A Republican Establishment Comeback In 2016?

If Mitt Romney loses, could the Establishment GOP manage to hold back the conservative backlash? Don't count on it.

Daniel Larison disagrees with my theory that a Romney loss in November would lead the nomination of a hard core conservative in 2016:

Some Republicans will believe that Romney’s lack of credibility or zeal or purity was the reason for the defeat, but they will in all likelihood find themselves stymied once again in 2016. Remember how desperate most Republicans were to recapture the White House in 1999-2000. Now imagine how much greater the desire to have a Republican President will be if Obama is in office for another four years. That will cancel out the instinct to turn to a more conservative nominee. After eight years of the Obama administration, there will be more Republicans interested in simply winning the election than there are today. They will likely be ready to tolerate a nominee as compromised as Romney, or they might be willing to accept a nominee even less conservative than the current iteration of Romney pretends to be. After Dole’s loss in 1996, one might have expected that the next nominee would run to Dole’s right, but the opposite happened: Bush started off his campaign attacking his party from the left, and then McCain helped him to shore up his support with conservatives by running to Bush’s left. Assuming a Romney loss, the 2016 election will present us with something similar to that.

This is certainly possible, and maybe it will turn out that Larison is right in the end, but he makes several suppositions that I don’t think are supported by the evidence.

For one thing, the conservative movement in the era of Obama is far different from what it was like in the Clinton Era. For one thing, back then the grassroots was far more closely tied to the leadership in Congress than it is today. In the late 90s, the leaders of the conservative movement that had swept Republicans into power into 1994 were guys like Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich, who also happened to be the leaders of the House GOP. This time around, the leaders of the Tea Party movement that swept the House GOP into power 2010 aren’t in the House leadership, they’re people like Michele Bachmann along with the countless numbers of non-politicians who get paraded before the media as Tea Party spokespersons. Because of this, the idea that it’s going to be as easy to “control” the base over the next four years as it was in the years between the Bob Dole debacle and the 2000 Presidential campaign is pretty silly.

Another point to keep in mind when thinking about Larison’s analogy to the 2000 election is the fact that there quite simply weren’t any credible conservative candidates that could have taken on George W. Bush. Just take a look at the list of the candidates who ran that year and tell me which one of those people was a credible conservative who could have challenged Bush seriously. Alan Keyes? Don’t kid yourself.  Gary Bauer? Not even a chance. Orrin Hatch? Conservative for sure but hardly a guy who would ever have done well on the stump. The only name on that list that was a possibility was Steve Forbes, but for some bizarre reason he decided to turn his back on much of what he’d campaigned on in 1996 and make naked plays for the social conservative vote that didn’t sound at all credible, and which turned off many off the fiscally conservative Republicans who had supported him the first time around. Dig down far enough in that list of potential candidates and you’ll find Harold Stassen, the eternal Republican candidate who ended up dying in March 2001. The fact of the matter is that George W. Bush was the conservative candidate for the nomination in 2000, largely because there wasn’t anyone else running capable of taking him on from the right.

That’s not going to be the case in 2016. Even if the party establishment comes up with a candidate that they put all their might behind like the did with Bush in 1999-2000, they are going to be plenty of conservative candidates with well-established resumes that will be ready to run too. Governors, Senators, Members of Congress, and all of them more conservative than, say Jeb Bush or Jon Huntsman, according to Tea Party standards. With SuperPACs still likely to be around then, the advantages of big money won’t be the same as they were for George W. Bush so, there’s no guarantee that things will turn out the same way.

I stand by what I said yesterday. If Mitt Romney loses in November, and I think there’s a fairly good likelihood that will happen, then the argument on the right will be that once again they listened to the GOP insiders and backed the moderate candidate, and once again the party lost the election. They will consider it to be yet another piece of evidence in favor of their flawed argument that they GOP can only win by nominating the most conservative candidate., and it will be very hard for anyone do dissuade them of that and convince them that 2016 needs to be about something other than going hard right. It’s all long way off, of course, and many things can happen between now and then, but it would take some fairly seismic shifts in conservatism for things to turn out differently.

There’s one final thing to consider about Larison’s analogy. If the answer to the problem you’re posing ends with George W. Bush, you probably need to check your premises. The last thing the GOP needs to do is make that mistake again.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Campaign 2016, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    Remember how desperate most Republicans were to recapture the White House in 1999-2000. Now imagine how much greater the desire to have a Republican President will be if Obama is in office for another four years. That will cancel out the instinct to turn to a more conservative nominee

    This is the main flaw in Larrison’s argument: He believes that the grassroots are angling for a ‘true conservative’ even if that candidate can’t win. In reality, the grassroots are angling for a ‘true conservative’ because they think only a true conservative can possibly win.

