Matt Miller - The Archives

How Democrats can save the GOP
The Washington Post, June 19, 2013

Fed up yet?

First the Republican party blocked even the mildest new gun laws to broaden background checks.

Next, the House GOP made clear this week it plans to thwart immigration reform.

Then Tuesday evening, in another heady act of doomed symbolism, the House passed a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks—plainly an urgent matter when 21 million Americans who want full time work can't find it, while the House can't find time to take up the president's jobs bill.

Look, people who know me well will tell you I'm not really a partisan guy. In another era (the era when Richard Nixon was to the left of Barack Obama on health care, college costs, a minimum family income and school finance equity, for instance), I might have been a Rockefeller Republican.

But isn't it time we went beyond merely complaining that the rightward lurch of the GOP is the chief obstacle to sound policy? And instead made the revival of that extinct species, the moderate Republican, a national priority?

Isn't it clear that this goal needs to be atop the agenda not only for Republicans who view their party's retrograde tilt with horror, but for Democrats who want to make the world safe for the renewal agenda the country needs?

Desperate times, it is said, call for desperate measures. That's why my wife, Jody, says it's time for the "Patriotic Switch."

The what?

Jody's idea—developed during a lengthy brunch summit in Los Angeles around the time Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their own shirt-sleeve summit in Palm Springs—is that Democrats who are serious about changing our politics can no longer leave the task of fixing the Republican party to Republicans. After all, they've had plenty of time to shape up, and things are only getting worse. So Democrats have a duty to roll up their sleeves and fix the GOP themselves.

That means going where logic leads you. Democrats in sufficient numbers need to switch their party registration in order to vote in closed GOP primaries for moderate Republican candidates who can knock out the bad guys. These candidates will otherwise have no chance of being chosen in races dominated by extremists. Democratic donors need likewise to create new funding vehicles to support moderate Republicans in their quest to take back their party.

This can be done quietly or with a lot of noise; what matters is results. The country needs to start electing sane Republicans who will support policies that promote equal opportunity, upward mobility and economic security in the United States.

Jody knows how distasteful and even unthinkable this step will seem to many Democrats. (She's never voted for a Republican in her life.) But she says it's time people realized that the biggest lever for the change Democrats seek is to alter the character of the GOP. Holding your nose and supporting an unattractive choice is a time-honored tradition in America, at least in foreign affairs. If we can suck it up and back "our" hoodlums in remote regimes, Jody reasons, why not do something similar in key races where Democrats will never get elected anyway?

Political pros need to do the district-by-district analysis that would inform such a scheme, but a little known tale from the Democratic side suggests the power of the idea.

When Jack Markell first ran for governor in Delaware in 2008, the party establishment lined up behind his liberal opponent. Markell, a former businessman and more centrist figure, knew he'd have broad appeal in a general election, but he had to get out of the primary. His campaign quietly and methodically identified independents and Republicans willing to change their registration to vote for him in the Democratic primary.

Markell got 3,500 folks to switch. He won the primary by 1,700 votes.

Moral of the story? A little strategic thinking goes a long way.

Jody's idea deserves a hearing. (Have you noticed, by the way, what a serious matter intellectual property is in Chez Miller? The house columnist can't pilfer freely, as China does, without launching the marital equivalent of a trade war. So if you like this idea, it's Jody's. If you've got a beef, it's something I tweaked. Who says intellectual chivalry is dead?)

Jody thinks Democrats who make this supreme sacrifice should be seen as heroic patriots. They should also be tracked on a kind of witness protection program list, so that Democrats who make the patriotic switch won't be penalized or stigmatized when they come back to the fold.

Before you reject this notion, ask yourself, what's your alternative? And for fun, ask yourself this as well: What single step is better designed to enrage conservatives allergic to liberal condescension than a cheeky new movement called "Democrats for a Sane Republican Party?