McGovern’s debacle forced the Democratic Party to find its way back from the ideological wilderness—from being the party of delegate quotas and “acid, amnesty, and abortion.” Every successful Democrat after 1972, from Carter to Clinton to Obama, has had at least one foot in the party’s center. A Gingrich rout in November might have the same effect on Republicans—it might drive their party back toward the center, and toward mental health, in 2016. But if Romney wins the nomination and loses the election, the party will continue down into the same dark hole where Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum, and now Gingrich all lurk.
So this is wrong on one level. The evidence suggests that the longer a party is out of the White House, the more
moderate its nominees become. See my post
at 538 from a while back. And here’s the graph from Cohen et al.’s The Party Decides
(the horizontal axis should read “Terms Party Has Been Out of Office”):
So if Romney wins the nomination and then loses in November, I think it becomes less likely
that the party will nominate a Bachmann or Santorum in 2016—even though undoubtedly conservative Republicans will blame a 2012 loss on nominating a “Massachusetts moderate” in the first place.
That said, Packer’s post speaks to more than just the ideology of the presidential nominee. There is the question of whether the Republican Party itself will shift toward the center or further to the right. As Keith Poole recently documented
, the rightward shift of the GOP
continues unabated through 2011, even as the leftward shift of the Democratic Party has slowed somewhat:
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