Let’s extend the reality check: Fifteen years ago, popular Republican leaders dominated the northeast—from Gov. Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania to Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in New Jersey to New York’s George Pataki and Massachusetts’s William Weld.
They all shared a similar centrist political profile that can be fairly described as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Most were pro-choice and pro-immigrant, but they were seen as bulwarks against free-spending Democratic state legislatures. They did not pander to social-conservative populists, and no one would accuse them of representing the Party of Stupid. Most important, they won elections in what might have otherwise been inhospitable territory. In the same era, a third-way generation of urban Republican mayors was proliferating across the country as well, including L.A.’s Richard Riordan, and Indianapolis’s Stephen Goldsmith.
What changed? The play-to-the-base, red state-versus-blue state strategy of Karl Rove alienated Northeast Republicans, along with the elevation of evangelicals like John Ashcroft to positions like attorney general. Northeast Republicans—who represented a distinct tradition of political reform and fiscal responsibility going back to Teddy Roosevelt—left the GOP in droves; to such an extent in fact, that registered independents (or non-affiliated) voters outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats in most seaboard states north of New Jersey.
The cause and effect is clear. The RINO-hunting in the national Republican Party has been especially disastrous in the northeast.