the right? For every Haley Barbour, there’s a Charlie Crist. For every Mark Sanford, there’s a Tim Pawlenty. Is former presidential candidate John McCain the leader of the party? No, and even if he were, McCain is hardly an irresistible force pulling the GOP to the right. Nor was Bob Dole years before him.

To hear the Democrats tell it, you’d think that Rush Limbaugh is that leader and that all-powerful force. While Rush’s opinions are shared by millions of conservatives, his thinking does not dominate the affairs of the Republican Party. The “religious right” gets a lot of blame, but that movement is not as influential as it has been in past years.

So would someone from the moderate wing of the Republican Party please explain to me how the party has become more conservative in recent years and name for me the persons who are responsible for it? I know that it’s not those of us in the rank and file who cling to our guns and bibles. No, we have been mostly a frustrated bunch who feel that the GOP has been abandoning conservative principles for more than a decade at least.

Someone please explain to me how the Republican Party came to be too conservative. I want names, dates and places.

– JP