Circular Firing Squad

Posted Nov. 06, 2009, at 6:22 p.m.

GOP leaders had strong words for party members who strayed from their narrow platform: Watch your back! Rather than attack moderates such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, the GOP should learn from them that the middle road often is better than staying far to the right.

Earlier this week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered by many to be a contender in the 2012 presidential race, said Sen. Snowe had made Republicans mad by her role in the health care debate. She was an active participant in negotiating the Senate Finance Committee overhaul bill and was the only Republican to vote for it.

“She’s somebody who has gotten into the middle of the health care debate in a way that makes Republicans mad,” Gov. Pawlenty said on “Morning Joe,” an MSNBC TV program. “They may accept that, but they’re not going to accept her deviating on many other things.”

Working with the enemy — aka Democrats — to improve life for millions of Americans rather than standing on the sidelines and throwing stones makes Republicans mad? Perhaps they should be mad that families are losing their homes and businesses struggling because of rapidly rising health care costs.

When pressed, he softened his stance a bit. “I think Olympia Snowe is somebody who is more liberal than most Republicans would like but she is better than having a Democrat represent me,” Gov. Pawlenty said.

His criticism paled in comparison to that from the head of the GOP, Michael Steele.

“Candidates who live in moderate to slightly liberal districts have got to walk a little bit carefully here, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you’re crossing that line on conservative principles, fiscal principles, because we’ll come after you,” Mr. Steele told ABC’s “Top Line.”

The GOP is going to come after Sen. Snowe, who won re-election in 2006 with almost three-quarters of the votes cast, or Susan Collins, who won 61 percent of the votes in a year filled with stunning Republican losses? This foolish — and increasingly nasty — infighting will ensure the Republican Party remains a minority.

Instead of threatening moderates, the GOP should follow their lead.

“I think they could probably borrow more from me … in terms of being in touch with your constituents,” Sen. Snowe said in response to Gov. Pawlenty’s comments.

“All I know is I’ve been a lifelong Republican, I [spent] 16 years toiling in the minority in the House of Representatives and [was part] of the effort to get us the majority in 1994 — now we’re in the minority and I’m still here,” she told Politico.

“I always think that we have to be flexible in accommodating a variety of views if we want to be a majority party in reflecting the spectrum across America,” Sen. Snowe said.

Good advice for a party sorely in need of some.

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