Doug Ahler and David Broockman make the case at the Monkey Cage. This seems largely correct to me, but I’m seeing a number of people treating it as objectionable. Thoughts:
1) We define moderate as “agrees with Ds and Rs some of the time,” regardless of the moderation or lack thereof with any specific view, which is arguably incoherent, but it’s still the everyday meaning of the term in American politics.
2) Elite moderates and moderates in public opinion don’t actually resemble each other at all, and (some) elite moderates seem to be in some very deep denial about this (Thomas Friedman’s habit of placing his own views in the mouths of hypothetical everyman figures like cab drivers is a paradigmatic case). In broad strokes, elite moderates are pro-immigration, pro-globalization, socially liberal, and strongly in favor of ‘entitlement reform’; the moderates in the actual public aren’t likely to support any of these positions. This adds to the confusion already produced by the lack of analytic precision in (1).
3) This is only offensive if we treat moderation as a political virtue worthy of praise. This is often assumed in American political discourse, but I think it’s worth rejecting quite strongly (this is particularly the case given (1) above). Whether moderation should considered a virtue or vice is entirely situational.
4) Efforts to map ideology on two dimensions aren’t always completely worthless, but it’s a project with very limited informational value. The authors are absolutely correct to observe “ideological moderation just doesn’t mean much.”
…LeeEsq and Rob in CT observe that another source of confusion here is whether the term is characterizing his views or the manner in which he expresses them. This is a good point, and I think relates to (3) above. If moderation is treated implicitly as a virtue, Trump’s nasty demagoguery appears as evidence against his moderation.