Is Republican Senate candidate Mike Castle feeling pressure from the Right?
By Mark Warren
Long gone are the days when the moderate Republicans’ weekly lunch table at the Capitol had two dozen regulars. Today, when a Republican fails to toe the party line, he or she can expect to be blasted by the conservative media. As Sam Tanenhaus so astutely observed in The New Yorker, to call Fox News the communications arm of the Republican Party is to “[get] the power dynamic backward.…People like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have claimed the role of ideological enforcers, turning up the heat on some suspected moderates.” Around the country, the Republican Party has abandoned moderate candidates in favor of more radical conservative ones, often at the expense of the seats in question. It is clear that the Republican leadership—or the members of the conservative media who are calling the shots—is more interested in promoting its ideology than in winning elections. Moderate Republicans are left with a choice: they can shrink back to the right, or risk becoming pariahs within their own party.
One of these self-proclaimed moderate Republicans represents Delaware’s at-large congressional district. Mike Castle, a former two-term governor of Delaware, is now in his ninth term as Delaware’s sole congressman. Representative Castle, who has a record of supporting abortion rights and gun control, is currently running for Vice President Joe Biden’s Senate seat. This race will not be an easy one for Mr. Castle, a Republican candidate in a state that is largely liberal, with a small yet ardent base of conservatives concentrated in the southern part of the state. Adopting too conservative a stance could cost him necessary support from Delaware Democrats, but assuming too liberal a position could alienate his Republican base, especially if he loses the backing of the conservative media and Party leaders. A potential challenge by Democratic Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of the Vice President, further complicates the race.
Judging from his recent record in the House, one might guess that Mr. Castle fears losing conservatives’ support: he voted against the stimulus package, against the health care reform bill, and for the Stupak Amendment. However, Mr. Castle asserts that his recent voting record reflects not a fear of the Right, but his dedication to fiscal responsibility—one of the reasons he is a Republican in the first place. It would seem that voting along conservative lines, though well-reported in Delaware, has not hurt Mr. Castle in his home state so far: a hypothetical polling match-up released by Public Policy Polling on December 3 showed Mr. Castle leading Beau Biden by 6 points, though a mid-November poll had placed Biden 5 points ahead.
Perspective spoke with Congressman Castle on November 20, to hear his concerns as a moderate in the Republican Party and his views on issues facing Congress and the nation today.
Perspective: We’ve seen several instances of moderate Republicans being abandoned by the more conservative wing of the Party: Dede Scozzafava in New York, Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland, et cetera. Are you at all concerned that you might face similar obstacles from within your own party?
Castle: There are always concerns about things that could happen within one’s own party, in the opposite party, in a third party. Having said that, I’m not concerned. There’s a twofold concern: that someone will run against you in the primary, or that the voters will get annoyed and vote against you in the [general] election. I’m not overly concerned in Delaware. I’ve represented people here a long time, and people in Delaware want people who can represent them correctly, and they will overlook whether you’re moderate or liberal or conservative.
Perspective: Is it possible for more moderate Republicans and staunch conservatives to exist together in the same party?
Castle: It is definitely possible, but it will take an effort by everybody. If you are a Republican and believe in the basic principles of the Party—managing the finances of the country correctly, an emphasis on security as far as our country is concerned, dealing with social issues such as education and healthcare—there’s no reason moderates and conservatives shouldn’t be able to get along. But if you start playing war, you can pick apart votes. I’m concerned, and it’s something we have to pay a lot of attention to. The Republican Party will have trouble ever returning to a majority if we cannot pull it together. We will still be able to elect governors, but it will be very hard to elect people to Congress if we don’t break down some of these differences.
Perspective: You voted against the health care bill that just passed the House. Why?
Castle: Essentially, I believe that one of our responsibilities—and the President has stated this—was to reduce the cost of health care today, and as far as I could see, this bill does not reduce the cost of health care today. It expands coverage, but there are taxes in order to do that, and there’s a lot in the bill that I’m concerned will lead to deficit spending. It might lower government expenditures, but it will not lower the overall costs of healthcare. I am a little concerned about the public option. What mostly concerns me is that it is something that will not be well run.
There are some insurance market reforms that are needed—preventing denial of care for preexisting conditions, for example—but looking into regional exchanges between states, and regional portability between states is something that should happen, too… The other thing that is not understood is the existing services that are provided in each state, which people can receive without insurance at low cost. Local government health centers do a good job and demand you pay only what you need to pay. Pharmaceutical companies also have programs for access for people with lower incomes. Physicians are involved in volunteer programs at public health clinics, which can be a good option. And if worst comes to worst—and we don’t want this, obviously, it’s only a last resort—but people can go to the emergency room. People should understand what their potential healthcare choices are, even if they are uninsured. I don’t like the Republican bill. I’m going to structure my own bill, with the features I’ve outlined, and with lower costs.
Perspective: What about the Stupak Amendment? It was surprising to see someone with so liberal a record on abortion rights choose to vote in favor of it.
Castle: I’m still studying the Stupak amendment. I think that both sides are overstating their case. If The Stupak amendment does all that the pro-choice people are saying, I would not support it. If it does what the pro-life side is saying, I would be for it. Basically, I believe that federal funds should not be used for abortions. If it goes further than that and starts to restrict use of abortion in private plans, then I’m not for it, but I’m not sure that’s correct. I think, actually, that the amendment was a missed opportunity for Republicans: if the Republicans didn’t like the healthcare bill, they should have voted down the amendment, which could have killed the bill.
Perspective: It has been reported that the bill itself already has provisions to ensure that federal funding is not used for abortions.
Castle: The bill is 2,000 pages, and there are parts in there that can be interpreted many ways. The amendment clarifies the language.
Perspective: Would you support a second stimulus? One of your concerns has been a lack of responsible oversight—would you support a stimulus if there were more oversight and if it were managed by better financial experts?
Castle: I would certainly consider it…It has occurred to me that the oversight of this stimulus is somewhat marginal. I’m not sure that this thing is a good economic recovery…I don’t believe it has had the stimulative effect it was intended to have. They originally said it would have an effect this year; now they’re saying it will be next year. We need to be very careful about a stimulus. Most of the jobs with this one were temporary. The way to create jobs is through the private sector, and I don’t think the stimulus did a lot in that area. If we do a second stimulus, I want it to encourage the private sector to hire more people, and it should have a more immediate focus, not a two-year thing.