The Republican Party has a problem. They have mastered the art of gerrymandering to the point that they can win the House every two years while receiving less total votes, by millions, than Democratic candidates. They have also been able to leverage the conservatism of less populous states to win control of the Senate, even though the Republican members of that body, over the course of the three election cycles that turn over the Senate, received less votes than their Democratic counterparts across the aisle, again by millions. But the story is different when it comes to presidential politics.
The GOP has been the party of marching conservatism since the end of the Nixon era, but with Barack Obama’s election to the White House, the party has completed its metamorphosis into a bastion of the extreme right. As with all political machines that embrace extremism, there is a sense that ideological purity is of paramount importance. We have seen in the past years how adhering to stringency within the GOP has damaged the government’s ability to function, but it has also made it harder for the GOP to win a presidential election.
The main problem for a Republican candidate is the primaries, as I’ve written before.
In both 2008 and 2012, long, drawn-out primary contests resulted in the GOP nomination being won by two milquetoast candidates who failed to excite most of the populace, much less Republican voters. That’s because the candidates that most excited the Republican base, that is, that excited voters in the south and the large rural states of the west, held political stances that ONLY excited the base, to the exclusion of all else. That’s just fine when a candidate is running for one of those gerrymandered House seats. But in the GOP primaries, it’s not just the GOP voters in Kansas (population 2.9 million), that a candidate needs to impress, but registered Republicans in California and New York (populations 38.8 million and 19.7 million, respectively). It matters little when a hard right candidate sweeps reliably Republican states when reliably Democratic states contain hordes of moderate Republican voters. That’s how a party ends up with something like Super Tuesday 2008, when conservative candidate Mike Huckabee did well in the south, winning five states and 160 delegates, but was absolutely buried by John McCain, who won nine states and 542 delegates. Huckabee won 55% as many states as McCain, but only 29% as many delegates.
The high-strung and apocalyptic rhetoric of what have become typical Republicans plays very well with the base, but collapses in broad appeal. That means that someone like Ted Cruz, who has shown skill at the art of GOP Orwellianism, and is set to announce his candidacy for the White House tomorrow, has about a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the nomination, even if he manages to survive the first couple of contests, when what looks to be a crowded field chews each other up trying to prove to small voter samples that they ‘are not scientists,’ or ‘don’t know what God the president worships.’
The difficulty in winning nominations, and the general election which follows, are self-inflicted wounds. It was the Republican Party that not only dragged the debate to the right, but also dragged it away from reality.
Sometimes I worry that the GOP really does represent the will of the American people. But then I think about how hard it is for one of their popular firebrands to win the nomination of their own party, and I remember that they represent a plurality, and not a majority.