At CPAC, Rick Perry suggested that the presidential elections can’t be used to gauge whether the public disagreed with conservative values, since the last two losing Republican nominees were not conservatives. Bloomberg media reported that Santorum and Gingrich came pretty close to a unity ticket, although deals collapsed due to the most predictable disagreement imaginable, as both candidates were happy to have the other as their #2. Santorum seems to believe that a Santorum/ Gingrich ticket would have done better than Romney/ Ryan.
“I was disappointed when Speaker Gingrich ultimately decided against this idea, because it could have changed the outcome of the primary,” Santorum says. “And more importantly, it could have changed the outcome of the general election.”
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.
Perhaps Reagan’s two wins over Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale made it seem almost too easy, convincing his fans that any conviction conservative can beat any rival going away. In retrospect, it may have been more accurate to say that a conviction conservative can beat any rival when he is the successful governor of one of the biggest states; a former film star with his own fame and stage presence; an ex-liberal who voted four times for Franklin Roosevelt and had an instinctive gift for connecting with Democrats; and running against a president with one of the worst first terms in history, featuring an economic crash, a rabbit attack and Iranian seizure of an American embassy.
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.
In the 2012 presidential primary, social conservatives even had a white knight show up at the last moment. After Tim Pawlenty, possibly the most credible of the Anti-Romneys, was forced to drop out after a weak showing at the Ames straw poll, a long-time Governor of one of the most populous states in the nation stepped into the race. He came from a state that had produced three of the last nine Presidents. He had been elected to statewide office six times (and Governor three times), and his state had a much better employment record than the rest of the nation, announced he would run for President. This man had also served as the Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Conference. He immediately started polling competitively against Romney. And then Rick Perry opened his mouth.
The idea that the man who couldn’t remember which cabinet post he wanted to abolish would have done better than Romney against Obama is absurd. There is an interesting test case of whether true conservatives would have outperformed Romney. All you need to do is look at the Senate elections, where Romney outperformed most Republican candidates, including Ted Cruz and Debbie Fischer, two of the Tea Party’s biggest victories in the 2012 cycle.
Republicans have thrown away five winnable Senate races with weak candidates. Those candidates (Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Richard Moudock in Indiana, Todd Akin in Missouri) tended to seem more conservative than alternatives in the primary. These idiots helped justify a centrist tide among party brokers.
As for the elections moderates lost, these were not elections in which the Republicans were favored. McCain won every state in which President Bush had a higher than 35% approval rating. As for 2012, incumbents usually win presidential elections. In fact, only one incumbent has lost reelection since 1896 with just one term of their party in the White House. When Ford lost in 1976, he was fighting for a third term of Republicans in the White House post-Watergate. And when Bush lost in 1992, he was fighting for a fourth consecutive term of Republicans in the White House.
Anyone engineering the primaries for Romney was helped by the caliber of his opponents, and potential opponents.
Sarah Palin served less than three years as the Governor of a sparsely populated geographically isolated state. She has a record of saying things that are outrageous and untrue. Rick Santorum lost his bid for reelection in a swing state by seventeen points, and thinks contraception is a bad idea. Rick Perry has to deny reports that he was high on painkiller medication during primary debates. Herman Cain never served in elected office, and a woman he met with on a weekly basis for 13 years without telling his wife claimed that they were sleeping together. Michelle Bachmann also had a propensity for saying stupid and untrue things. Those are not good attributes for a potential president. She also had no accomplishments to speak of in a twelve year legislative career.
Some of the candidates did look good on paper. Gingrich had a role in one of the biggest political victories of the last fifty years, when the Republicans took back the House in 1994. Michelle Bachmann was the best fundraiser in the House of Representatives, although I do have to question the people who gave her money.
It is kinda telling that Jim Demint didn’t seek the nomination, since he was seen as the leader of the tea party. True conservatives have failed to take off in primaries the past. There was no reason for voters who disliked McCain, Romney (who had four less years as a severe conservative circa 2008), Huckabee (a theocrat who may be fiscally liberal), Giuliani (twice-divorced and pro-choice) and Thompson couldn’t go with Sam Brownback.
Mike Pence was seen as a man who could unite the conservatives, but he chose to run for Governor of Indiana instead. He won by four percent in a state Romney carried by ten percent.