As midterm elections approach, some Republican candidates have started embracing — or at least, refusing to reject — more moderate policies like the Medicaid expansion, national education reform, over-the-counter contraceptives and an increase of the minimum wage. In other words, in an attempt to appeal to more moderate voters, they're becoming what conservatives like to call RINOs: Republicans in name only. Now Republicans just have to convince moderate voters that a vote for them equals a vote for those reforms, and not the dismantling of Obamacare and similar initiatives Senate Republicans have promised.
In the last few weeks, four Republican senate candidates have come out in favor of over-the-counter contraceptives, including Colorado's Rep. Cory Gardner, North Carolina's Thom Tillis, Minnesota's Mike McFadden and Virginia's Ed Gillespie. Arkansas senate candidate Tom Cotton recently said he'd vote for Arkansas's minimum wage initiative "as a citizen," which would gradually raise the wage from $6.25 to $8.50 an hour. Cotton, along with Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Terri Lynn Land in Michigan have also refused to say whether they would undo the Medicaid expansion.
All this makes sense. There is a conservative argument for over-the-counter birth control because it "removes unnecessary government regulations and increases choice," as Philip Klein at The Washington Examiner argued. Raising the minimum wage is popular (according to some polls 73 percent of Americans support a $10 minimum wage) and no one wants to say they would take away health insurance from thousands of poor people.
At the same time conservatives have a history of rejecting even small concessions to the left. A March 2013 Pew Research poll found that 60 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of conservative Republicans thought the party should move in a more conservative direction. Only 21 percent of conservatives thought the party should become more moderate (compared to 45 percent of liberal Democrats). More recently, conservative anti-Common Core activists turned on former Tea Party darling Indiana Gov. Mike Pence over his support of education reforms similar to Common Core and his plan to expand Medicaid.
Republicans are likely to take the Senate, and when that happens none of these moderate campaign stances will come up for a vote. If anything Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to use the budget to scale back government involvement in "healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board." The actual candidates are all over the place — Land is trailing her opponent by a few points, Cotton is up, Ernst is in a toss up, Tillis has a microscopic lead, and Gardner is down — but the funny thing is, if the move to the middle works for them, they'll likely never have to put their money where their mouths are.