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The GOP's Shift

New York Times columnist David Brooks has an interesting piece today on why we need to take Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential ambitions seriously. Among the prime considerations - and this could have implications in the looming GOP primary in Rhode Island's First Congressional District between former State Representative John J. Loughlin II and former state superintendent of police Colonel Brendan Doherty - is the pronounced, rightward drift of the Republican Party in the last couple of years:

Within the Republican Party, the rightward shift has been even more vehement. In 2008, roughly 63 percent of primary voters called themselves conservative, according to Public Policy Polling. Now it’s roughly 73 percent. The number of moderate Republicans has withered.

The events of 2009 and 2010 also concentrated the Republican mind. It used to be that there were many themes in the Republican hymnal. Now there is only one: Government is too big, and it needs to be brought under control. It used to be there were many threats on the horizon. Now there is only one: the interlocking oligarchy of politicians, academics, journalists, consultants and financiers who live along the Acela corridor want to rip America from its traditional moorings.

The Public Policy polling he cites does not include any northeastern states, which are traditionally more moderate in their GOP politics. But the states it does include are reasonably moderate in their own right: Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Florida. And it's easy to imagine the trend Public Policy outlines and Brooks amplifies - a drift to the right - holding true in the Rhode Island GOP, even if the party remains more moderate here than in, say, Virginia.

Loughlin, as I noted in my recent cover story on the brewing GOP race, is making an early push for the party's conservative wing, while his allies attempt to close the GOP primary - keeping out more moderate independents. Doherty presents as the more centrist candidate. That would suit him well in a general election contest with Congressman David Cicilline. But first he has to make it out of a Republican Party of growing ideological fervor.

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