    Just look at Florack’s hundreds of comments on the subject matter.

    Larrison’s very reason for why they won’t nominate a conservative is actually the very reason they will–they desire to have a Republican President.

    To put it a third way, Larrison’s flaw is that he’s applying what he–a rational person–would do to a group that by and large politically are irrational.

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    A Republican Establishment Comeback in 2016?

    As that noted political philosopher LL Cool J once said: “Don’t call it a comeback, I[‘ve] been here for years.”

  3. Blue Shark says:

    Name one possible player in 2016 from the Republican Party of today.

    …I thought so.

    …None of these rich, white, anti-science, supply-side, Christianists will ever again appeal to the female, Black, Brown, Asian, young, etc. etc. electorate … you know … the Real “Real America”

  4. PogueMahone says:

    Hell, the GOP can’t even get a “conservative” passed their own base, let alone the country at large.

    If you take the modern definition of a conservative, you get “cut taxes, invade everyone… oh, and btw, burn heathens at the stake.” The GOP had that with Bachmann – and she was one of the first to drop out. Santorum only lasted as long as he did because he lasted as long as he did because nobody took him seriously.

    Look, the U.S. is one large district. You can get your Bachmanns and you other (insert crazy “conservative” here) elected to congress because of small districts. You can’t get one passed the population at large.

    There will be arguments that 2012 (I like how we’ve already conceded the election to Obama in this exercise) was not successful because the candidate was not “conservative” enough. But that will be a fruitless argument. The GOP will nominate another centrist, or at least a perceived centrist, in 2016. They’re here, they’re “moderate”, get used to it.

    To steal a quote from a Jack Nicholson character… The people of the United States to the GOP: “Go sell crazy somewhere else, we’re all stocked up here.”

    Cheers.

  5. Pete says:

    So Blue Shark who do you like out of the New Democratic Progressive Union Socialist Communist Party? Rand Paul, Marc Rubio, Paul Ryan, and many other fine young Republicans are coming up.

    Yes you do have Debbie Wassermann-Putz.

  6. As we know, the right has spent the last 10 years voting people off the island. It is now a reduced set, more monolithic and more extreme.

    The question of who they’ll run in 4 years is predicated on who they’ll be in 4 years.

    If they continue to jettison RINOs, they’ll probably run Santurom.

    If they reinvent, the game becomes open, but we hardly see signs of reinvention at this point.

  7. Pete says:

    Both parties are leaving many of their constituents who are registering as Independents. We need a party of fiscal responsible individuals, with cutting the size and cost of the Federal government, return many functions to the States and more personal rights.

    The big government Federal statist’s in both parties have lost their way.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    I stand by what I said yesterday. If Mitt Romney loses in November, and I think there’s a fairly good likelihood that will happen, then the argument on the right will be that once again they listened to the GOP insiders and backed the moderate candidate, and once again the party lost the election.

    Conceptually I agree with entirely with you here Doug relative to Larison. However, a lot depends on what happens in between. If Romney loses, and the Republican don’t take the senate and lose some house seats (but not their majority) I think we’re looking at an extended period of internecine warfare in the GOP. This could be mildly destructive or very destructive and this could have a huge impact in 2016. At the moment I really think the GOP is on a conveyor belt to doom (no they are not going to cease to exist) which could mean an extended period out of power. Maybe Art Schlesinger was right after all?

  9. @Pete:

    I think the Dems are losing fewer to independent status because they play a friendlier game of “pragmatist vs ideologue.” They play it the way the right did in the Reagan era, with grumbling but united support.

  10. Ron Beasley says:

    The real problem here is the “Republican Establishment” has lost the party to talk radio and FOX news. They are less interested in ideology and more interested in giving their audience what they want to hear.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    So Blue Shark who do you like out of the New Democratic Progressive Union Socialist Communist Party? Rand Paul, Marc Rubio, Paul Ryan, and many other fine young Republicans are coming up.

    Yes you do have Debbie Wassermann-Putz.

    My goodness that was some incredibly stupid snark…does anyone really believe that Rand Paul or Paul Ryan would have a chance at winning any national election? The two are probably quite toxic to seniors…and Marco Rubio? Really? To answer the question…the current governors of New York and Maryland as well the two most recent Democratic governors of Virginia come to mind…

  12. Davebo says:

    Ron seems to have it.

    Live by the conservative media die hard

    Die by the conservative media die hard

    Kiss the ring of Rush and Sean or stand by to be primaried.

