Talk to Republican strategists, and they’re in a no-win situation. It’s the Goldilocks dilemma: In 2010, they got behind favored candidates, and it backfired in states like Delaware and Colorado, where outside involvement wasn’t welcome. They then stayed out of competitive primaries in 2012, and saw unelectable candidates emerge in Missouri and Indiana.
Even Republican voters are divided on how to approach the issue. Former NRCC deputy political director Brock McCleary commissioned an (automated) poll last week asking whether Republican voters thought party leaders should play favorites because voters often pick candidates too extreme to win, or whether they should stay out even if it means losing to Democrats. The responses divided evenly: 34 percent wanted party involvement, 34 percent wanted them to stay out. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
“The best thing the NRSC can could is recruit the best possible candidate they can get their hands on, and build a very strong political team around that candidate,” said one senior Republican strategist. “Most importantly, none of it can be done in public. It has to be a strictly behind the scenes effort so as not to allow the candidate to be perceived as the Washington-picked person.”
To that end, one of the most important players in the effort is newly-minted NRSC vice-chairman Ted Cruz, who was tapped to be a bridge between the establishment and the grassroots.