Former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis from Alabama recently changed his voter registration to Virginia and started to hold himself out to the public as a Republican (there is no party registration in Virginia). After he lost his race to become the Governor of Alabama in 2010, Davis has spoken out against the leftward shift of the Democratic Party in recent years. Observers say that he is seeking to return to Congress from Northern Virginia as a Republican.
Republicans are welcoming Artur Davis with open arms and rolling out the red carpet for him now. They are of course desperate to use any crossover official, especially someone with as much clout as Davis, as a PR tool to give off the impression that momentum is on the GOP side.
Will Davis be just as welcome if he decides to run for office in the future as a Republican? Republicans get excited because Davis is a former Democrat who happens to be African American and is speaking out against the Obama Administration. However, what if such criticisms have more to do with the leftward shift of the Democratic Party instead of a rightward shift in Davis’ views?
The distinction is key and the answer will be telling. If Davis does have a rightward shift in his views, he can stay in good graces with the GOP. However, if Davis stayed the same while the Democratic Party moved left, that will pose challenges for Davis to be embraced by the GOP once they find out that he did not really change at all.
The American Conservative Union gives Artur Davis a lifetime conservative rating of 21.38. In today’s starkly polarized Congress and electorate, 21.38 is effectively “moderate” territory that can allow a Member to legitimately claim to be a centrist Blue Dog Democrat. Most Members either have 90+ or 10- according to the American Conservative Union.
Because the GOP has been on a “purity” streak in recent years purging all perceived moderates and even pragmatic conservatives (because they are not angry and vindictive enough against Democrats) in their midst, for Davis to increase his influence and even win a primary, he has to move that 21.38 over to 91.38. That is a huge swing in philosophy. As much as Davis is no longer welcome with Democrats, he might find out in a few years that he is no longer welcome with Republicans either.
In today’s polarized political climate, it is hard to fathom that the United States actually has a weak party system, relatively speaking. The United States does not have a multi-party parliamentary style of government. In such systems, toeing the party-line and being a “team player” are absolute necessities. Breaking ranks on a few issues due to unique regional constituent needs or due to conscience on important votes would result in the possibility of expulsion from the party from the top.
At least in the United States, Blue Dog Democrats and Main Street Republicans still exist within their parties (both sides are loose coalitions) despite party activists throwing out epithets of “DINO” and “RINO” and seeking to run primary challenges against them. As a person who has worked for Congressman Chet Edwards (D-TX), I know that there are quite a few independent thinking Members on both sides who will put the priorities of the people above the Party. Many more politicians on both sides of varying ideological fealty are able to set up self-sufficient campaign operations without much help from the Party and don’t owe the Party anything in return for their success.
The key difference is that in the United States, the DNC and RNC Chairmen and the Majority and Minority Leaders cannot expel independent thinking members by themselves. That move must come from the electorate.
The United States’ two party system is supposed to gravitate towards the center in theory. When the two party system produces flame throwers like Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Allen West (R-FL) instead of pragmatic statesmen and stateswomen, the theory is not reality. Unfortunately, highly-charged, agitated activists are destroying independent-minded, centrist thinking in favor of china-breaking, hardline politicians on both sides. This leaves people like Artur Davis (if his views did not change much) and countless individuals in the American electorate without a home in politics.
This is bad for public policy and it is bad for the American people.