Over the last 20 years, since I left working for the party, I’ve watched the GOP drift and lately double-time march to the right. I’ve often wondered how can that rightward charge be stopped. I always figured it would take a charismatic moderate Republican to do it. Thus, I didn’t see it happening.
Most of the candidates always drift right for a primary and back to the middle for the general election. They still do, mostly. Kind of faking it to win support. But the bigger drifts days seem over. These candidates for the most part are right-wing believers.
Is the answer to do as we are doing? Allow the rightward push to the point the party’s presidential wins will be fewer and farther between? And, by the way, have wrong-headed policies and beliefs? Or do we finally have that debate – out loud. As is the current mantra on the Republican side – let’s stop being politically correct and discuss what the Republican Party is. Is it a right wing harbor? Or is it, as my old boss Lee Atwater said, a “big tent” tolerant of various points of view but focused on a center-right philosophy?
Many Republicans are talking about a third-party but the talk has been that third-party person should be a right-wing conservative. Odds are such an effort would fail because they’d just be dividing the vote that could go to either candidate. There are a couple of other possible scenarios:
- Maybe this is the time for a moderate Republican to go third party. He or she needn’t even be that charismatic in this situation. Just provide a right-center agenda, an agenda based on inclusivity not tossing people out of the country or blocking others. Fact is, the Democrats are not all that excited about Hillary. A credible moderate Republican might actually have a shot. Or establish a base for the future. Accept that or not the next question, who is that person? Jon Huntsman is making noises making the ever popular claim that “many are asking me” to run independent but he never gathered much support last time he tried running. It could be Jeb Bush. But I think he’s shot himself in the foot and can’t be The One to pull off a third-party run (even though I still hold out hope he can pull off the GOP nomination this year!). But someone needs to step up and present that old Nelson Rockefeller, Howard Baker Republican philosophy. There is a market for that person among Republicans and Democrats, who are moving too far left.
- Go with the current flow and watch the party nominate a Ted Cruz – who I think really has no political core but presents himself as a Tea Party-esque Republican. Let Cruz be the nominee and he surely will lose. Then, the right-wingers can no longer complain that the party keeps putting up moderates who lose and if only it would nominate a true conservative, nirvana would be reached. Then, after the loss, have the out-loud debate as to what the party is, and isn’t.
Cruz cannot win, he’s too far to the right. He’s the type who’ll say anything to keep on track for his ambition. Rubio might have a shot but he’s not been a great campaigner, so far (ask the people of Iowa or New Hampshire how often he’s been there), and his ambition tends to shine through, and not in a good way. He has that smug I’m-acting-in-this-ad-but-pretty-well-don’t-you-think look.
If one assumes the current front runner can’t win the nomination (which I assume), then the next four in the polls, according to Real Clear Politics averages, are: Cruz, 18 percent; Rubio, 12 percent, Carson, 10 percent, Bush, leading the others with 4.5 percent. Take out the front-runner, take out Carson. They ain’t getting there from here. And then you have a contest.
Cruz can’t win the general. Rubio might be able to, but he has to work harder. Then you come to Jeb – so he is not out of it. Even if the front-runner wins in New Hampshire(and I contend he will not win a primary or caucus), the “other” race is who finishes atop the next tier, because he likely becomes the anti-front runner to battle it out in subsequent state primaries and as the field further winnows itself. And, as my friend and former colleague Ben Ginsberg points out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, people are forgetting that not all primaries are winner-take-all but proportionate so also-rans do win delegates, which could (not likely but could) contribute not to a brokered convention (as Ben says, there are no brokers left to do lead such an effort) but a negotiated one.
Point is, the way the GOP is heading right now, it is heading for a presidential loss in 2016. A big one. It’s a good time to have a debate over what direction the party should take, not what direction it’s taking. The party can lose with someone representing very conservative beliefs or it can have a shot at winning with a more mainstream candidate. That debate could be settled once the primary voting chooses a candidate.
If the current front runner does pull it off. Or, if Cruz pulls it off. Then, we will see how being anti-immigrant, pro-“boots on the ground without thinking it through,” anti-choice and anti- gay marriage pays off as a platform (Spoiler Alert: It ain’t a pretty outcome).
The voting public in Iowa and New Hampshire typically don’t really begin making up their minds until after January 1. So the real work is about to begin. We’ll see if organizations – to get out the vote – still matter. My guess is they do.
And we’ll see how this race pans out over the next two months. This is really when it will be decided.
So, Happy New Year, may it be a healthy one. And no matter which candidate you choose to back, may your horse be with you.