Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grabbing the Center

Elections are won and lost in the center. So seems to be an increasingly vocalized mantra from some of the more sensible on the right. The argument is fairly simple: while America is generally a center-right country, a large number eschew extreme candidates, whether on the far left or right. The politician that can successfully grab the middle stands to win the election.

Some conservatives, though, have long been arguing against this perspective, claiming instead that a more "pure" (read: further right) candidate is needed. But this logic fails. The far-right will vote for a moderate conservative over the leftist Obama, and, given their intense dislike of the incumbent, will undoubtedly head to the polls for Mitt Romney rather than seeing the president re-elected.

The independents, those who voted for Obama three years ago and are now sorely disappointed, will be more hesitant to vote for what appears to be an extreme GOP candidate, than a more moderate one, like Romney. Since, these are the powerful swing voters, their apprehension could be disastrous, giving Obama yet another four years.

Karl Rove, architect of the Bush Jr. campaigns, seems to agree. He has argued that a successful candidate needs to draw votes from both the left and the right and be representative of all of America. This is the strategy that worked for the "Big-Tent" Republicanism of Ronald Reagan, who created an entire new group of Democrats - the Reagan Democrats.

In the Wall Street Journal, syndicated radio show host Michael Medved provides a powerful argument to this effect.  He concludes:
In short, the electoral experience of the last 50 years does nothing to undermine the common-sense notion that most political battles are won by seizing and holding the ideological center. In the last two presidential elections, more than 44% of voters described themselves as "moderate," and no conservative candidate could possibly prevail without coming close to winning half of them (as George W. Bush did in his re-election). 
The notion that ideologically pure conservative candidates can win by disregarding centrists and magically producing previously undiscovered legions of true-believer voters remains a fantasy. It is not a strategy. At the moment, it is easy to imagine Mitt Romney appealing to many citizens who would never consider Rick Perry or Herman Cain. It is much harder (if not impossible) to describe the sort of voter—Republican, Democrat or independent—who would refuse to support Mr. Romney (over Barack Obama!) but would somehow eagerly back Messrs. Perry, Cain or Gingrich, let alone Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.
Conservatives, as well as their moderate and progressive neighbors, may have plenty of reasons to oppose Mitt Romney in favor of some rival candidate. Electability can't reasonably count as one of them.
Ideology certainly has its place, but those that are truly committed to correcting the misguided course this nation is on must be careful not to be blinded to their own detriment. Democracy is fundamentally about compromise, even if a compromise is worse than some alternative "pure" option. If the Republicans want a seat at the table, if they want to be able to influence the direction of the country, they must be politically smart as well.

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