In Search of Moderate Republicans
Yes they exist, but it's complicated.
Feathers of Hope is a network of ordinary citizens who joined together around a shared commitment to diminishing the power and influence of MAGA extremists in the House of Representatives.
Since January, we have been urging moderate Republicans and Democrats to form a bipartisan majority voting bloc for the purpose of electing a new Republican Speaker, one who owes nothing to the minority MAGA group.
On Wednesday, October 25, Republicans made a different choice. Rejecting the idea of a cross-party alliance, they voted unanimously to elect a MAGA-affiliated Speaker.
We remain committed to defending the institution of the House of Representatives.
We remain committed to diminishing the power and influence of MAGA extremists in the People’s House.
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“There is no such thing as a moderate Republican.”
Okay, I understand why you think that. I’ve heard it again and again from my fellow progressives for more than ten months. That’s how long we at Feathers of Hope have been advocating for a cross-party alliance with moderate Republicans to counter the influence of MAGA extremists in the House of Representatives. I've repeatedly explained that by "moderate" I'm not referring to their policy positions (they are Republicans after all), but to their commitment to the institutions of our self-governing republic.
Policy positions reflect the differences between parties. They are what divide us.
Commitment to the institutions of government, where our differences are debated, is what unites us as a democracy.
No matter, the critics insist. Republicans are all either actively engaged in a plot to install a fascist dictatorship, or they're complicit in that plot, most likely because they've been threatened by the plotters with physical violence. Or, if not threatened by violence, they're threatened by a primary electorate dominated by MAGA extremists.
While this framing can provide powerful motivation for grass-roots activism, it falls short in multiple ways. Most importantly, it's just not true.
There is without doubt a strong MAGA extremist faction in the House whose intent is to "burn the whole place down" as former Speaker Kevin McCarthy described them. That is precisely why we must be clear-eyed and specific about who is and who is not part of the attack we're witnessing.
It will be another full year before we can expect Democrats to re-take the majority. But we can not wait until then; we must confront the insurrectionists now. And to do that, we need to reach across the aisle. It’s simple arithmetic. There are only 212 Democrats in the 433 member House (2 vacancies). Unless we enlist allies from the Republican side, MAGA extremists will continue to dominate the chamber by dominating the Republican conference.
In the current 118th Congress, 149 House Republicans voted for the Fiscal Responsibility Act on May 29 (FRA codified the debt ceiling agreement between Speaker McCarthy and President Biden). And 126 Republicans voted on Sept. 30 for the Continuing Resolution (CR) that funded the government for an additional 47 days into the new fiscal year. These are mostly traditional, conservative representatives who don't favor defaulting on our debt and don't want the government to shut down.
“Who are these so-called moderates?”
Being a politician is a difficult balancing act. There are constraints from party leadership, constituents, donors, colleagues, supporters, friends and even family. In addition to those constraints, moderates by nature impose even more on themselves. They're cautious, not inclined to act boldly or independently. They are proud of being “team players” and don't seek the spotlight. So quite naturally most are not invited to appear on national TV broadcasts.
Unlike publicity-seeking extremists, many of the more moderate Republicans have seriously impressive professional experience from before being elected to the House.. And like all politicians they represent and concentrate on certain interests. These vary from individual to individual, but in general their interests do not include disruption and obstruction. That's what sets them apart from the radical MAGA minority.
For example, those with business and economic interests will favor lower taxes, less government spending, fewer regulations and so forth. But primarily they want a stable business environment with functioning markets -- the opposite of what the MAGA extremists represent with their threats of debt default and government shutdowns.
Likewise, those with national security interests will favor vigorous engagement and strong alliances with other democracies, robust diplomacy and a willingness to confront the enemies of freedom -- quite the opposite of MAGA isolationism and their admiration for autocrats.
“What about the threats? Aren’t they afraid of MAGA?”
It's important to recognize that each House member is most responsive to their own individual district's voters. While MAGA extremists may dominate in the 4th district of Mississippi, they are barely a factor in Omaha, suburban Philadelphia, or Provo, UT. Representatives from those districts, and others, have frequently voted with Democrats and still easily win their primaries.
