Last week we took a look at the historical template for the Republican Party nominee to win the presidency going all the way back to the 19th century. In case you missed it, here’s a brief refresher course:
1) Since 1892, only five incumbent presidents have lost re-election campaigns. The only one of those five that didn’t face a divided base was Herbert Hoover, who faced the Great Depression. In other words, minus extraordinary circumstances it is difficult to defeat an incumbent president unless he faces a primary.
2) Since 1976, only one Republican has won the presidency without winning more than 60% of the white born-again Christian vote. George W. Bush did it in 2000 by becoming only the third presidential winner in American history to lose the overall popular vote, which further reinforces how important that voting bloc is to the GOP.
3) Instead of pitting conservatives vs. independents, the winning formula for Republican presidential candidates is to first convince the conservative base they are with them on their principles in the primary. Then, in the general, the nominee is free to pursue enough independent voters necessary to create a winning coalition on Election Day.
4) Therefore, the base of the Republican Party holds far more sway over the outcome of the presidential election than either the liberal media or the Republican Party establishment that loathes grassroots conservatives cares to admit.
This brings us to 2012.
When you are the party out of power, it is foolish to pursue a strategy in the primary of elevating the candidate you think has the best chance to win the general election, because you are not in control of the news cycles and events that will shape the electorate. All the challenger can do is respond to events beyond his control. Especially if the challenger is not basing his candidacy on his own merits as much as he is a referendum on the incumbent. The smarter play is to nominate the most credible candidate that excites the base, because that excited base will remain so regardless of pressure from the mainstream media.
For example, prior to the 2008 primary cycle many know-it-alls lined up to endorse moderate-to-liberal Rudy McRomney in an effort to stop Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. Of course, we now know Clinton didn’t even win her party’s nomination. The GOP was left with a decrepit little ball of hate, Caucasian career politician to take on the powerful narrative of America’s first potential black president.
Game, set, and match for the Democrats.
In 2012, Romney did not base his bid for the GOP nomination on anything other than his perceived status as the heir apparent, and the fact that he could win the general election because the liberal media that hates us told us so. Despite all of his financial advantages, Romney only secured the nomination because as many as six candidates were splitting up the conservative vote.
Just as in 2008, most of the Republican base considers their nominee to be a dud and are more excited by his running mate. The only reason Romney has a reasonable chance not to repeat the result of 2008 is that Barack Obama is much weaker than he was four years ago. He’s more defined in the minds of voters given his record of failure, and the fear of what another four years could bring. Despite the fact Romney has among the highest negatives of any presidential challenger in modern polling, voters are giving him a chance to prove himself given the alternative.
There are two things standing in Romney’s way of closing the sale. His own base doesn’t trust him, which means he constantly has to defend his rear flank, and the Electoral College.
The party establishment tells us candidates like John McCain make the GOP not just a southern party but open up the entire Electoral College map. And they’re right. McCain lost traditional “red states” like North Carolina, Virginia, and even Indiana, which is one of the most Republican states in the union. The little ball of hate did open up the entire Electoral College map—for the Democrats.
This means before Romney can focus on battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, his campaign must first expend time and energy recapturing several states past GOP nominees could count in the win column. When you add in the analysis of respected political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, you see just how much of an uphill climb Romney has in the Electoral College.
Sabato’s analysis says Obama has at least has 200 Electoral College votes just by showing up on Election Day, and he only needs 270 to win. Sabato says there are only 85 true toss-up Electoral College votes at stake, and that Romney will need to win approximately 75% of those to get to 270.
That’s not much of a margin for error for the Romney campaign. Especially when you consider how few undecided voters there are. At this point in 2008, about 25% of voters were still undecided. Obama has so polarized the country that this year that number is estimated to be as low as 5%.
Sabato concludes, “It is base vs. base. There are hardly any independents.”
So believing they needed to win over independents, the ruling class came to the conclusion Romney was the best choice at the expense of their own conservative base. Except now we learn that the key to winning such a polarizing election is to turn out the very base that never wanted Romney in the first place. Just as in 2008, these “know-it-alls” have outsmarted themselves.
There is little doubt Obama will turn out the Democrat base in droves. He is their welfare state meal ticket. The first of a new breed of true Leftists David Horowitz warned us about in his great book Radical Son. If Obama goes down, the goose that laid the golden egg (Obamacare) may go down with him. They will fight to the last vote, and we already know the Democrats firmly believe if you’re not cheating then you’re not trying.
To counteract this and win, Romney needs to abandon the play-it-safe strategy of trying not to offend the very people that want to ruin the republic. He needs to stop missing opportunities to rally his base like he did with Chick-fil-a, let alone putting out statements like he did this week in favor killing babies if they’re conceived via rape or incest.
Without as many undecided voters in this election, Romney needs a 2004 or 1998-type turnout of white born-again Christians to win. That’s already a problematic proposition given the fact he’s a Mormon, but his current campaign strategy of abandoning his base at almost every turn isn’t helping the matter.
For evidence of this look at the way so many pro-life and pro-family activists stood up this week for Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin over the Romney campaign’s objection to his bizarre comments. A stronger nominee demanding Akin step aside in the midst of such a controversy would’ve certainly gotten his way, but Romney did not. Then just days after Romney put out a pro-child killing statement, the GOP grassroots contradicted him by reiterating its principled pro-life conviction in the party platform.
Romney needs a romance here with his base, and right now he’s essentially got a marriage of convenience.
Can Paul Ryan help Romney here? Aside from his home state of Wisconsin, Ryan’s polling boost on the Romney ticket has been minimal overall. Prior to the Ryan announcement, Romney was at 38.9% on InTrade to win the election. As of the time this was being written, Romney is only up to 41.3%. Unless Romney is willing to free up Ryan in a way McCain never did Sarah Palin, Ryan has probably already given Romney all the bounce he’s going to get.
It is Romney who will win or lose this election on his own. To win this election he’ll have to do something he’s been hesitant to do the entire 2012 campaign cycle—embrace his base.
Steve Deace's nationally-syndicated radio show airs coast-to-coast each weeknight from 9-Midnight eastern, including many of the Salem Radio Network's top conservative talk stations in markets like New York City, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Minneapolis. His radio program has been featured in major media such as Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Weekly Standard, and National Review among others. In 2013 he wrote the second-most shared column of the year for USA Today, defending "Duck Dynasty" and traditional American values. In addition to being a contributor for Town Hall.com, Deace is also a columnist for The Washington Times. He is also the author of the new book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again, which includes a foreword by David Limbaugh and is endorsed by a who's who of conservative leaders. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.
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