In the Republican primaries these days, it seems as if the most radically conservative candidate gets the nod to go on to the general election. Last year we saw candidates like Rick Santorum force establishment candidate Mitt Romney to pander so hard to the right-wing that he had no chance of beating President Obama in November. It would be a fair assumption to say one of the main reasons he lost was the fact he made a lot of remarks that went over well with the radical base, but they would prove to be the proverbial albatross around his neck.
Things like saying he wanted illegal immigrants to “self-deport” or that he was “not concerned about the very poor” may have played well in the primaries as candidates sought to woo the people who usually turn out to cast their ballots, but went over like a lead balloon in demographics outside of older, white conservatives. If you need proof of this, look at how the results played out. Only 26 percent of Asians, 27 percent of Hispanics and a miserable 6 percent of African-Americans actually voted for him – and this was after he desperately tried to row back to the center after winning the nomination.
Unless the Republican Party makes a major change to the way their candidates are selected currently, they aren’t going to have any sort of legitimate chance at housing one of their own at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue barring some major scandal or an incredibly weak Democratic opponent.
What is that change? The way their primary systems work. Currently in 34 out of 50 states, their primaries are closed or mostly closed. Of the 16 states where voting is open to both parties, only 5 of those states are ones that would be considered “purple” or swing states – and this is just for presidential elections. It’s a process which sets them up for failure outside of carefully gerrymandered Congressional and state legislature districts because of the enormous influence of the hard right. As Jamelle Bouie from The Daily Beast points out in his article, “Conventions Aren’t Responsible for Extreme Republican Candidates“:
The process isn’t the problem, the people are. Primary or convention, the GOP nomination process is dominated by Tea Party and other right-wing Republicans who demand ideological purity from their elected officials. Given a large stage and a crowded field, they aren’t always successful—hence the nomination of Mitt Romney. But they can pull the entire conversation to the right, and in the process, give fodder to Democrats eager to paint their opponents as outside the mainstream.
Absent a return to the smoke-filled rooms of yore—where the money men of the GOP would choose a candidate and foist them on the base—it’s not clear that there’s a fix for this problem. The Republican grassroots is a homogenous coalition of right-wing whites and conservative evangelicals. As long as that’s true, candidates will have to appeal to their sensibilities. And at least some of the time, this will yield weak nominees who can’t win.
So if you’re a member of the Republican establishment and you want to win, you’re going to have to invite Independents, Democrats and Libertarians to vote in your primaries. I know this sounds like a horrible idea to you, but at this point you have no other choice. You can either continue catering to the right-wing nuts and the Bible thumpers and losing national elections as the party slowly dies, or you can try to balance them out with an appeal to moderates and even some liberals.
Either way, it’s your choice. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.
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