Noemie Emery: Why can’t conservative candidates win Republican presidential primaries?

posted at 12:49 pm on March 21, 2013 by Allahpundit

An unsparing piece keying off the same Rick Perry soundbite at CPAC that inspired this post. Perry said that it’s unfair to blame conservatism for the GOP’s losses in 2008 and 2012 because, after all, our nominees weren’t conservative. Emery’s response: Then why did Republican primary voters vote for them instead of for a solid conservative like, say, Rick Perry?

Her answer? Between Reagan’s generation and the current crop of Rubio, Scott Walker, etc, there simply haven’t been many good conservative candidates.

Instead, against establishment types who were national figures, the conservative movement flung preachers and pundits (Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan), has-beens and losers (New Gingrich and Rick Santorum), and others still worse (Herman Cain, for example), who on second thought lost even conservative primary voters.

To deny all this reality, some movement types invented a conspiracy theory. The Establishment met at the Country Club on alternate Tuesdays to undermine all the upcoming Reagans (who sadly enough never existed). This is untrue, and it keeps these movement types from facing the real problem — the failure of the conservative movement to find and develop successors to Reagan over the space of the past 20 years…

When things worked less well for conservatives who lacked Reagan’s luck and his genius, they decided their failure was explainable only by sabotage — after all, how else could they lose? On the way, the Right developed a sense of entitlement (the Republican Party owed them a nominee of their liking); an embrace of victimhood; a habit of translating their tactical failure to win over more voters into a moral failure on the part of those voters for not sensing their value; and a belief that they can manage to win more elections by purging all factions (and people) not wholly in sync with their views.

This isn’t the outlook with which Reagan won landslides. The GOP owes conservatives nothing beyond a chance and a hearing. The onus is on them to win over the voters. They are victims of nothing beyond their own much-too-high self-esteem.

Usually it’s “Beltway cocktail parties,” not the country club, where the establishment’s assumed to be plotting, but otherwise fair enough. Two things, though. First, conspiracies aside, surely no one doubts that the GOP’s consultant and donor class trends a bit more centrist than the base. I saw an article about that somewhere just the other day vis-a-vis gay marriage: Many socially conservative grassroots Republicans remain firmly opposed, but there’s widespread (if often quiet) support for legalized SSM among Republicans on the Hill and in other corridors of power. Go figure that that more centrist professional class would gravitate towards centrist candidates like Romney in the primary and bring their money and electoral expertise with them. Karl Rove, the mastermind of “compassionate conservatism,” is building a group right now that’s designed to head off ostensibly unelectable conservative insurgents in House and Senate primaries. Emery’s right about the quality of candidates on the right in presidential races lately, but let’s be fair: They’re swimming upstream against a centrist tide among party power-brokers.

Two: Because Obama was such a political and cultural phenomenon in 2008, and because the country’s Bush fatigue was so profound, I think GOP voters that year put a premium on “electability” in choosing McCain. That premium then carried over to 2012 because, although Hopenchange wasn’t the juggernaut that it was four years earlier, Obama was still an incumbent president with a fearsomely formidable organization. With no well known, charismatic conservative hero on the order of Reagan to captivate Republicans, some GOP voters figured that a moderate nominee with centrist cred was their best bet to steal some independents from O. 2016 should be different because, by almost universal acclaim, the quality of conservatives in the field will be solid: Rubio, Paul, Jindal, maybe Ryan. They’re all electable in theory, or at least more electable than righties in the classes of 2008 and 2012.

That’s when we’ll get an answer to a question that Emery suggests in her piece but doesn’t explore: Namely, were Reagan’s victories in 1980 and 1984 due more to the movement or more to the man? You often hear O’s critics claim his current majority is more about the man himself than the product of a broader ideological realignment; once he leaves office, the theory goes, Democrats will have difficulty replicating the heavy turnout he generated among young voters, minorities, and liberals. It’s his unique gifts and singular identity as a politician — and weak opponents, natch — that have led him to two terms. Was the same true of Reagan, though? It can’t be true entirely: The GOP won three of the next five elections after Reagan left office, so there was obviously some sort of movement behind him. But of course, as any grassroots conservative will happily tell you, the Bushes’ claim to the label “conservative” was always … problematic. The next primary might well produce the most conservative nominee since Reagan, and he might well have to face a much, much more difficult opponent in Hillary than Reagan did in a failed, flailing Jimmy Carter. That’ll be a real test of Emery’s theory.

