The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party Begins Now

…in as much as it has a soul, anyway.

Politically, Hurricane Sandy was an incredible stroke of luck for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He got to pull a Giuliani and appear heroic during a crisis. He got to cross the aisle and work with a Democratic President he’s publicly opposed to get shit done. He got to finally – FINALLY! – align himself with Bruce Springsteen for a common cause.

Chris Christie

Coming out of Sandy, and following his fiery/crazy speech at the Republican National Convention last summer, Christie appears poised to win the GOP’s nomination for president in 2016.

Maybe. If the Republicans have a lick of sense.

Christie is by far the most electable, prominent candidate the Republicans have. However, by even daring to work with President Obama, and even going so far as to praise his efforts during the Sandy aftermath, Christie has already pissed off a large portion of his party’s base.

Then, Christie continued to needle the conservative side of the party by (rightly) complaining about Congress delaying a Sandy support bill

Predictably, some of the GOP’s rank and file have come out in public opposition to Christie. They’re both bitter that he lauded Obama just before the election and fearful that, if elected, Christie would be much more moderate a president than they’d be comfortable with. As Christie’s approval ratings soar, Republicans grow ever more concerned.

And that’s because they are a party of idiots.

They should have learned from the 2012 election, against a vulnerable incumbent in the midst of a weak economy, that veering far right is not going to win them presidential elections anymore. At least not until the next terrorist attack. Catering to the Tea Party can still win Congressional seats in red or purple states, but U.S. demographics have shifted to the point that you can’t only appeal to old white men and win general elections. But Republicans might not be capable of learning, at least not as a large, functional unit. This is, after all, the party that opposes the reality-based community.

So, in 2016, the Republicans will have to choose between a highly electable candidate who doesn’t swing as far right/crazy as they’d like, or a more conservative candidate in the Boehner or Santorum mold. (And please let it be known that I have a ton of problems with Chris Christie. I just think the Republicans would be insane not to seize on his momentum.)

In 2012, the most electable candidate probably did make it through the primaries. Mitt Romney is pretty awful, but he’s not Rick Perry or Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Still, Romney swung far to the right to secure the nomination and Christie would no doubt have to do the same. But Romney also hadn’t pissed off a decent percentage of his party before primary season even began. He only had to deal with the scrutiny of being a former governor of a liberal hotbed like Massachusetts.

The culture war that has engulfed the entire United States for the last two decades is not going to center squarely on the Republican Party. The Tea Party and Christian conservatives will fight tooth and nail against Christie, not knowing or caring that he’s their best chance at a Republican president right now. The more moderate, level-headed, fiscally focused side of the party — if it even still exists — will back Christie as the most popular candidate. Christie himself will have a lot to say about how this plays out. Personally, I’m hoping the party blows itself up and nominates someone like Paul Ryan, because that will make it easier for Hillary Clinton (or whomever) to win the election. But I’m fascinated to see how it plays out.

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1 Comment

Filed under Politics Has AIDS, The Dilemma

One response to “The Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party Begins Now

  1. This is a continuation of a piece I wrote last week that examines the last 40 years of Republican and Democratic presidential primaries in an attempt to understand the predictive value of polls taken two to three years before the start of actual primary contests. Just before the 2012 race, Nate Silver looked at whether polls taken ONE year before the Iowa Caucuses presaged the eventual nominee, and found that yes, in many instances, they do. This series will look back even further, before the ink dries on your just-cast presidential ballot, to see if polls did as well further out from the primary race. Not surprisingly, the answer is no. As discussed yesterday , very early primary polling had predictive value as to the final result in just three of the fifteen Republican and/or Democratic primaries examined dating back to 1976 (the 2000 Democratic and 1988 & 1996 Republican presidential primaries). But excluding those three contests, very early primary polling has been unhelpful in identifying eventual nominees. One of the best examples of early primary polling’s failure at political forecasting is the 2000 Republican contest. Contrary to how it may seem , the massive lead that eventual winner George W. Bush commanded for most of the primary season did not exist in 1997, the first year of Clinton’s second term, before any layperson had heard the name Monica Lewinsky, and before Bush had been overwhelmingly re-elected to the Texas Governorship. That was thanks to a very popular African American General, Colin Powell. Powell surprised observers early in the ’96 cycle with impressive, hypothetical head-to-head performances against President Clinton (even leading him by double digit margins on multiple occasions .) So you can understand why, following a disappointing presidential loss, 35% of Republican primary voters were willing to support him as their candidate for President in 2000.

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