The trend of Republican incumbents attracting primary challenges from the right is a “real danger for our party,” said Republican former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, saying it potentially endangered some seats in the 2014 election.
Hastert, speaking with Democratic former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle at an event Thursday morning hosted by Future Civic Leaders, said the primaries often caused problems in general elections.
“About the beginning of the summer this year, people usually start to look over their shoulder and see who their general election opponent’s gonna be. Today, they kind of look over their shoulder and see who their primary election opponent’s going to be,” Hastert said of conversations with his old colleagues.
“So there’s this whole issue out there, especially on the Republican side, if you don’t toe the line on specific issue that all of a sudden you’re going to have a primary,” he said.
“And, you know, what happens sometimes is there’s enough votes out there in your primary to defeat an incumbent, but that’s of course not there when you get to the general,” Hastert went on. “And I think that’s a real danger for our party, for the Republican Party. That’s something we have to deal with.”
“It’s much harder to be an incumbent today than it’s been in a long time,” echoed Daschle.
“Incumbents, unfortunately, are suffering from a lot of this polarization today … Challengers are going to have a leg up simply by saying they’re not part of Washington today,” he added.
The polarization inside congress, the two said, was augmented by the heightened media scrutiny.
“It seems like anymore in congress that you’re constantly out there in the battle … because [of] the need for 24/7 type of press, they’re constantly out there making a statement. Every time you’re making a statement, you’re drawing a line in the sand, and this becomes more battle prone, more partisan,” said Hastert.
“I think there’s almost too much transparency,” echoed Daschle. “The cameras are so ubiquitous no one can say anything off the record any longer. You can’t have those candid discussions and conversations in group settings like you used to,” something he said hindered the ability to get things done.
“Obviously I’m very supportive of transparency and I think C-SPAN does a fantastic job,” he went on. “But I do think we’ve got to understand, there are times where there has to be an opportunity to be very honest, very candid, very direct and we need to create environments where that can happen especially in negotiations.”
“Too much sunlight burns,” Daschle said.