The ReCenter Response

As promised, here is ReCenter’s response to yesterday’s post.


In her blog post of April 20, Sheila Kennedy expresses dismay, if not outright despair, over the current deep polarization in American political life.

We at ReCenter Indiana can relate. In fact, that’s why we formed this non-profit, bipartisan organization.

Our friend Sheila, who once was a proud Republican, likens today’s GOP to a cult. Again, there’s plenty of evidence of that. A group in the thrall of an authoritarian, charismatic leader, abandoning its long-held principles? Check.

Nonetheless, Indiana needs the balance of a healthy two-party system. Our state also needs the ideas of reasonable people across the political spectrum. Fortunately, as Sheila acknowledges, there are still people like that in the Republican Party. One of ReCenter Indiana’s goals is to give them encouragement to stand up to the strident voices of fear and division.

Sheila’s additional concern is that “the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic,” requiring “adherence to extremist and antidemocratic positions.” On the national level, she accurately points out, “Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence.” And she correctly decries the blatant gerrymandering that enables a “radical supermajority” to keep getting elected to state offices here in Indiana.

To be clear, the supermajority is radical because, in so many gerrymandered districts, the only real competition is in the primary, and the only imperative is to avoid being outflanked on the right.

But we still find room for hope. Carmel and Evansville are two of Indiana’s largest cities. Both have successful centrist Republican mayors who are not seeking re-election. Each of those cities this spring has a competitive Republican primary to nominate a potential successor.

In Carmel, two of the three mayoral candidates in the GOP primary impress us with their willingness to listen to and represent all the residents of their community. The third candidate did not respond to our requests for an interview.

In Evansville, both candidates in the Republican mayoral primary talked with us. And one of them clearly appreciates that complex problems don’t have simple solutions. She also understands the importance of building consensus.

Sheila concludes that “the only way America will emerge from our current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, and its subsequent dramatic reformation or replacement.”

Our concern with that is what might emerge from the rubble. That outcome is unknown and terribly risky. First, because if just one political party remains standing, it is all but certain to prove the axiom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Second, because even more antidemocratic and violence-prone forces could well take the GOP’s place.

No one supposes that moving Indiana politics back to the center will be easy or fast. But we think it will be easier, faster and safer to save the Republican Party from its worst instincts than to try to build a viable second party on its ruins. We are heartened that notable Republicans in our state have not given up on their party; we’re not ready to give up, either. (And if Indiana Democrats ever succumb to the siren song of extremism, we’ll try to help them save their party, too.)

We agree with Sheila that the political marketplace is broken. We also agree that a sound electoral defeat of extremism can lead to a more normalized marketplace. Voters in arch-conservative Kansas eased the conversation back to the middle in 2018 and again in 2022.

If Indiana can shake off the stranglehold of supermajority rule, we Hoosiers might even embrace concepts – now gaining traction across the country – that give power back to the voters. Concepts such as ranked choice voting, nonpartisan redistricting, maybe even campaign finance reform.

If ReCenter Indiana is to succeed, it will be because of an enlightened and passionate electorate who are willing to transcend divisive politics. Especially young Hoosiers, who historically have had low political participation but are showing signs of increased participation and engagement, demanding accountability and results.

ReCenter’s goal is to spread awareness of the issues at stake and the choices at hand. And that also means encouraging centrist candidates to enter the fray.

Sheila is right that we may not succeed.  But we are certain to fail if we don’t try.


That Elusive Center

I’m torn.

I recently agreed to serve on the advisory committee of ReCenter Indiana alongside several people I like and admire. It is a bipartisan organization with laudatory goals.

Convinced that  “divisive Indiana politicians don’t represent Hoosier values,” the organization wants to elevate candidates who “represent the center, where most Hoosiers are.”

As ReCenter’s website argues, “the loudest and most extreme voices have drowned out sensible solutions,” a situation that has taken faith in government to an all-time low, making it critical that we restore “trust, respect, and accountability to our political system.”

Importantly, the organization defines “centrism” as behavior, not ideology– a willingness to engage in respectful dialogue with those holding different views, a willingness to negotiate in good faith and to compromise to achieve solutions that serve a majority of their constituents. It defines moderation as an attribute of character, not ideology.

The website identifies ReCenter’s values as

●      People over parties;
●      Results over rhetoric;
●      Patriotism over politics.

ReCenter’s political action committee intends to endorse candidates of both parties who display centrism/moderation defined in this way.

It is hard to argue with any of this, which is why I agreed to join the advisory committee. But I am increasingly concerned that the unprecedented nature of today’s American polarization will defeat these very reasonable–even noble– goals.

When I first became political “back in the day,” both of America’s major political parties were what I would describe as ideologically expansive. There were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and although the GOP was essentially center-Right and the Democrats were essentially center-Left, there were few if any philosophical “litmus tests” determining partisan affiliation.

That has changed–and the change threatens to foreclose our ability to negotiate our differences in good faith.

There are two contemporary realities that I see as barriers to the laudable goals of ReCenter Indiana and a number of other well-meaning political organizations.

The first is the effective sorting of voters between a political party and a cult. A recent example was highlighted by Pew research. Pew found that Americans support the continued availability of medication abortion by a margin of nearly 2 to1. The report of that survey result, however, also noted a “stark divide in partisanship in Americans’ views of the issue.” Virtually every respondent who opposed abortion was a Republican.

It isn’t only abortion. Public opinion on a wide range of issues has found a significant majority of Americans holding a range of relatively progressive opinions–while those holding minority far Right and/or extremist positions are clustered in the GOP. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that–no matter how one defines “moderation” and “centrism,” it is rarely to be found in today’s GOP.

That doesn’t mean there are no moderate or reasonable people left in the party, and ReCenter’s mission to identify candidates rejecting extremism so that those moderate and reasonable people can vote for them–especially in primaries–would make perfect sense, if it wasn’t for a pesky second reality. 

The cult that is the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic. It does impose litmus tests–and those tests require adherence to extremist and anti-democratic positions. The rare Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence–Congresspersons Cheney and Kinzinger are gone, while Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and their ilk have increasing prominence in the House of Representatives and the GOP.

Here in Indiana, the legislature’s radical super-majority is firmly in the thrall of the rural White Christians who–thanks to gerrymandering– still elect them.

So–here is my dilemma: how do those of us who agree with ReCenter’s definition of moderation and centrism– those of us who applaud efforts to return our state and country to a saner, more civil politics–accomplish that?  We live in a time when an organization formed to identify civil, reasonable candidates is likely to omit most Republicans–and a time when any that we do find are highly unlikely to influence the current trajectory of the GOP.

I am increasingly convinced that the only way America will emerge from its current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, leading to its subsequent reformation or replacement. That conviction is at odds with the very laudable mission of  ReCenter.

Several of the people who comment on this blog are obviously highly intelligent, articulate and creative, so I’d appreciate the posting of practical solutions to ReCenter’s challenges.  

I shared the draft of this post with ReCenter‘s officers, and invited their response. It will post tomorrow.