Will Most Republicans Go Along With Extreme Positions to Avoid the ‘Moderate' Tag?

If the sparse polling data available is correct, Mitt Romney is not likely to get as large a margin in solidly Republican Tennessee as John McCain did in 2008. Perhaps voters are not as excited about Romney, or perhaps they aren't quite as rabidly anti-Barack Obama as the first time around.

After all, a black man was elected president and the world didn't end. (Though from looking at some of my e-mail, there are those people who think it did.)

But has the personality of the Republican Party changed?

Here in traditionally Republican East Tennessee we tend to be more fiscally conservative and less intense on social issues. Middle Tennessee has become the hotbed of radical on-the-march anti-immigration, anti-abortion conservatism and it is an area more in tune with the perception of what the national party has become.

Republicans are being accused of conducting a "war on women" and being anti-Hispanic.

Some Republican-dominated state legislatures have certainly given the Democrats fodder to put forth the idea, given legislation requiring vaginal probes of women and the "show me your papers" legislation targeting Mexicans in the Southwest.

Republicans have put themselves in a box with large demographic groups, and it belies the party's history. It also puts them at risk as minority populations grow in the future.

Let's recall that the first woman in the U.S. Senate elected without having first been appointed to an unexpired term was Republican Margaret Chase Smith. The first black U.S. Senator in the 20th Century was Republican Edmund Brooke. The first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan also appointed the first women ambassador to the United Nations, in Jean Kirkpatrick.

Republican President George W. Bush made Colin Powell the first black Secretary of State. And he made Condoleezza Rice the first black woman to hold the post.

Four of the six current women governors are Republicans. The only two Hispanic governors are Republicans. The two governors of Indian descent are Republicans—both in Southern states.

The Obama administration has deported more illegal aliens back to Mexico in four years than President Bush did in eight. With his party in control of both the House and Senate his first two years, Obama did not attempt to pass immigration reform as he promised Hispanics during his campaign. Unemployment among Hispanics is higher than the national average. Hispanics have every reason to vote for Romney.

But, here is the irony: Romney can't go to the Hispanic community and criticize Obama for the deportations—his base would froth at the mouth. He also can't credibly promise immigration reform when most of the primary debates among Republicans consisted of arguing about who would build the highest border fence.

The problems of the national Republican Party with minorities and women have largely been created by a minority of Republicans in state legislatures. There are religious conservatives who bring legislation primarily designed to make abortions harder to obtain. These bills make it harder for women's clinics that provide abortions to exist. (A lack of hospital privileges closed a clinic in Knoxville.)

But clinics also provide other health services for women, many of them poor. Will such legislation turn off many women, and many young people, who will view the Republican Party as harsh and anti-women? It makes the face of the party white male state legislators who want to subjugate women.

I sometimes wonder if Tennessee is as conservative as its politics suggest. It may be that the ultra-conservative positions, that may give the national Republicans grief, play well in our state.

Or is it that the extreme branch of the state Republican Party has more passion and more ability to whip up the base than the mainstream Republicans? We have reached a point where even being considered "mainstream" or, God help you, "moderate" can be a mortal blow to a Republican politician.

In the next session of the Legislature we are likely to see a good bit of more extreme legislation than we have seen before. The question will be whether the traditional Republicans will have the courage to vote against "vaginal probes" or whether they go along to get along to avoid being labeled as not being conservative enough.