It’s true that there has unfortunately been a steady increase in the number of credible threats of violence received by moderate Republicans. But there's little evidence that these have intimidated them or influenced their decisions. In fact, the most recent example of the effect of threats suggests the opposite.
Between his second and third attempts at winning the Speakership, MAGA leader Jim Jordan (R-OH) mounted an active telephone campaign against his moderate opposition. The number and intensity of crude threatening calls was shocking. But rather than back down, the number of moderates opposing Mr. Jordan increased, leading to a decisive rejection of his candidacy. As one Republican from a swing district recently remarked, “We’re tired of being pushed around.”
Why it matters.
Crucially, agreeing to the proposition that moderate Republicans don't exist constitutes a unilateral surrender to the MAGA extremists. It would imply that we are powerless on every day that isn't election day. And it would leave them free to pursue their destructive agenda without any meaningful opposition.
The House of Representatives is where those who support convicted January 6 insurrectionists currently wield the most political power. And it's in that institution where we need to prevail. We must defend the beating heart of our self-governing democracy against those who would bring it to a halt.
If we believe that the silence of Republican moderates gives comfort and support to the extremist MAGA faction, then our urgent task is to persuade them to do otherwise. We can't just declare that all is lost and there's nothing more to be done until 2025.
The struggle against authoritarianism is happening right now.
As the Republican party finds itself too riven with dissension to accomplish the basic tasks of governing, a shutdown looms. For MAGA extremists a government shutdown is a victory, an element of their “burn it all down” agenda.
Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has long recognized the distinction between those he calls “traditional Republicans” and “the MAGA extremism that has poisoned the House of Representatives since the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and its aftermath”. Last month, he made a public plea in the Washington Post for those “traditional Republicans” to enter into a bipartisan governing coalition.
Unfortunately, on October 25 they chose a different path. Now, less than three weeks later, they’re facing the consequences of that choice. Their determination not to submit to demands of the MAGA/Freedom Caucus faction has resulted in Speaker Johnson’s complete failure to produce any progress on passage of funding bills laden with extreme far-right amendments.
So despite their resistance to formally joining a cross-party alliance, Republican moderates have in effect entered into an informal coalition of opposition. Together, Democrats and “traditional Republicans” have successfully opposed attempts to pass proposals too extreme to pass the Senate or become law.
With the deadline to avoid a shutdown coming this Friday, a Continuing Resolution (CR) of some sort must be passed in the next few days. And it certainly appears that Democrats and moderate Republicans will provide the votes needed. This was acknowledged on Friday by Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) who said that he and other moderates have been working on language for a CR that could get support from Democrats.
But once the CR is passed, there remains only one way for the stalemate to be broken. That is for those elusive moderate Republicans to join with Democrats in a cross-party alliance to affirmatively reform House rules, so that bills with strong bipartisan support can receive an up-or-down vote on the floor.
This slim volume has been an inspiration for the work of our network at Feathers of Hope. The author is a highly respected historian, specializing in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the Holocaust. It’s available from Amazon here for about $7. Very highly recommended.
“History does not repeat, but it does instruct.”
—Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
Reflecting on how fascist, communist and nazi authoritarians took power in 20th century Europe, Timothy Snyder has written a remarkably practical guide to preserving our freedoms. The twenty lessons referred to in the book’s subtitle appear as 20 chapters, each chapter heading worded as a specific instruction.
Chapter two is called “Defend Institutions”. This lesson is the impetus behind our work here at Feathers of Hope:
“It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning. So choose an institution you care about — a court, a newspaper, a labor union — and take its side.”
We at Feathers of Hope have chosen to act on behalf of the People’s House
It is why we are here, doing what we are doing.
So far as I know, there is no other network focused on the task of helping to defend the House of Representatives against MAGA extremism.
This is a network of ordinary citizens. In a democracy, we exercise our power by raising our voices. To be silent is to be powerless.