Update: Lots of commenters are pointing to a primary system that starts with Iowa and New Hampshire instead of, say, Texas and South Carolina. Fair point. That would definitely boost more conservative candidates right out of the box, although Perry’s point at CPAC is that conservatives can win even national majorities if given the chance. There’s no reason in theory they can’t win among Republicans in IA and NH too, even if they lean a bit further toward the center. (Actually, Iowa Republicans are famous for leaning further to the right on social issues than the GOP electorate nationally. That’s how Huckabee and Santorum managed to win in 2008 and 2012, respectively. And the early boost didn’t help them to the nominations.)


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colonelkurtz on March 21, 2013 at 2:55 PM

It was James Dobson of Focus on the Family, I believe, who took the unprecedented step (for him and his organization anyway) of endorsing a presidential candidate in the last election. It was then I realized how much trouble Romney was in with Evangelicals.

We constantly hear that Romney lost because conservatives didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers. But that’s not precisely true. It was the religious conservatives who simply in the end couldn’t pull the lever for the Mormon. I think it’s important that we not only remember that, but that we address it whenever the subject comes up. It would also be nice if the religions cons would own up to it.

SukieTawdry on March 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Religious conservatives wanted someone who didn’t pivot on his principles. If you were to forget for a moment that Mitt Romney was a Mormon and just look at how attractive he was as a candidate to religious conservatives, you’d see that they wouldn’t have wanted to vote for him no matter what his religion was. He pivoted on abortion, believed in big government healthcare, and not only surrendered on same sex marriage but actually gave the left more than they were asking.

There is, on the other hand, lots of evidence that Democrats were not about to vote for a Mormon. But that doesn’t advance the narrative, does it?

There Goes The Neighborhood on March 21, 2013 at 7:26 PM

It was the religious conservatives who simply in the end couldn’t pull the lever for the Mormon. I think it’s important that we not only remember that, but that we address it whenever the subject comes up. It would also be nice if the religions cons would own up to it.

SukieTawdry on March 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM

Anti-Mormon evangelical bigots cost Romney the election. OK, how many scapegoats does that make? Let’s see: Latinos; Sarah Palin; Candy Crowley; Chris Christie; evangelical bigots (no doubt from the South, which Romney incredibly carried); anti-abortion zealots; Todd Akin; Christine O’Donnell; Sharron Angle; the primaries; Newt Gingrich…everyone except that weak, unelectable nominee himself.

ddrintn on March 21, 2013 at 9:57 PM

There is, on the other hand, lots of evidence that Democrats were not about to vote for a Mormon. But that doesn’t advance the narrative, does it?

There Goes The Neighborhood on March 21, 2013 at 7:26 PM

Nor does the fact that about 60% of moderates voted for Obama.

ddrintn on March 21, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Anti-Mormon evangelical bigots cost Romney the election. OK, how many scapegoats does that make? Let’s see: Latinos; Sarah Palin; Candy Crowley; Chris Christie; evangelical bigots (no doubt from the South, which Romney incredibly carried); anti-abortion zealots; Todd Akin; Christine O’Donnell; Sharron Angle; the primaries; Newt Gingrich…everyone except that weak, unelectable nominee himself.

ddrintn on March 21, 2013 at 9:57 PM

Blah. Don’t bother. Asked her (?) hours ago for a cite or at least where that meme came from and I’m still waiting.

kim roy on March 21, 2013 at 10:05 PM

SukieTawdry on March 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM

shove your concern up your wedge driving pie hole loser.

tom daschle concerned on March 22, 2013 at 5:08 AM

There are a great number of us who’d like to feel more comfortable voting for Republicans out there who have to flog ourselves to make it to the polls. Ya see, we’re as deeply troubled by a big religious government as we are by a big secular government.

The big religious government “might” be our kind of religion or it might be something else more extreme or not extreme enough. But, being a Big Government we either abide by its Big Government laws its way or spend time in the big house, have our property taken, and so forth. No thanks. It’s no worse if a Calvinist dominated government does this than if a Mohammedan dominated government does it or if a secular government does it.

