Former governor calls for change within GOP

Former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman discussed the radical nature of the Republican party and some of today’s most pressing political issues in a public interview with Robert A. Kittle, editorial page editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, at the Neurosciences Institute on Feb. 10.

Whitman’s new book, “It’s My Party, Too,” was released last month and offers a critique of the modern GOP. According to Whitman, a Republican and former George W. Bush appointee, the Republican party has been in a state of decline due to social fundamentalists within the group who attempt to push moderates from the party and further contribute to the partisan nature of modern politics.

“There is an ever-narrowing litmus test,” Whitman said. “If you’re pro-choice, you can’t be a good Republican. If you believe we should have a beginning of a discussion on embryonic stem cells, you’re not a good Republican. If you believe that the government does have a role in protecting the environment, you’re not a good Republican. If you’re wrong on those social issues, you’re out, as far as [the social fundamentalists] are concerned.”

Whitman identifies social fundamentalists as far-right Republicans who are unwilling to compromise on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. She argued that not all Republicans have such hard-line views. For example, some pro-life Republicans are willing to accept abortion in cases of rape or incest.

“For the vast majority of … people with strong feelings about these issues that are thinking conservatives, we do find a lot of ground where you can come together and actually move the country forward and make a difference,” Whitman said.

The Democratic party faces similar problems with the far-left wing, according to Whitman.

“In 2008, it’s going to be the first time since 1952 that neither party is going to have an incumbent running, either a president running for re-election or a vice president ready to step up,” she said. “So it’s a perfect time for the parties to step back and take a look at where they are and where they’re going.”

Whitman encouraged moderate Republicans to network and organize to build strong coalitions and to support moderate candidates at the local and state levels.

“In the book, I outlined the issues that I think are important, that we need to be focusing on as moderates, and have some suggestions of what people can do in their communities … to try to create an atmosphere that would allow for moderates to actually be considered for the presidency,” Whitman said.

In addition to discussing her book, Whitman also offered her perspectives on several political issues, including the war on terrorism and the American presence in Iraq.

“We all were changed after Sept. 11, but no one more deeply than the president,” Whitman said. “I honestly believe, as much as now we talk about being in Iraq to spread democracy and freedom, that the president’s underlying and overwhelming commitment to the American people is to never let a 9/11 happen again.”

The Republican National Committee could not be reached for comment in response to Whitman’s talk.

Whitman’s interview was a part of the Revelle Forum, a series of lectures, readings and public interviews with prominent figures in arts, literature, current events and the media.