Republican insiders want to force Republican voters to choose more “electable” nominees than examples like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, so Karl Rove launched the American Crossroads super PAC to counteract the tea party.
Undeniably, better candidates are better and worse candidates are worse. Unfortunately, that meaningless platitude illustrates the problem. GOP elites have no idea who is going to win an election, and there are several reasons I say that.
First, the establishment wants fiscal conservatives who downplay social issues. But drunken sailors are more restrained with money than establishment Republicans, the tea party complains. The trouble with fiscal conservatives is they aren’t fiscally conservative. Insiders evade scrutiny of massive over-regulation and soaring debt by scapegoating social issues.
Second, Rove’s type of candidate really isn’t qualified, because trust is the No. 1 qualification. If I trust how a politician will vote, why do I care what he used to do? Congress is not a resume fashion show. Rove’s preferred candidates fail the most important electoral test with Republican voters.
Third, is the Republican establishment any better at identifying “electable” candidates than Republican primary voters? Marco Rubio couldn’t win, the establishment told us. “Some [Florida] insiders whisper that Rubio expects to lose,” Real Clear Politics reported in June 2009, “but is running statewide to establish himself for a future race.”
Rand Paul wasn’t electable, the Karl Roves told us. Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Paul’s 2010 Kentucky race caused “squeamishness” among worried insiders. Now both Rubio and Paul are suggested as possible candidates for president in 2016. In fact, Ronald Reagan was unelectable, according to GOP elites in 1980.
What’s going on here? In 2010, O’Donnell won 40 percent of the vote for Delaware’s U.S. Senate seat. In 2012, Mitt Romney, the most establishment candidate in decades, won the exact same amount of the Delaware vote for president. Romney enjoyed a united party hungry for victory. O’Donnell fought uphill against a harshly divided party. Exit polls show that 16 percent of Republicans voted for O’Donnell’s rival, Democrat Chris Coons, helping him win the election. Yet both Romney and O’Donnell got the same percentage of Delaware’s vote.
So are we focused on the wrong things? Maybe candidates aren’t the biggest problem. Could it be that GOP insiders really stink at running campaigns? Are insiders out of touch with the voters? Insider theories don’t seem to work in real life.
In 2008, GOP moderate, war hero and Senate veteran John McCain got about the same vote in Delaware for president as O’Donnell, who had almost no money. Moderate Delaware GOP Chairman Tom Ross declared O’Donnell unelectable. But Ross lost his own 1998 race by 27.2 percent to 72.8 percent in moderate New Castle County.
The entire establishment enterprise assumes that GOP insiders actually know in advance who is electable and why. That key assumption deserves some closer scrutiny and deeper thought.
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