I want a government small enough it doesn’t make a practical difference if it tries to make stupid religious based laws about not working on Tuesday because its the Great God Wumpus’ sacred day. It should be too small to make such laws and too tightly constrained to even consider trying.

I’ve nothing against lawmakers being “informed” by their religion. But, I do insist that if they make a law it be a law that has solid secular reasoning behind it. If some religion figures it’s not legal to bathe your feet on Thursdays for some silly reason they MUST be free to exhort their members to follow that stricture and free to expel those who disobey it. But they must not be allowed, for example, to stone violators to death.

This requires a non-negligible government. But it certainly does not need a government with sheaves of regulations large enough to fill the Statue of Liberty to overflowing. That rather violates the spirit of Liberty, doesn’t it?

{^_^}

herself on March 22, 2013 at 5:12 AM

herself on March 22, 2013 at 5:12 AM

I asm assuming you are talking about socons when you say “big religious government.” Here’s a hint, not all socons are religious. Many of us and I know several of us on Hotair are agnostic and atheist. We just see the world the way it is and not in theoretical terms.

I never wanted to be a socon. You think as an agnostic, I want to keep being compared to the church lady? I was forced to become a socon basically by Republicans like you who scream “let’s get out of social issues and let’s the states decide.” The problem is you people completely ignore the fact that we have an opposing party that ignores these rules. I was happy to live in my conservative state and vote on things like abortion and gay marrriage just in my state. It was not me who made that a federal issue. My position as a socon came as a direct response to the Democrats and the liberals using federal legislature and judicial fiat to make Massachusetts and California values federal values. You may be okay living by those state’s values because you agree with them, but I am don’t. If fighting to keep the littlest among us from keeping from having their spine snipped with scissors or thining children deserve to grow up with a mom and a dad makes me an extremist- so be it.

melle1228 on March 22, 2013 at 7:27 AM

In answering the opening question just think of the media and that includes all TV, radio, magazines, newspapers that are heavy progressive agenda screamers and the question answers its self. The only unedited TV we saw were the debates but immediately after these debates the crews of the left were falling all over themselves saying what was really said, the code words used, the lies that Mitt used and now the media asks a question as to what went wrong with the election? Gimme a break!

mixplix on March 22, 2013 at 8:04 AM

Probably because the Republican Party has morphed into Democratic Party Lite.

TulsAmerican on March 22, 2013 at 10:56 AM

It is because anti-liberty states have an undue influence on the primary elections. Hold the primaries in order from most to least conservative/red and we will have a great candidate. Stop rewarding the douchebags by allowing them precedence over the reddest states like Texas.

TXJenny on March 22, 2013 at 4:19 PM

Close the primaries and than see what happens.

Did you ever wonder why the GOP won’t close the primaries to only republicans voting?

oldyeller on March 23, 2013 at 8:43 AM

Why can’t conservative candidates win Republican presidential primaries?

Because the RINO leadership in the RNC blocks them in every possible way, and works hard to disenfranchise conservative voters.

The RNC is the problem.

landlines on March 23, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Close the primaries and than see what happens.

Did you ever wonder why the GOP won’t close the primaries to only republicans voting?

oldyeller on March 23, 2013 at 8:43 AM

.
Y . E . S . ! ! !
.
ABOLISH OPEN PRIMARIES !

listens2glenn on March 23, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Why? Bcause conservatives eat their own and RINOs don’t!

redware on March 23, 2013 at 7:04 PM

I’ve never heard anyone offer even a passable argument for why Iowa & New Hampshire must always be first in line in the primaries. I live in Texas, the biggest red state in the union no less, and by the time I vote in the primaries the nomination is essentially wrapped up already.

Again, does anything make sense about this?

Reggie1971 on March 24, 2013 at 3:12 PM

because the liberal wing of the republican party don’t want a conservative.

mmcnamer1 on March 25, 2013 at 7:00 AM

I think GOP voters that year put a premium on “electability” in choosing McCain.

This was not correct, it was veteran’s groups who thought we could not possibly have a commander in cheif that had not served in the military service, that put the kabosh on the Romney campaign starting with the N.H. primary. The veterans groups were organized by the McCain campaign staff. At that time they thought the dem candidate would be Hilary; the fiscal meltdown had not happened.

Fleuries on March 25, 2013 at 11:38 AM

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