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    At the risk of being deemed a reflexive contrarian, it’s probably worth noting that, despite various predictions at various times of a hard shift for the GOP to the extreme right wing, below is a list of all of the GOP presidential nominees since the LBJ-Goldwater election:

    Nixon
    Ford
    Reagan
    Bush
    Dole
    Bush
    McCain
    Romney

    Could there have been a more “establishment” slate of nominees?

    Separate but related topics:

    Buchanan during the aforementioned period on multiple occasions tossed his hat into the ring. He went nowhere.

    Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter in 2008 combined for less than 2% in Iowa and were gone and forgotten before New Hampshire. John McCain won the nomination and had it locked up in February. John McCain!

    The so-called “Queen” of the putative “Tea Party,” Michelle Bachmann, in this very cycle received single digits in Iowa and was gone and forgotten before New Hampshire. Then to top it off, and despite the loud protestations of talk radio and the Internet, Mitt Romney in March had locked up the nomination. Mitt Romney!!

    Am I the only one here seeing a pattern? You know, that despite the shrill howling from the extreme right side of the spectrum when push comes to shove the establishment candidate always wins?

    Granted, perhaps 2016 will be different. Perhaps the GOP will be saddled then with the likes of Palin, Bachmann, DeMint or Santorum.

    I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    That’s well put.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    In the days of the internet, Jon Stewart, and MSNBC, no Repulbican has a wel-established resume. Every Republican will be torn apart in the media. Only a masochist would be stupid enough to run for president as a Republican.

    the question is why happens in Romney loses by a larger margin than McCain lost. Do you really think any sane candidate to be eager to run in such a lost cause. I would guess that even Jeb Bush would not be stupid enough to run a campaign that would be destined to lose.

    Besides, the media will have the Democratic primary to keep itself occupied. My April 1, 2016, everyone is doing to know who will be the next president because by April 1 2016, the Democratic nominee will be apparent.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Ron the establishment lost the voters because of their massive failures when given any form of power. Look at the Bush II Administration. The government grew, the debt grew, the number of government employees grew, and all of those middle class white Republican voters were treated like criminals at the airport.

    The establish has no one but themselves to blame. Rush and the rest would not be nearly as influential as they are if the Bush Administration had managed to succeed in anything they attempted.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

    So where does the rabid right go? Perhaps they will have to bend over and take it, yet again…

    …and all of those middle class white Republican voters were treated like criminals at the airport.

    Oh my goodness! Someone should start a telethon (is Pat Boone available?) or a support group (of course Sarah Palin is available)…anything to help the poor, downtrodden white Republican voter…

  18. J-Dub says:

    2016 will be Hillary Clinton vs. Michael Bloomberg. Whatever candidate the Republicans throw out there will be an also-ran in that contest.

  19. ptfe says:

    In the days of the internet, Jon Stewart, and MSNBC, no Repulbican has a wel-established resume. Every Republican will be torn apart in the media.

    Is it just me, or did @superdestroyer just call the internet liberal?

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @J-Dub:

    2016 will be Hillary Clinton vs. Michael Bloomberg.

    Actually Bloomberg would have a better chance of being nominated by the Democrats than the Republicans although I do think Hillary could quite conceivably be the Democratic nominee. Mikey has a problem when he ceases to be mayor, he clearly doesn’t want to be governor of NY (I can’t say I blame him) so where does he go. Personally I’m quite expecting him to pop up as Treasury Sec or maybe even SoS in the next Obama admin.

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    @ptfe:

    Is it just me, or did @superdestroyer just call the internet liberal?

    The paranoid tendency is alive and well.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @ptfe:

    What I was pointing out is in an age where everything written, said, or done since a person was in high school has become fair game. Given the echo chamber of the internet and the resources available to left of center activist, no Republican can be thought of as having a strong or established resume.

    The only people who can run for president in the future was people who have been planning to run since high school and who not only have planned every step in the plan but also have succeeded while being very politically correct.

    The real presidential election of the future will be the Democratic primary and it is an almost certainly that the next president will come from the group of sitting Democratic Senators and governors and that they next president will have attended an Ivy League University (actually just Yale, Harvard, or maybe Columbia)

    Since Andrew Cuomo is not married, is divorced, and did not attend an Ivy League, people should write him and Martin O’Malley off as possible presidential candidates.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    What I am saying is that the left is so much better at using the internet than the right. Is there any doubt in that. What I am also saying is that the left is much better at functioning as an echo chamber, in test marketing their ideas, and in coordinating. That is why liberal activist have always had a much greater impact than right of center activist (the few that there are).

