Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Republicans have a choice... 2016: nominate an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush and lose narrowly, or go with someone like Ted Cruz and lose big.

(Caveat to -- overconfident? -- Democrats like myself: If the economy is in recession next year at this time even someone as extreme as Cruz could win.)

Actually, the Republican Party's choice is pretty much always that: nominate the candidate of the establishment or the "movement" candidate du jour. Since, in the end, Republicans want to win, they usually go with the safer pick. But this time could be different.

Jonathan Bernstein writes in Bloomberg, "Will Jeb Be the Rudy of 2016?" (all emphasis mine):

Bush is going to be able to raise tons of money. That’s something, especially from donors tied to the party network. Yet plenty of candidates over the years, from John Connally 1980 to Rudolph Giuliani in 2008, have done well with donors but couldn’t translate that support into greater success.

(I would add Phil Gramm's name to that list.)

If party actors remain split or uncommitted and prefer to wait for tests of electoral strength, it’s easy to imagine Bush finishing fifth or lower in Iowa, failing to rally in New Hampshire, and then finding himself almost a non-factor in South Carolina. 

In the Times this morning, meanwhile, Trip Gabriel reports, "Unhappy With a Moderate Jeb Bush, Conservatives Aim to Unite Behind an Alternative":

Fearing that Republicans will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush, leaders of the nation’s Christian right have mounted an ambitious effort to coalesce their support behind a single social-conservative contender months before the first primary votes are cast.

The efforts to coalesce behind an alternative candidate — in frequent calls, teleconferences and meetings involving a range of organizations, many of them with overlapping memberships — are premised on two articles of conservative faith: Republicans did not win the White House in the past two elections because their nominees were too moderate and failed to excite the party’s base. And a conservative alternative failed to win the nomination each time because voters did not unite behind a single champion in the primary fight.

And I think that's where conservatives get themselves into trouble. While it's true that establishment candidates like Bob Dole '96, John McCain '08 and Mitt Romney '12 lost, George W. Bush won -- albeit narrowly -- twice. And think about it: in the years it lost, would the GOP have been better off nominating more conservative candidates like Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum? I don't think so. And this year won't be any different (unless we get that recession I keep worrying about).

If the Republicans nominate Jeb they'll probably lose to Hillary in a close, hard-fought contest (the country is still split about 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats, even if Dems have an Electoral College edge). But if the GOP nominates someone like Cruz, Mrs. Clinton should win in a landslide. (A landslide being only 55/45.) 

Now, the good news for Republicans is that the sooner they nominate a movement conservative and get beaten decisively, a la Barry Goldwater in 1964, the sooner they'll look at each other and say something like, "You know, if we ever want to win back the White House we're going to have to moderate some of our positions. And we may also have to cut out all this nonsense of being so obstructionist in Congress. It's time for us to grow up."

It's kind of like an alcoholic hitting rock bottom. 

And that's when Democrats have to start worrying. 

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