He is likely the most popular former Republican Governor in the state of New Jersey. During the 1980s, the Garden State was governed by Tom Kean. A test of his popularity could be seen in the fact that his first election was by the smallest margin in New Jersey history and his reelection four years later was by the widest margin in New Jersey history.
That is why when Kean’s observations on the current state of the Republican Party should hold relatively great weight within his party.
On the base surface, Kean sees his party as one that has lost its way and has become beholden to wealthy donors and individuals. For Kean, until the party refocuses and reignites a vision much like Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Today’s Republican Paryy like would not welcome two of the nation’s most popular presidential figures. Lincoln and Roosevelt’s populist centrism lead to grand breaking legislation on slavery and financial regulation respectively.
As Kean expressed,
“You’re not going to put together a majority unless you change the party. I look to Lincoln, and Lincoln was very much about giving opportunity to everybody, particularly those who needed it most. He established land-grant colleges so people who were poor could get an education. He gave 100 acres of land to anyone who was willing to go west and work that land. Teddy Roosevelt invented environmentalism/ He focused on equal opportunity by going after the malefactors of great wealth. Well, we have some malefactors of great wealth now that are worth going after.”
Those contributions are often not on the agendas of most Republicans. They want to repeal legislation like Dodd-Frank and open the door to a repeat of 2007 and 2008 without proper consequences and regulations. While not asking more of those wealthy individuals, they are open to scaling programs like college scholarships and food stamps that cover costs for those who are not as fortunate financially.
For many like Kean, they don’t have to go back 150 years or 100 years and not even 50 years. Turn the clock back 40 years and you have President Richard Nixon, a Republican president. Beyond Nixon’s support of a bill very similar to the Affordable Care Act, Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and lobbied for a national minimum wage for all working families. Republican President Ronald Reagan , the face for many conservative today, even broke from what the current GOP views as vital characteristics of the party. Those include raising taxes, cutting military spending, and approving amnesty for illegal immigrants. All three today would likely be vilified by the GOP’s base.
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise would bluntly state,
“It’s (The Republican Party) gone from a conservative party to a radical party. I didn’t hear a lot from centrist opinion leaders like Kean two years ago. The fact that they’re speaking up now is a very good sign.”
That shift was seen in polls like one from ABC News that showed voters giving President Barack Obama 81% to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 13% when asked about which candidates cares more about “people like me”.
Some have compared this GOP crossroads to the one that the Democratic Party faced 20 years ago. They lost three straight presidential election cycles and it took a southern governor named Bill Clinton from Arkansas to change some opinions and move the line of focus closer to the center that reflected the state of the country’s electorate.
Kean is hoping his party can dig deep and put a Lincoln or Roosevelt or even a Nixon or Reagan in terms of what the country and the center is looking for more of. It is an ideal that says you have principles, but you will still be open to compromise. The biggest issue with both parties today is it is easier to go to your base’s views and fight from there as opposed as coming together and work across the aisle on important issues of today.
President Obama’s reelection serves as an opportunity for Kean to challenge his party. The lack of balance has led to them losing two presidential elections.
Kean would add,
“It could be that they have to suffer one more real loss.”
That loss would be 2016 and they could be dealing with outgoing Secretary of State and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who would be very popular as the leading Democratic choice.
The GOP might have gotten a bit too comfortable with their successes in 2010 in a non-presidential election year. Most observers believe their lack of centrists opinions and balance has cost the GOP a chance at gaining the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012 with candidates a bit too much outside of the mainstream.
New Jersey is a perfect example of those non-centrist opinions being blocked from gaining any real traction. Besides Anna Little’s candidacy in 2010, there have been few successes for the Tea Party and conservative movement in the state. That can be translated to a lot of the country. There have been few non-House races, which focus on a smaller region of voters; that have bred success for very conservative nominees. That is not where the country is and those like Kean within the party see that. Will it take another presidential election to showcase to the GOP their need to abandon some views or will they begin to realize it sooner. That is something that will take time to see. For Kean and similar members of the GOP, it cannot come soon enough.