Money line: “This is what I do for a living.” Didn’t he predict a Bush/Clinton race in 2016 just nine months ago? If he believes what he says here about the parties swinging like “pendulums” from moderate nominees to ideologues and then back again, why would he have named Jeb as a strong contender last November?
In fact, the roots of the counterargument are in Matthews’s own shpiel here:
Most of the time, they head to the center.
This is what Republicans did most successfully in 1952 – when, after twenty years of Roosevelt and Harry Truman – they wanted back in the White House. They ran the general who received the Nazi surrender and won big.
In 1956 and 1960 they stuck to the middle, with Ike the second time, then Richard Nixon.
In 1964, the right said it was its turn and blew the roof off the Cow Palace out in San Francisco – mocking Republican moderates and liberals like New York governor Nelson Rockefeller – then getting killed by Lyndon Johnson in November.
I don’t know how useful Ike comparisons are; he was a “moderate,” yes, but as a political figure he’s sui generis given his war credentials. He was, though, highly “electable,” and I think Matthews is right that when a party’s out of power for a long time, electability gets even more of a premium from primary voters than it usually would. When the GOP nominated Goldwater and the Democrats nominated McGovern, they were each just four years removed from controlling the White House. Republicans in 2016 will be eight years removed and potentially facing an unusually famous, formidable non-incumbent nominee in Hillary. They’s also got demographic pressures on them to tack towards the middle that the party hasn’t had recently. Under circumstances like that, do you roll the dice on an ideologue or, out of sheer exasperation from being shut out of power so long, do you double down on pandering to centrists? That’s the logic for nominating Jeb or Christie.
Even so, I’m surprised he named Paul rather than Ted Cruz as the ideologue whose moment in the sun he thinks is coming, just because Cruz seems to loom larger in Matthews’s imagination as the embodiment of all that’s foul about the tea party. If you’re looking to accuse your opponents of embracing an extremist ogre in their choice of nominee, why not name a guy whom you’ve called a “terrorist” instead of Rand Paul? Which is not to say, though, that Matthews is wrong; I don’t think Paul will win, but I made the case myself yesterday that he could be unusually strong in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Unless Paul does something Rubio-esque to sabotage his conservative credentials over the next year, one of the big political subplots of 2014 will be establishment Republicans quietly gearing up to stop him in the early primary states. They can probably stop him in South Carolina or Florida in 2016 if he wins only Iowa or New Hampshire; if he wins both, that’s dangerous to them and they know it. They’ll get moving early to make sure it doesn’t happen.