Sam Kleiner was disillusioned fellow campus Republicans refused to support GOP moderate Mark Kirk, above. (Reuters/Frank Polich.)
Last month I introduced you to Alex, a young University of Chicago grad, a certain sort of modern-day social type: libertarian-until-graduation. A “LUG,” if you will. One possessed of an impassioned trust that free markets are always real, and always right; that government intervention was always an imposition by illegitimate force, and always wrong; and someone who believed that if workers didn’t like what the market was telling them at one job, well, they could always quit and find another. He was drenched in an ivory-tower college conservatism that dissolved at the first touch of real-world employment.
This month, meet another victim of the ivory-tower right: Sam Kleiner, Moderate Republican Until Graduation—a MRUG. Now a law student at Yale, Sam has become an impressive liberal-leaning journalist, for publications including the present one. When I met him four years ago during his undergraduate years at Northwestern University (he helped organize this debate between me and Ramesh Ponnuru early in Obama’s first term), however, he was a moderate Republican flirting a bit with neoconservatism, specifically that tendency’s oft-professed claim to an extra-super-special “moral” conception of America’s role in the world. But by the next time I met him, several years later, the Republican Party had lost him for good—in fact, talking to him recently by Google Chat, it’s hard to imagine him ever having thought anything nice about the Republicans at all. What happened? Something he says is part of a pattern. “I’m certainly not the only one of my friends who worked for moderate Republicans who left the party,” he told me. “I think the Republican Party mugged a lot of moderates.”
It was an interesting conversation to have in this season of reflections on how to broaden the Republican coalition in the interests of its future survival. For from his vantage point in the trenches of the College Republicans, Sam just saw how “the party wasn’t interested in having these voices around anymore.”
Sam grew up in Tucson, Arizona. And though it’s easy to exaggerate how early and suffusingly the blanket of right-wing orthodoxy suffocated the moderation out of the party altogether (I’ve done it myself), Sam found the congressman he grew up with, Jim Kolbe, “a fantastic moderate.” So it was with pleasure and pride that he joined with the College Republicans when he matriculated at Northwestern in 2005. He soon spied disillusionment over the horizon. In 2007 tried to get his colleagues to volunteer for the congressional campaign of now-Senator Mark Kirk, “a very moderate Republican.” No luck: “Many within the group were uncomfortable with his views on social issues.”