Archive for Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To win, GOP must alter nomination path

October 27, 2009


The Republican presidential primary process begins in 27 months. That sounds far removed, but the time for action is now if the GOP wants to nominate an electable candidate instead of one suitable for nomination but not a general election victory.

That there has been an exodus from the GOP cannot be denied. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week found that just 20 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republican — the lowest figure since 1983.

Left behind in the party are the most conservative of voters. Their standing, coupled with the fact that the most passionate at either end of the spectrum are the most reliable primary voters, sets the stage for the nomination of someone in the mold of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee or maybe Mitt Romney. Each is well-suited to excite the base, but when it comes to expanding the tent, you can check the box marked “none of the above.”

“The Republican Party’s nominating process is not designed to select the strongest candidate with the broadest appeal in the large states needed to win 270 electoral votes in a general election,” longtime GOP operative Roger Stone told me last week.

It’s time for the GOP to reshape its primary process. Now. The party needs a new strategy to give voice to its remaining middle-of-the-road voters. Recapturing the center will demand a shift in the way the Republican Party nominates its presidential candidates. I see three options.

• Change the calendar. The current emphasis on smaller states with conservative electorates subverts the more moderate voices that actually have a chance to win a general election. Example: Since 1976, only once has the winner of a contested Iowa GOP caucus gone on to win the general election (George W. Bush did it in 2000, and he ended up losing the popular vote). The New Hampshire winner, meanwhile, has gone on to claim the presidency just twice after contested primaries — and even that hasn’t happened since George H.W. Bush did it in 1988.

My favored alternative? Reorganize the presidential-primary calendar so states with more moderate tendencies get a say earlier.

Republican political consultant Mark McKinnon, who has worked with George W. Bush and John McCain, suggested prioritizing Western states like Arizona and Colorado, as well as Northeastern states like Connecticut. Pollster Scott Rasmussen pointed to New England for potential bellwether moderate states. He called New Hampshire “the most important state in the process.”

• Regional primaries. Bob Graham, a Democratic former U.S. senator and governor from Florida, once likened regional primaries to college football’s Bowl Championship Series. The title game, he reasoned, “rotates ... from year to year among the traditional bowl games.” Graham’s plan would similarly carve the country into five regions whose states would vote every three weeks. Like the bowl process, the regional voting order would rotate every election.

Stone told me he favored this approach because it would force candidates to appeal to every section of the country. Meanwhile, making candidates actually run through the end of the process would allow for “a longer and more thorough vetting process for the candidates” and a more exciting one for voters.

The downside? Less of what Graham has called the “political screen” that the old-school retail politicking of Iowa and New Hampshire provides. Rasmussen suggested randomly selecting a small state to lead off the regional primary season to ensure that door-knocking and living-room town halls remain a significant part of the nomination process.

• Empower the party bosses. Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, points to changes instituted in the 1970s as a turning point in the way primary elections were contested. Responsibility for choosing nominees, he said, was transferred from party officials to the voters.

Rather than simply adjusting the order of this modern presidential-primary system, Jacobs said, the GOP could return to a time when party leaders had a more definitive role in choosing the party standard-bearer. The Democrats, he noted, are already moving in this direction by empowering superdelegates.

“Frankly, it doesn’t matter if Iowa and New Hampshire go first — which certainly have moderate elements — or if it’s Georgia and Florida and those states go first,” he said. “It’s the fact that in each of those states you tend to get this narrow segment of party activists driving the process.”

Of course, the notion of allowing “elites” to overrule the will of the people isn’t as politically viable today as it was 50 years ago. And there is certainly risk for the GOP in alienating its conservative base.

But 2012 will be a referendum on President Obama. And while conservatives might head to the voting booths kicking and screaming if the GOP nominee is too moderate for their liking, they’re not going to stay at home.

As Jacobs told me: “That group, that conservative movement is now watching in Washington as Barack Obama I think is about to pass probably the most comprehensive social-welfare legislation since the New Deal. And that’s going to be a very sobering sort of moment.”

Time for the GOP to look beyond 2010. For 2012, the time is now.

— Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via the Web at


Flap Doodle 6 years, 3 months ago

So they should move things around so some empty suit who accepts millions of dollars of illegal campaign donations and gets the aid of a complaint media can get the nomination? Worked for the Democrats, didn't it?

fallingwhilereading 6 years, 3 months ago

I would say they need to stop calling themselves the GOP. The Republicans now days don't stand for what the Grand Old Party was meant to be. The Grand Old Party has been highjacked by extreme right wing pseudo Christians. It is truly unfortunate what has happened to the GOP. Know the Republicans need is the moderate voter, and they will not get them. The Republicans refuse to move towards the middle. Instead they will use the census, and do some gerrymandering to win some seats back in the next 4 to 6 years. I would like to know how is gerrymandering legal, and it is constitutional.

BrianR 6 years, 3 months ago

snap_pop_no_crackle (Anonymous) says… "So they should move things around so some empty suit who accepts millions of dollars of illegal campaign donations and gets the aid of a complaint media can get the nomination? Worked for the Democrats, didn't it?"

Unfortunately, it seems to work like that for everyone. The biggest down side to our system is that no candidate can raise enough money to attain that office without being owned by someone.

fallingwhilereading 6 years, 3 months ago

big I was talking about the entire Republican party. You do realize there is more than a Presidential election.

ShaneK 6 years, 3 months ago

The Repulicans do need to change their nominating process but not for the reason you named. In fact, the currrent nominating process gave the Republicans the exact type of candidate your are talking about, the moderate John McCain. He was the most moderate Republican of the bunch, and last time I checked, he LOST.

Republicans need to close their primaries to party members only in the early states so that Democrats and "independents" aren't choosing their nominee. Republicans win the general election when their candidates are CONSERVATIVE, not moderate, history has bore that out time and time again. Moderates like John McCain and George HW Bush lose.

fallingwhilereading 6 years, 3 months ago

Shane I am sure primaries were never meant to be used either. In fact they are not write into the constitution. Another way parties have designed a system that leads us away from the government The United States was suppose to be.

headdoctor 6 years, 3 months ago

McCain didn't lose because of his Liberal/Conservative position. He lost because instead of running on his own he was sucking up to ideas and programs of the Bush Administration, his voting record, age, his attitude and his choice for Vice President.

headdoctor 6 years, 3 months ago

Tom, I know it may come as a shock to you but there are people out there who don't watch Fox, CNN or other network news programs. Even if they do they are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusion without having the issues spun and regurgitated to them. McCain/Palin sunk their own battleship. They didn't need any help from the media and if your precious Fox News is so wonderful they should have been able to turn around public opinion.

What you and a few other right wing wackos can't get your brain wrapped around is that Obama/Biden more than likely wouldn't have won if there hadn't been a lot of Conservatives voting for a Democrat.

preebo 6 years, 3 months ago

I love how Tom and the other "Diddo-heads" out there like to think that Obama has done more damage in less than one year in office than Bush did in two terms. Real perspective. His approval ratings are still higher than Clinton's were in his first year, and should I remind you; he won a second term. Tom and people of his ilk had Obama "dead in the water" in January (despite him being inaugurated on the 20th), so their perspective might just be a little biased. In all candor, mine is as well, I voted for Obama and while I am not pleased with every decision made, I am pleased with the direction we are going... Let the Malay begin.

supertrampofkansas 6 years, 3 months ago

McCain lost because of Bush and Palin. Anybody who says its the media is ignorant with a short attention span.

I truly believe if McCain had chosen a moderate leaning to the right, he would have come out on top of a closely contested race.

McCain had bad advisors. Bush may have looked dumb, but he had excellent advisors. They were able to paint Bush as a centrist even though he was far from it. If the media was truly a factor, then Al Gore should have won, right Tom?

It is all about perception which clearly starts with the candidate and the people he/she surrounds him/herself with. The GOP should be studying Ronnie and Billy who were both excellent manipulators of public perception.

headdoctor 6 years, 3 months ago

preebo (Anonymous) says… I love how Tom and the other “Diddo-heads” out there like to think that Obama has done more damage in less than one year in office than Bush did in two terms.

Yup, and we are only 27 days into Obama's budget. I am amused that the angry, uneducated, lower income right wing wackos are mindlessly hating Obama and mindlessly wanting to follow the Republican party, yet if McCain was in office they would still be in the same position they are now. Angry, uneducated, with lower income and would still be bent over for what ever the Republicans want. It would be so refreshing if this bunch actually had an original thought in their head. They scream anti-Socialism yet run to drink their fill from the Socialist cup themselves.

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