By Luke Brinker
Forty seven percent of voters in yesterday’s New Hampshire primary described themselves as moderate or liberal. Mitt Romney easily carried that group with 37 percent, compared to 26 percent for Ron Paul and 25 percent for Jon Huntsman. In a reminder of just how different New Hampshire’s Republican primary electorate is from that in other states, 62 percent of voters indicated that their views on social issues were moderate or liberal. Romney won among those voters, as well, taking 34 percent to Paul’s 28 percent and Huntsman’s 24 percent. Moderates, then, propelled Romney to victory.
Moderate Massachusetts Mitt would have been a natural fit for such an electorate. It’s unclear, however, how Romney could presently be defined as a centrist Republican. Like culture warrior Rick Santorum, Romney seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, opposes embryonic stem cell research, and has raised doubts about the science behind climate change. These hardly seem like positions amenable to self-described moderate or liberal Republicans. Santorum’s pitch is that he believes these things harder than Romney does, but temperamental moderation should not be mistaken for policy moderation.
Compared to the rest of the field, Romney may be less of an extreme conservative. All GOP contenders call for even more tax cuts than were enacted under President George W. Bush, although Romney’s tax plan includes slightly less cuts for the top one percent than do the other candidates’ plans, as this graph from Ezra Klein shows:
So perhaps “moderation” is a relative term. That said, the New Hampshire exit polls show that there remains a GOP audience for genuine centrism on social and cultural issues. If GOP moderates want an old fashioned, centrist Rockefeller Republican in 2012, there’s already one in the race. He signed a health care reform law modeled on a Heritage Foundation proposal from the 1990s, supports a market-based climate change plan on the lines of George H. W. Bush’s solution to sulfur dioxide emissions, enjoys substantial financial industry support, endorses a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the federal budget deficit, and supports a woman’s right to an abortion. That candidate, of course, is President Barack Obama.