Liberals' Five Favorite Republicans

In today's hyperpartisan political climate, liberals—especially far-left progressives—have turned on the more moderate conservatives they once loved. Christie Whitman? A failure as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. Olympia Snowe? A lost cause and waste of time in the health-care-reform fight. Arlen Specter? Well, now he's a Democrat, and not the base's favorite one. You don't see the Democratic leadership praising them anymore, let alone the New York Times op-ed page.

But a new generation of Republicans has emerged as darlings of the left. Their defining characteristic is not necessarily moderate political views, but either a willingness to cross the aisle on certain issues (in contravention of their base) or a willingness to engage on the hard substance of policy. Here is a list of the five conservatives even a liberal can love.

Current job: Junior Senator from Massachusetts

Fawning liberal quote: "Scott Brown is a good example of what I think the ultimate cure [for partisan gridlock] might be." —Sen. Evan Bayh

The basis of appeal: After Brown beat Martha Coakley to take Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat, he earned plenty of liberal wrath for ending the Democrats' supermajority. But Brown is from deep-blue Massachusetts and is a self-identified "independent," supportive of initiatives such as Massachusetts' move to make health care mandatory and universal. When he came to Washington, he promised to work with Democrats—and lo and behold, his third vote as a senator was for the Democrats' jobs bill, which he joined just seven other Republican senators in supporting. Crossing the aisle earned him shout-outs from the Senate leadership, plaudits from his constituents, and the wrath of the hard right. (Immediately, the Drudge Report branded him a "traitor.")

The rub: The jobs vote might be Brown's last time supporting a major Democratic legislative priority for a while. Most notably, Brown has vowed that he will not vote for Barack Obama's health-care-reform bill (he thinks it should be left up to the states). And, of course, he is the superminority's crucial No. 41. (Photo: Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images)

Current job: U.S. Ambassador to China

Fawning liberal quote: "The one person in [the Republican Party] who might be a potential presidential candidate." —Obama senior adviser David Plouffe

The basis of appeal: Huntsman is nothing if not idiosyncratic. He's a committed Mormon who came out in support of civil unions for gay couples when he was governor of Utah, the nation's reddest state; a classic tax-cutting conservative who supported a major climate initiative and the Obama stimulus plan; a speaker of Mandarin Chinese; and an outspoken critic of, and rising star within, his own party. Huntsman's heterodox views and his wild popularity in his home state made him a Republican to watch in 2009—and perhaps so much of a threat that the president asked him to serve as his representative to Beijing, keeping him out of the limelight and out of contention in 2012.

The rub: Despite all of the enthusiasm for Huntsman, he remains a relative unknown on the national scene and answers to a deeply conservative constituency. Besides, Huntsman's occasional progressive streak and work for the Obama administration might harm his support within the Republican Party. It is unclear what politics Huntsman will play when he's back from Beijing. (Photo: Liu Jin / AFP/Getty Images)

Current job: Governor of Indiana

Fawning liberal quote: "A principled but practical conservative who respects the intelligence of voters and would rather get something done than score political points." —The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein

The basis of appeal: By reputation, Daniels is all substance and no style, a sober and soft-spoken conservative fond of describing himself as straight off "a turnip truck from the Midwest." He even declined to attend the tea-party-heavy Conservative Political Action Conference, explaining, "I stay in my lane." Daniels is considered more pragmatic than partisan—he supports ending the partial privatization of Indiana's welfare program, for instance. He has also said he would participate in a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission.

The rub: Iraq. As director of the Office of Management and Budget under the Bush administration, Daniels estimated that the war in Iraq would cost just $50 billion to $60 billion. It has cost more than 12 times that amount. He also supported the Bush administration's spending of the Clinton-era surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy, and the budget plunged into the red on his watch. (Photo: Darron Cummings / AP)

Current job: Representative from Wisconsin

Fawning liberal quote: "I like him. I appreciate his interest in ideas and his willingness to debate his position at a high level. The country would be better off if we had more members of Congress like him." —The New Republic's Jon Chait

The basis of appeal: Ryan, a staunch fiscal conservative and the ranking member on the House budget committee, put together a comprehensive health-care-reform plan that slashes the long-term deficit by trillions by privatizing Medicare, implementing a voucher system for health care for the elderly, and capping spending. He also pulled together a comprehensive budget plan that radically reduces entitlements and lowers tax revenue. So why do Dems like him? Ryan, a wonk, actually puts together measurable and comprehensive plans, defining how deficit hawks would control the Hill, and he earnestly reaches out to everyone, from President Obama to progressive bloggers, to discuss them.

The rub: Ryan's budget is radical and increases the tax burden on everyone except the wealthy. Liberals might respect his ideological purity and willingness to talk about the nuts and bolts of policy. But they certainly do not support his policies. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

Current job: Governor of Florida, candidate for Senate

Fawning liberal quote: "When the town is burning, you don't check party labels. Everybody needs to grab a hose. And that's what Charlie Crist is doing." —President Barack Obama

The basis of appeal: In the past year, perhaps no Republican governor has taken more punches from the right than Crist, derided by the party for being a "Republican in name only." He supported Obama's stimulus effort, telling the Miami Herald, "I think it's fantastic. Are you kidding me? We don't have to raise taxes." He even more controversially gave qualified praise for Obama's health-care-reform effort, explaining to the Palm Beach Post, "There may be parts of it that you don't have to scrap ... the real issue here, as it relates to health care, is that people want it to not cost so much and people want to have access to it." These heretical positions have won him plaudits from the left, while his classically conservative social-issues positions—against abortion rights for women and marriage rights for gay couples—have tended to be more talk than action. But, despite his high approval ratings in Florida, Crist is now getting skewered in a primary challenge by Marco Rubio, a darling of the tea-party set, and is reportedly considering becoming an independent.

The rub: In trying to ward off Rubio, Crist is attempting to reconnect with his base. Democrats might like him, but he has said he won't join their party, and any bipartisan policies he adopts going forward might cost him. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

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