Will a Losing GOP Shift Rightward?

George Packer:

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:

And, like Ezra Klein, I don’t see an easy way for that to change.  The moderate wing of the GOP party certainly has its advantages; I suspect it’s responsible for much of the funding that Romney has received.  However, it cannot match the power of the conservative wing in other respects—media outlets and affiliated activist groups, to name two.  As I’ve said before, for GOP moderates bothered by fringe presidential candidates or Tea Party “crazies,” the best answer is to get your own band of crazies.  In other words, out-organize and out-vote them.

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