Should The GOP Let The Hard Right Pick The Nominee In 2016?
Would conservatives learn a lesson if they got everything they wanted in 2016?
One common refrain that we’ve been hearing from the conservative wing of the Republican Party for pretty much the entirety of the Obama Presidency is the claim that the main reason that the GOP lost in 2008, and then again in 2012, is because they failed to nominate a “real conservative” as their nominee. This isn’t an new refrain, of course, it’s one that we heard in the wake of the 1992 Presidential campaign, as well as after failed attempts to capture the Senate in recent years. At its core, this argument assumes that the nation is far more conservative than recent election results would indicate, and that candidates like McCain and Romney lost largely because they were too moderate and too unwilling to paint clear differences between themselves and President Obama. While there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that both of these assumptions are wildly incorrect, they are taken as gospel among large segments of the right to the point where it’s now common to hear conservative Republicans say that they won’t accept a “moderate” nominee like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio, who is apparently a moderate now. In that spirit Jazz Shaw proposes that the Republican Party finally put this conservative shibboleth to the test:
[W]hat say we conduct the experiment that could – and I emphasize could here – finally settle the question once and for all. Let’s just nominate somebody who has welded on all three legs of the stool and leaves not a sliver of daylight for the squishiness question. A nominee who will state without ambiguity that we’re going to bomb the crap out of anyone who is actively working against our interests. One who flatly proclaims that there will be no abortions for anyone and new Supreme Court justices will be inclined to overturn Roe v Wade. They will solemnly aver that we will slash both taxes and spending in a serious fashion, consequences be damned, and that any money spent on immigration reform will go toward arresting and deporting illegals while massively strengthening the borders. And if the only path available to deal with argumentative Democrats is to shut the government down, then By God they will personally be the one to turn out the lights as the last one out the door.
Then, in November of 2016, we should know one of two things. If the uber-conservative candidate racks up a 300ish plus electoral vote victory similar to Obama’s last outing, the critics will be vindicated and can authoritatively tell the RINOs to STFU and STFD. Just be happy with the win, accept the new paradigm and everyone can move on with their lives.
But what if they wind up taking a worse beating than Romney at the hands of Hillary? (Or whoever the Democrats nominate, assuming there is somebody out there besides the Candidate of Destiny Part Two.) Then the opposite would be true, the RINOs can happily keep up their fight to win over the middle and the debate will be settled once and for all.
This isn’t the first time something like this has been suggested. Jazz himself made a similar suggestion during the height of the Republican nomination fight in 2012 when he suggested that the GOP nominate Rick Santorum, ostensibly for the purpose of resolving this argument between the hard-core right and so-called “RINOs” once and for all. As I noted at the time, there is something appealing about the idea, even for someone not really involved in these internecine Republican fights. Largely, this is because there is really very little objective evidence to support the idea that the GOP’s key to victory lies in tacking further to the right than they are already.
Looking at both opinion polls and election results, for example, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support the idea that there is fertile electoral ground in taking a hard-right stance. Whether its immigration reform, same-sex marriage, or even the details of government spending, the American public seems to be largely in disagreement with what would be considered conservative orthodoxy on a wide variety of issues. If the United States were the “conservative nation” that many on the right claim it to be, then it seems clear that this would be reflected somewhere in the opinion polls. Outside of general support for the idea of cutting spending, without getting specific on what should be cut, and an aversion to large budget deficits, though, this just doesn’t seem to be the case. If anything, the 2012 Presidential election arguably shows that the GOP is out of step with the American electorate on a wide variety of issues.
The one flaw I see in the whole strategy of letting the hard-right pick whatever nominee they want in 2016 and seeing the chips fall where they may, is that I think its unlikely that strident conservatives are going to admit defeat even when its presented to them on a silver platter. Much as they blame the GOP’s losses in 2012 and 2008 on the alleged fact that the candidates in question weren’t conservative enough, they’d find a way to blame a 2016 loss on something other than a failure of conservative ideology. The so-called “mainstream media” is always a convenient target, and would likely be one in the wake of a 2016 loss as well. They’ll argue that the so-called Establishment GOP abandoned their candidate and failed to get behind him or her during the campaign. If necessary, they’ll blame the candidate him or herself. At no point will they actually admit that the candidate lost because they dragged the party too far to the right. Until conservatives reach the point where they’re willing to admit that, Republicans are going to find themselves in the same boat they’ve been in the past two election cycles.