Why Reagan Conservatives Don’t Get Nominated

I don’t normally like to make posts out of my comments but as I sat down to consider expanding the following response to Black3 on the “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” post, I ran across a very good column by Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard about why Reagan conservatives can’t get nominated .

Part of my reply to Black3 about choosing Romney in the primaries (I added the charts from Gallup for this post):

We don’t have a Reagan in the race today.There is no choice but to change the country gradually because the people who decide elections – the mushy middle – aren’t convinced that conservatism offers the best path – that’s why we have Comrade Obama.

If you look at the polls (Gallup has some good ones), the party identification since 1998 has only varied 3 points for the Republicans (28% to 31%) and 4 points for Democrats (31% to 35%), at the end of 2010 it there was two points separating the two with Democrats leading in affiliation 31% to 29%. It isn’t these people that elections turn on, these are people like us with solid political positions – it is the 38% that identify as “independent”.

In 2010, Gallup looked at party ID including “leaners” and found an even tighter landscape, with Democrats leading by only one point – 45% to 44%. So it is likely that a very, very small percentage of swing votes will decide the election, probably less than 5%, and in the Electoral College where a candidate can win the popular vote in a state by one vote and get all the electoral votes in that state, this is a significant number.

The other thing of note is that there are NO conservative Democrats left – there are no Reagan Democrats and even if there were, the pressure to vote the party line is tremendous. This is not true on the Republican side – we are fractured between conservatives and moderates and the moderates feel no need to vote the party line, so where Democrats have no need to win with moderates, Republicans do.

I’ve made a choice and have been defending it. I can’t debate or compare/contrast your choice because I don’t know who it is. I’ve posted why I think that the election is what it is in American Politics Explained and Practical Politics Practiced Politically. With all due respect, most of your posts are spent in quoting dead white guys and what we “should” do at an ideological level. While I agree with you in principle, there will be an election in 10 months and nothing indicates to me that the mushy middle is convinced that conservatism is the way to go.

Oh, I hear conservatives saying “anybody but Romney”…so who is it? As I posted, every single one of the candidates has a less than perfect conservative act in their history. They have all supported “progressive” Republicans, committed “progressive” acts themselves or in the case of Paul, taken positions that are just unacceptable to anybody left of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, anti-Semitic factions in the US. Using the “purity” measure – not a single one of them qualifies…so it is a choice of degree of conservatism for each, mixed with electability. If we want to win, we have to choose one of them.

We are running up against the clock and with the electorate as closely divided as it is, we have a choice to try to win the election and have a chance to effect change or sit back and say “if I can’t have Mr. One True Conservative, I’ll be content to be comfortable in my principles while the Obama Progressives dismantle the country”. Rarely in history will you find wars won based on one battle and this is as much a war as any. We can reenact Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg or we can look to a strategy to win the long war.

The very reason that we are where we are is that we have not pushed conservative and classical liberal policies at the state and local level so that we have a “farm system” that produces bench strength for national elections…we still look at elections as tactical events.

Remember that I have posted that the first truism of politics is that you cannot govern if you can’t get elected.

We will have to choose. Sometimes the choice isn’t between the “best” and the “worst”, sometimes it is a choice between “best available” and “worst”. In business, I have to make those decisions all the time because there is one thing that never changes, the clock is always ticking. One thing that I do know is that success is always built on forward momentum – sometimes it is very small – but sitting still in business is the same as falling behind because your competition is always moving. The same is true in electoral politics.

Romney is still more conservative than Obama and with his election and a Republican House and Senate, we might be able to turn the tide.

Cost writes:

Republicans all across America like to think of their coalition as the “party of Ronald Reagan,” but have you noticed how frequently the party nominates somebody who opposed Ronald Reagan in 1980?Since Reagan’s last nomination in 1984 the GOP has nominated four men to lead the Republican party into the presidential battle. Three of them were aligned against Reagan in the 1980 presidential nomination and the other was . . . John McCain.

Once again, the GOP appears set to nominate such a candidate. Mitt Romney strikes me as a very capable and competent person, possessing many qualities needed in a good president and most definitely superior to the current one, but he is not a Reagan conservative.

So, here’s the question of the day: why can’t the party of Reagan ever seem to nominate a Reaganite?

My answer: because conservative Republicans are not actually in control of their own party. Though they are its animating force – they give it policy ideas to implement, they turn out regularly to support the party in good times and bad, they advocate the party and its ideology to their friends, neighbors, and relatives – they are not in charge, and have not been since the 1970s (arguably the 1920s, but that’s another story altogether).

The lefty do-gooders who spearheaded the reforms of the 1970s thought that they were saving the parties from the machine hacks, but in fact they threw out the baby with the bathwater. They effectively destroyed the party at the grassroots level, and handed the nominating power over to candidates, strategists, donors, the news media, and ill informed voters who dominate the primaries. The biggest losers in this scheme were the kinds of committed citizens who took the time to participate in local party affairs, and on the GOP side that inevitably meant the conservatives.

He concludes:

As you can see, during the competitive phase of the nominating battle, John McCain did hardly better than Mitt Romney, who that year was identified as the conservative in the race. But the conservative vote was split early on between Romney and Mike Huckabee, enabling McCain to “win” primaries, thus putting pressure on Romney to drop out, which he did after Super Tuesday. And that was basically that: McCain effectively sows up the nomination with less than 40 percent of the vote!

And this, my dear readers, is why the conservative party never seems able to nominate a conservative candidate. The rules of the nomination game favor candidates who have the insider connections, can garner positive coverage from the media, can appeal to non-ideological and poorly informed voters, and who can win perhaps just a third of the vote in the early rounds. Such candidates are rarely the conservatives. Put another way: conservatives consistently lose because they are not actually in charge of their own party.

This is why, moving forward, conservatives need to spend serious time and effort thinking about how to fix this screwed up process. Yes, it is important to consider the big policy issues – tax reform, health care, industrial policy – but without good rules to produce good nominees who can implement those policies, then it is all for naught.

So there you have it from someone with a lot more political knowledge that just some random guy in Edinburgh with broadband Internet thanks to Al Gore. Cost thinks that it is a long game, too…

4 thoughts on “Why Reagan Conservatives Don’t Get Nominated

  1. Let me set all of this aside and ask a simple question:

    Assuming we mean what we espouse and REPRESENTATIVE republicanism is something we REALLY believe in, then why don’t we just state our case plainly, in clear terms and then refuse to budge from what we claim are real core convictions?

    If we are correct, and we LIVE these convictions, the People will eventually come around and join us.

    If they don’t, then we are in a minority and the very system we claim to support dictates that WE should be the minority opinion and accept the will of the People.

    To me, had we done this from the beginning, seizing Reagan’s jump as a starting point, and we had started a REAL 3rd Party attempt THEN, we might not be here right now. But then, that would have required us to accept loosing elections for a while so we could build that Party, and we all know we can’t loose an election or we’ll never get the chance to “prove” to the People that our way is best – especially when we do it their way to win those elections.

    Do you NOT see the necessity for ideology and REAL principle over Party politics? Because, Utah, if we are stuck on the political, we have lost ALL of what our founders gave us and, in so doing, we’ve lost the war – not just this battle.

    • It’s a cause-and-effect thing: if the changes need to be affected in the hearts of the People, the People will NEVER make them if we keep voting people into office who are no better nor different from the other party on issues that really matter.

  2. Pingback: #Smitty Makes A Great Catch #tcot « That Mr. G Guy's Blog

  3. Pingback: What He Said « The Rio Norte Line

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