Senate Republicans insist that their efforts aren’t directed against conservative activists in the party. They say they will consult with Tea Partyers and others to generate a consensus about future candidates. The newly elected vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee is Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas, who won conservative trust during his own insurgent campaign against the party establishment earlier this year.
Maybe the new tactics will improve the Republicans’ showing in future elections. Yet it is hard to see how they would have changed the outcomes in any of the races during 2010 or 2012. And the defeat of Republican Senate candidates of every type this year suggests that choosing better candidates is not the party’s principal problem.
That’s a second way the focus on Akin and Mourdock is misleading: It makes candidate selection in general look more important than it is. Better candidates would have made a very good election night for Republicans in 2010 even better. This year, unlike 2010, Republicans lost most of the closely contested Senate races. Choosing the wrong candidates made those losses slightly worse, but didn’t cause the night to go sour in the first place.
Republicans have now lost seats in three of the last four Senate elections. The party’s message isn’t sufficiently attractive to win a majority of the votes, it appears, absent highly favorable circumstances. No change in the process of picking candidates can possibly fix that problem.