The moderates’ “electability” arguments were ubdoubtedly right about Eisenhower and Goldwater, and just as undoubtedly wrong about Reagan. Otherwise, the record shows mainly a series of (1) weak moderates nominated against weak fields in bad years and (2) contests where none of the contenders was a serious conservative. 1976 is the only election since 1948 – and arguably including 1948 – in which conservatives clearly had a good candidate who was defeated by a moderate who then went on to lose a possibly winnable race, while 1964 is the only election in that period in which the moderates’ warnings were disregarded and a conservative went down to defeat. So both factions’ prevailing myths are based on very little evidence.
In Part II, I will look at the broader array of swing-state elections (presidential, Senate and Governor’s races) to consider what kind of candidates are and are not “electable” in the major states on the 2016 map.