What Makes a Republican Moderate? Key Characteristics and Beliefs

Red elephant on a scle representing a moderate republican

Political beliefs involve questions about how society should work, especially how the government should operate. We can divide political beliefs on a straight line (“political spectrum”) from liberals on the left and conservatives on the right. People in the middle are called moderates. Moderate Republicans are liberal on social issues, conservative on fiscal (money) issues, and more willing to disagree with party leadership on principle. 

Political Beliefs

People have a range of beliefs. “A belief” is having trust and confidence that something is true.  You might believe what a parent or friend says without immediate proof that it is true. 

Political beliefs involve questions about how society should work, especially how the government should operate.  These beliefs help us decide who to vote for at election time.

Political Moderates 

Some Founding Fathers worried about the nation dividing into competing political parties because they felt government officials should decide each question based on the public interest.  The best policy, not party politics, should be the deciding factor.

This was not to be.  Since the 1790s, the United States has been a two-party system, including the modern-day Democratic Party and different competing parties. 

Other parties might play some role, but in today’s political world, the Democrats and Republicans primarily run the show.  

We can divide political beliefs on a straight line (“political spectrum”) from liberals on the left and conservatives on the right. People in the middle are called moderates. Liberals and conservatives also come in degrees, including a moderate form of each.   

Moderates share the general beliefs of their specific political parties. Nonetheless, they are more willing to compromise.  They are willing to pragmatically take a middle path.  

Moderate Republicans Over History

The Republican Party arose in the 1850s with a basic platform against the spread of slavery. Republicans usually did not like slavery but many did not feel it possible to immediately end it. 

Abraham Lincoln, for instance, supported an amendment to assure the South that the federal government would not end slavery. Ironically, the next amendment that actually eventually passed ended slavery.  Lincoln won in 1860 because he was a moderate Republican.

President Lincoln during the Civil War carefully came to the understanding that the federal government must directly threaten slavery to win the war. 

But, even then, some more “radical” Republicans felt his policy was too moderate.  This battle continued after his death.  

The mid-20th Century form of moderate Republicans came to be named after a governor of New York who eventually became President Ford’s vice president

“Rockefeller Republicans” were more willing to retain aspects of the social programs of the New Deal and accepted the changing social mores of the times.  Nelson Rockefeller himself was divorced.  

Moderate Republicans also influenced the Supreme Court.  Chief Justice Hughes was a key swing justice during the New Deal.  Justice Blackmun wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade

Moderates were so significant that the Republican Party in time made sure only to support clear conservative nominees to the Supreme Court since the early 1990s.  

What Does A Moderate Republican Believe Today?

A moderate Republican leans liberal on social issues, conservative on fiscal (money) issues, and typically deems fiscal matters more important if they had to choose.  

Two major social issues of the day are abortion rights and trans issues.  The Republican Party strongly opposes abortion rights and is much more willing to restrict trans rights.  Moderate Republicans either straight-up support both rights or are willing to limit them much less.  

Republicans are more conservative than Democrats regarding government spending, supporting less taxes and more use of private alternatives for government programs. Republicans do support government spending in some areas such as the military and the police. 

Moderate Republicans share such beliefs, even if their party is more conservative on social issues than they might like.  Nonetheless, moderates are more willing to support some social spending. And, they are more willing to compromise with Democrats to support fiscally conservative budgets.  Some conservatives rather cut taxes than balance budgets.  

Republicans believe it is more acceptable (and important) to mix church and state.  Moderates are more likely to believe in the separation of church and state.  They also hold more liberal religious views, less likely to be conservative evangelical Christians.  

Moderates are more willing to hold to their principles even if it requires working with Democrats against their own party leadership.  A test vote here was the second impeachment of President Trump.  A few Republicans voted to impeach and later to convict him in the Senate.  

The Modern Moderate: A Moving Target 

The number of political moderates has reduced in recent years.  The two parties are more and more divided from each other.  Nonetheless, many voters still call themselves moderate.  Less Republicans do so today.  A recent poll suggests about 1 of 5 Republicans are moderate.  

“Moderate” is also a moving target.  Let us imagine we are keeping track of how hot the weather is.  If the weather was consistently colder in recent years, a middle-of-the-range temperature (“it’s mild”) would be different if we were in the midst of years of consistently hot weather.  

The Republican Party has become more conservative in the 21st Century.  This results in fewer true moderates.  For instance, previously, someone like Liz Cheney was accepted as a loyal conservative.  Then, she turned against Donald Trump.  She became a “moderate.”  

Moderation these days often seems to be one of tone.  Moderates use less divisive and extreme rhetoric. They are more willing to criticize their party.  But, at the end of the day, there is usually a party-line vote in the U.S. Congress.  There is much less room to be moderate in action.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.