  24. superdestroyer says:

    @J-Dub:

    No one is going to vote for an old white lady. The Democrats should be looking at the setting Senators and governors who are less than 60 Y/O. Also, do you really think that someone like Bloomdberg is doing to come in the top three in the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina Primary?

  25. KansasMom says:
  26. J-Dub says:

    @Brummagem Joe: True, but I think he would run as an independent so he can approach the office from the non-partisan moral high ground. I think his tell-it-like-it-is approach, while heavy-handed at times, would garner a lot of support.

    There were rumblings last year of him running with Joe Scarborough as VP. That would make for an interesting combination.

  27. J-Dub says:

    @superdestroyer: I’m talking about Bloomberg running as an independent candidate. I doubt he’d give a damn about Iowa or South Carolina, much like the rest of us.

  28. Brummagem Joe says:

    @J-Dub:

    There were rumblings last year of him running with Joe Scarborough as VP. That would make for an interesting combination.

    Interesting perhaps but not very likely. No third party candidate has won the presidency in modern times nor are they likely to. The only debate in a Bloomberg independant run would be whether he took more votes from Republicans than Democrats. I suspect the former. If Hillary stayed out he’d be much better positioned to run for the Democratic nomination which he’d have a fair chance of winning.

  29. Tillman says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What I am saying is that the left is so much better at using the internet than the right. Is there any doubt in that.

    Hey, a right-wing blowhard can get a Twitter account just like any left-wing blowhard. Believe me, the Internet takes all comers.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    What I am saying…

    Since so much of what you say is nothing more than the inane ravings of a terrified white bigot, you will forgive us if we don’t take your political prognostications too seriously…

  31. matt says:

    @Tillman: Apparently SD is implying that right wingers are too dumb to figure out this internet thingie..

  32. superdestroyer says:

    @matt: @matt: @An Interested Party:

    There were many people who said that the conservative comments are voted down because the progressives are better at comments. Yet, th eprogressives seem to quickly resort to name calling and playing the race card. Yet, those comments are voted up.

    Everyone should realize now that progressives are much better bulllies on the internet than the right is. Just like comment voting on OTB is used to bully non=PC commenters, the left is organized to used the internet to bully people.

  33. superdestroyer says:

    @matt:

    Progressives are more organized, more uniform, and more consistent in their use. Every Republican who is planning for office should realize that progressive websites will review everything that they have written or said in public since college. That every speech will be fact checked and compared to what was said earlier.

    As I have been pointed out before, progressives can find something said by a school board member in rural Arkansas and used it to attack all conservative. Yet, 40 Democratic members of Congress can support race-based reparations, or open borders or lowering the pay of healthcare workers and no one on the right will even bother to point it out.

  34. matt says:

    That’s interesting.. Wouldn’t bullying by your own definition be a non PC activity?

    Only about 20% of the adult population avoids the internet (recently published study). You do have a point though because those that are in the 20% tend to be old and never graduated high school. Pretty much the GOP base..

  35. superdestroyer says:

    @matt:

    PC can be seen as bullying as politics. Determining what people can say, what can they do, and using group shaming to get people to do things that are not in their best interest are all PC.

  36. matt says:

    So according to you it’s PC to bully people… interesting

  37. An Interested Party says:

    Everyone should realize now that progressives are much better bulllies on the internet than the right is. Just like comment voting on OTB is used to bully non=PC commenters, the left is organized to used the internet to bully people.

    It is hardly surprising that you have such a warped view…it is certainly not bullying to note that your own words seem to indicate that you are a terrified white bigot…

  38. superdestroyer says:

    @matt:

    HIgh school drop outs are the most loyal Democratic voters around. Any high school drop out that votes is very likely to be a straight Democratic party voters.

    The entire push on the Buffet rule is designed to appeal to people who cannot count but who want the government to take money away from others and give it to themselves.

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    the constant use of the race card is a good demonstration how much bulllying is involved in Political Correctness. Look how pointing out that blacks commit more crimes on a per capita basis is now considered a hate-fact and how the left will attack anyone who points it out.

    Political correctness is about thought control and about using bullying and retribution to ensure that people say things that they do not really believe.

  40. matt says:

    @superdestroyer: It’s funny how self proclaimed conservatives are capable of painting all democrats as latte sipping limousine liberals in one sentence and then claim all democrats are poor people who never got a job in the next…

  41. superdestroyer says:

    @matt:

    The left in virtually all countries is made up of the elite and the lower classes. Their natural energy is the middle class. The voting patterns in the U.S. show this with ethnicity-based voting thrown in. Manhattan votes 80% for the Democratic Party and Newark votes 90% for the Democratic Party. One has to find a white middle class area with a large number of government workers to find an area where the voters split between Democrats and Republicans.