The conventional wisdom

There is a belief out there that the GOP is not in that much trouble.  The argument goes like this, “the party always nominates the most electable people, and even if they can’t win they certainly prevent a blowout that would pull the party’s Senate and House members down to electoral defeat.”

Proponents of this theory say look at years like 1996, 2008 and 2012.  In those years there may have been candidates who applied more the bases’s anger – Buchanan over Dole, Huckabee and Romney over McCain, and Santorum and Gingrich over Romney – but the party always united around the strongest general election candidate even if it ticked off the base.

Here’s the problem with that theory it ignores what the party does in off-year elections. In particular, starting in 2010 the GOP in numerous states has nominated people who caused them to lose very winnable races.  Examples of this include Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell over Mike Castle, Linda McMahon over Rob Simmons and Chris Shays, Sharon Angle over Sue Lowden, Richard Mourdock over Dick Lugar, Todd Akin over Sarah Steelman, and E.W. Jackson over Pete Snyder.  All of those races were winnable for the GOP.

To help make this case of an electoral smart GOP that always saves the day. Harry J Enten argues in the Guardian  that Romney’s victory in Michigan, which was a crucial win the primary contest, was based on:

A plurality 32% said that defeating President Obama was the most important issue. Among those voters Romney won 61% of the vote – far higher than his 41% among all voters. Same thing happened the following week in the swing state of Ohio. Then 42% said winning in November was most important and Romney took 52% of these voters versus the 38% he took overall.

What this argument forgets is that the anti-Romney vote in Michigan and Ohio was divided between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum (the New Robert Evans).  In Ohio Santorum lost by 1% with Gingrich getting 15% of the vote and in Michigan (Romney’s birth state where his dad was governor) Santorum lost by 3% with Newt getting 7% of the vote.  If Gingrich isn’t in the race Santorum probably wins Ohio and maybe even takes Michigan.

Jumping ahead to now you can already see conservatives are trying to keep themselves from being divided again.  Erick Erickson of the influential conservative blog Redstate.com tweeted:

Many of the people adamantly opposed to Rubio now were as opposed to Romney & McCain. Gotta unite behind one alternative to be effective.

This is a sign that a great deal of the energy and conservative unity we’ve seen in state nomination fights may be coming to the Presidential stage.  If that is the case the party could go in any number of directions for picking a nominee and it may not be down Electability Street.

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