Grand Old Infighting

Soon, the pruning of the Republican presidential field will begin. Certain candidates face the reality that their chances at winning the nomination are fast disappearing. By the time the Iowa caucuses begin, it is likely that there will be fewer candidates still in the running. After the caucuses, more withdrawals from the race can be expected. A nominee will eventually emerge. In November 2012, Republicans will attempt to take advantage of President Obama’s low approval ratings. Many pundits wonder whether Democrats will lose control of the Senate. If Republicans do not regain the White House in 2012, they will look back on a missed opportunity. Today, the Republican Party finds itself without a candidate who will be competitive in a general election against Obama. Currently, Newt Gingrich is the favorite in the polls to win the nomination. Romney is close behind, but losing ground, and is followed by Herman Cain, who’s campaign teeters in the face of scandle. Each caters to a different faction of the GOP, and each carries significant political baggage from the past. Perhaps most importantly, none of these candidates inspire the kind of excitement and energy that the Obama campaign created to win the presidency in 2008. Why can’t Republicans come together as a party and nominate a viable candidate? Like any political party, the GOP is made up of factions. Members of these factions hold economic and social views that oftentimes greatly differ from each other. Basic electoral strategy dictates that a party should nominate a candidate who is not only widely accepted by its members, but who is also able to attract votes from independent voters and moderate voters from the other party. One of the novel strategies used by the Obama campaign in 2008 was to implement an aggressive outreach campaign to woo moderate Republicans and independents. This inclusive strategy coupled with an excited Democratic base led to a landslide victory, with Obama capturing the largest percentage of the popular vote in 20 years. It is fair to say that radical candidates do not fare well in presidential elections, since they often hold positions that alienate large groups of voters. Yet today’s Republican Party seems to favor just this kind of candidate. In recent years, the radical voices in the party have taken over and shifted the party to the extreme right. They have spread paranoia and misinformation to promote acceptance of a string of extreme views. The party’s conspiracy theorists, xenophobes and fringe economists are at the height of their power. Compassionate conservatism has given way to ultra-libertarianism. Republicans in the House and the Senate who do not have the Tea Party’s approval fear that they will be challenged in the next election by their own party. Former Representative Joe Scarborough has been ridiculed as a “Republican in name only.” These purges portend a new reality where the voices of moderate Republicans are drowned out by those of radicals. On policy, compromise is no longer a possibility. Nearly all Republicans have signed the Norquist pledge to never raise taxes, never mind the fact that even Ronald Reagan had to raise taxes when faced with the realities of a budget deficit. Radicals denounce Obama’s Affordable Care Act as socialist, ignoring the similarities between the law’s components and Republican proposals from the recent past. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, David Frum recently wrote a New York magazine article where he lamented the current state of his party, which he says has “built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.” One cannot help but wonder how President Bush would fare as a candidate in today’s Republican presidential primary. How kindly would Tea Partiers and libertarians view his expansion of Medicare and his activist foreign policy? Ironically, the radicalization of the Republican Party will likely be the instrument for a Democratic victory in 2012. If Republicans want to have electoral success in 2012, they need to nominate a candidate who is appealing to centrist voters but also promotes traditional conservative values. A candidate like Huntsman, or even Romney, would fit this bill. However, in the eyes of those on the extreme right, Huntsman’s ambassadorship during Obama’s administration and Romney’s healthcare reforms as governor disqualify them as true conservatives. Herein lies the paradox: a moderate candidate will not be nominated as long as radicals are in power. Yet radicals will remain in power until there is a moderate Republican who is able to unify his or her party by shifting it back towards the center of the political spectrum. Unless the party can resolve this mess before Election Day, a radical Republican will win the nomination. In turn, voters will reject extreme right-wing ideas, and Republicans will lose the White House for another four years. The paradox of defeat is approaching, and there is very little that the compassionate conservative can do to stop it. Jeremy Chen is a three-year Upper from Monmouth Junction, NJ.