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Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel suggested today that Rush Limbaugh is the brain of the GOP. On the contrary, I would argue that Limbaugh represents the heart of the Republican Party. If the party does have a brain, it would be Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R-UT).

Following the Republican Party's resounding 2008 defeat, many sought to find the answers to the GOP's growing gap in voter registration and enthusiasm.

The party's brain argued the party needs to moderate and scrap its rigid ideology in order to have any chance to appeal to a younger generation of Americans which appears to be culturally different from the generations which preceded it.

The heart of the GOP, still longing for the 1980s, said the party's abandonment of its principles was to blame for its defeat in consecutive election cycles; the road to restoring its glory would be paved by getting back to basics, shifting further right, and re-emphasizing fiscal discipline and responsibility, as well as tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

It has taken some time for the face of the GOP's brain to show up, as those who subscribe to the heart's ideology dominate the party's diminished presence in Congress.

But Huntsman, considered a dark horse in the race for the 2012 nomination, has been making the rounds on television lately and granted two extensive interviews (first and second) to the Politico in which he offers a unique prescription, which isn't too complex, to the GOP's ailment: appeal to the center.

He argues the GOP must moderate its views on gay rights and the environment.

Jonathan Martin writes:

The two issues “carry more of a generational component than anything else,” [Huntsman] said.

Huntsman, the father of seven, points to his own children, all of whom were born after Reagan’s second term began, to underscore the shift.

“Just sit around your dinner table with your kids, as I do, my teenagers and college kids, and you’ll get a sense of the world for what it is and what it is becoming,” he said. “And it’s a whole lot different than the dinner conversations I used to have with my parents, that grew up during the ’50s.”

On the issues of science and the environment:

“We cannot become the anti-science party and succeed,” he said. “We have to be intellectually honest as a party, and I think we’ve drifted a little bit from intellectual honesty in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, for example, where they would use rigorous science to back up many of their policies, and in this case many of their environmental policies. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency... A lot of intellectual rigor went into the policies of those days, and we’ve drifted a little bit from taking seriously the importance of science to buttress much of what we’re doing today, whether it’s basic research and development [or] whether it’s looking at climate science.”

Without acknowledging and addressing issues like climate change, Huntsman said the party stands to lose not only the youth vote but also the constituencies that once formed core GOP’s strongholds--what he called “the old suburbias.”

Huntsman went so far as to present a different picture of Reagan than the rosier image idolized by the GOP's heart:

“I think he has been, in some cases, misinterpreted,” said Huntsman, who was a junior White House staffer in his administration. “Reagan was a person of solid beliefs, but he was also someone with – with a solid dose of pragmatism.”

...

“He wasn’t afraid to negotiate with the evildoers in the world,” said Huntsman, using a word associated with another president who was emphatically opposed to engaging America’s enemies. “You know, in some cases we shy away from confrontation, meeting people on the world stage. He sat down with Gorbachev.”

...

“He’s also the man, in 1987, who decided that the policy of amnesty would be one way of properly addressing our immigration policy,” Huntsman recalled. “Everyone sort of bowed and accepted that. Today, we don’t.”

In the first Politico interview, Huntsman again contradicted the party line on a host of issues. He argued that Republicans should try to appeal to the educated once again and suggested the stimulus bill was imperfect -- it should have been larger.

At CPAC, Limbaugh gave the heart's retort to this first assertion:

And beware of those different factions who seek as part of their attempt to redefine conservatism, as making sure the liberals like us, making sure that the media likes us. They never will, as long as we remain conservatives. They can't possibly like us; they're our enemy.

The emergence of a moderate wing of the GOP is quite an interesting development, which prompts a multitude of questions that cannot be answered yet.

Is there room for a growing moderate faction in the Republican Party? What portion of the party does this segment represent? Will the faction be incorporated into the GOP's platform, or will it be decapitated by the party's powerful conservative base which threatens to move the party, for better or for worse, further right?

Cross-posted at The New Argument.

Originally posted to andrewtna on Sun Mar 01, 2009 at 03:24 PM PST.

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