Is the GOP Base Willing to Lose in 2012?

Imagine you had told Republicans in December 2008 that three years from then, when Barack Obama would be running for re-election, the country would still be mired in the economic doldrums, with unemployment at 8.6 percent and job creation barely keeping up with increases in population. "Great!" they'd say. "There's no way we could lose the 2012 election!" Yet here we are, with the party about to choose between one terribly flawed, unlikeable candidate and a second terribly flawed, unlikeable candidate. No matter which one gets the nomination, you'll be hard-pressed to find a Republican who thinks they've got this election in the bag.

And today, Jeffrey Toobin wonders, given the GOP's intense dislike of Barack Obama, "Wouldn’t they seek out the broadest possible coalition for defeating him? Apparently not. Rather, the working Republican hypothesis seems to be that the damaged economy will trump any specific stand on the issues. Americans will embrace the Republican candidate simply to punish Obama for failing to cure what ails the economy. In this environment, even the Republican id will be an easy sell."

Toobin notes correctly that the Republican platform, from tax cuts for the rich to repealing "don't ask, don't tell" to voucherizing Medicare is so unpopular, you have to go back to Barry Goldwater's disastrous 1964 campaign to find something similar. So what the hell are they thinking?

I think there are two answers. The first is that from within your own self-enclosed information loop—and the GOP's information loop is very, very self-enclosed—the view of things like "electability" can get awfully distorted. Partisans tend to believe that the merits of their side's perspective are self-evident, and if they can just get the opportunity to explain to the wider public what they are, then everyone will be persuaded. Mitt Romney may look more electable on paper, but if they think Newt is the one who can offer the most articulate explanation of conservatism in its current form, then by definition that makes him electable. When they see polls saying that their agenda is unpopular, they just refuse to believe it.

The second answer, and perhaps the more interesting one, is that for the base of the party, beating Obama may be a secondary goal, and this is where the 1964 comparison makes the most sense. As Ed Kilgore explains, "the conservative activists who dominate the Republican presidential nominating contest are split between those who simply don’t believe adverse polls about Gingrich, and those who would rather control the GOP than the White House, if forced to choose." If this is a conflict between the establishment, which would rather nominate Romney, and the base, which would rather (at this point anyway) nominate Gingrich, then right now the establishment is losing, and they don't have too many ways of stopping Gingrich if he were to win the early contests.

But if you're a Republican true believer, a Gingrich-led loss may not be such a terrible outcome. In 1964, the establishment candidate, Nelson Rockefeller, was defeated by Goldwater, who was carried to the nomination by an army of grassroots activists that the party poobahs thought of as a bunch of extremist yahoos. Goldwater was then annihilated in the fall by Lyndon Johnson. But four years later, the Republicans got the White House back. And 12 years after that, a candidate who was nurtured by that grassroots conservative movement, and who was also tagged as an extremist (Ronald Reagan), became president. Before long, that conservative movement had pretty much taken over the party.

You could argue that the contemporary extreme wing of the GOP—call it the Tea Party if you want, but it's bigger than that—has already taken over the party, so they don't need to nominate their candidate to shove the process along. But if Newt wins the nomination, it will prove once and for all that the Republican establishment may still exist, but its power is a shadow of what it once was.

Comments

There is also the possibility that some in the GOP realize that the poor economy (exacerbated by GOP Congressional obstructionism) won't be in much better shape by 2016. Why limit yourself to associating the Democracts with 4 years of recession when you can associate them with 8 years?

The dif between then and now, is that the TPARTY NATION as designed by the neocons, profligated by Reagan, driven by Karl Rove and executed by W is so repulsive and anti democracy that people are starting to catch on. The libs are hated by the radical rt wingers, but the other party people are not so sure the GOP is headed in the right direction either: trickle down failed to produce jobs, de-regulation set the WALL STREET vultures free to loot the american people and the adoration of the rich is anti christian as well as an assault on the US consitution.

"Toobin notes correctly that the Republican platform, from tax cuts for the rich to repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' to voucherizing Medicare is so unpopular, you have to go back to Barry Goldwater's disastrous 1964 campaign to find something similar."

You must mean REINSTATING "don't ask, don't tell." I don't think repeal was ever part of the Republican platform.

There is no humility here. The repugs don't think for a minute that they are going to lose in 2012. They have all the money they need to BUY THE ELECTION and they have imp state governorships that are using their powers to suppress voter participation. That is why repug dung is running. It floats to the top. And they believe, they can sell it to the american public. Not cheap, but can be done.

It's not the base, it's the party leadership.

Those who look at the issue in the short-term of course want to win. That is what politics is about, defeating the other party. And many on the base are not strategists, but are instead simply those who turn out to vote. So they will vote for the candidate so that the candidate will win. They do think just a little more long term in the primaries, but once the candidate is chosen they support that candidate because that is how to win. It's not the base that wants to lose.

Then there are the middle-term thinkers. These guys are the ones trying to consolidate party power. Contrary to what CarmanK wrote, the Tea Party is not the same as the Neocons, but is instead a thorn in the side of Republican Party leadership. The Tea Party started in 2007 as a revolt against the spending of Bush and against the wars of Bush. It got taken over in 2009, but even after the take over it still was more independent than the party leadership wanted. Four more years of Obama is just what Boehner needs to consolidate everyone behind the party leadership, to get the unruly elements in line and have them support party machine candidates they don't like because the party machine candidates are "lesser of two evils." That is the domain of many of the party's strategists, and the point of this article, but not the party base.

Then there are the long-term thinkers. Eric Scharf got that one, but it is bigger than he thinks. The economy is continuing to deteriorate, and whoever wins the next election will be in the hot-seat when it does get dramatically worse. It will be during the next presidential term. For better or for worse, no matter how many decades (four of them) it took for the crisis to build, the party in office at the time of the crisis will be blamed for the crisis. The long-term thinkers know this and want Obama to be in the hot-seat when everything blows up. Again, this is the strategists and not the base though.

But Goldwater ... most of the Republican candidates have nothing to do with Goldwater. Reagan aped his rhetoric but not his reality. For bonus points, see which Republican presidential candidates have anything in common with Goldwater. Hint - not Romney or Gingrich.

While most Republican members of Congress want to hang on to thier cushy jobs, they are wise enough to not want their party to win the White House. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that what the GOP are proposing for budget policies would, if actually enacted, cause the American economy to crash and burn. Two facts will dominate National politics for years to come. 1). Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security can not be subject to any significant cuts . They are not a 'safety net'; they are an actual 'lifeline to survival" for almost a 100 million people. 2) It will be virtually impossible to make any serious reductions in our annual deficits without a major increase in taxes, primarily on the higher income citizens.
So it is far better to be a member of Congress in the Party out of power, enjoying the freedom to attack , criticise and tear down President Obama, rather than have to see Republican policys enacted and leading to a 2016 landslide rejection of every member of the GOP.

Not a brilliant article. You can love a country, its people, the food, the scenery without "loving" its government. I doubt highly the GOP cares about this one bit.The Republicans weht after Obama's family's religious beliefs for four years, why is it off limits now to mention Romney's family's religious beliefs?

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