“Uniting the Republican Party”—has that become an oxymoron? I hope not, because it’s very hard to win elections if the party is having a civil war.
Ted Cruz has this to say about it yesterday in Iowa:
And let me tell you, growth and principles are ideas that unify Republicans,” he said. “They are principles and ideals that unify the evangelical community, the liberty movement and the business community. Growth and freedom are principles that bring together Main Street and the tea party.
I suppose that’s true, as far as it goes—although I would prefer to substitute the phrase “the preservation of liberty” for the word “freedom,” and put the word “economic” before the word “growth.”
What really caught my eye, though, was this statement of Cruz’s from an interview with the Des Moines Register:
It’s not a question of purity,” Cruz told the Register. “It’s a question of standing for common-sense conservative principles that are shared throughout this country that have been part of the American fabric of every small town and every small business and in families all across this country.”
Cruz said every Republican presidential candidate who ran as a strong conservative won — Nixon in 1968 and 1972, Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. And those that ran as an establishment moderate lost — Ford in 1976, George H.W. Bush in 1992, Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, Cruz said.
I find this an interesting statement for two reasons. The first is the year Cruz chose to begin his look back, and the second is how he characterizes the various Republican candidates. He starts his list in 1968, but what about 1964? Ever hear of Barry Goldwater, arguably the most conservative Republican candidate since the Roosevelt years? We all know how that one turned out. And how about Nixon in 1960? Wasn’t he just as conservative then, when he lost, as he was in 1968, when he won? And was Bush I really so conservative running for his first term? I submit that although he became less conservative in 1992, and this was most definitely part of the reason for his loss, was he really a “strong conservative” in 1988, when he won? A stronger conservative, yes, but I’ve usually heard him referred to as the quintessential “establishment Republican.” What’s more, 1992 was a strong third-party year, and Ross Perot’s candidacy is regarded by many as having been instrumental in Bush’s 1992 defeat.
But do I agree with Cruz’s more general message about presidential candidates and which type of Republican has a better chance to win? Let’s put it this way: I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to run a strong conservative, nor is it necessarily a good thing to run an establishment moderate, if you look at it just in terms of winning/losing. They certainly would govern differently as president, and that would matter. But what I really think is that Nixon in 1960, Ford, Bush I in 1992, Dole, and McCain lost for reasons other than their principles, conservative or moderate. Each one had a lackluster and/or off-putting personality, and each was running against a more attractive candidate in that sense (even the 1976 Carter was more charismatic than Ford, although that’s hard to believe; and of course Obama was quite charismatic in 2008). And Reagan won his two terms in part because that dynamic was reversed: he was charismatic and he ran against lackluster, unappealing guys (Carter had become unappealing, and Mondale always was bland). We don’t tend to think of Bush II as immensely personally charismatic, either—he was not—but look who he was running against: Gore and then Kerry.
Yes, principles are part of it all, too. But I don’t see them playing all that big a part in distinguishing among which Republicans have won the presidency and which have lost.
Note that I’ve left out 2012, when Obama beat Romney. That’s one’s a little bit the same as the rest and a little bit different. It was the same in that Obama is apparently a more compelling and attractive personality than Romney, although I sure don’t see it; polls indicated that Obama won because he was perceived as more “caring,” for example. But I also think the 2012 election was corrupted by several things that made it somewhat sui generis, including the viciousness of the attacks on Romney and the extraordinary partisanship of the MSM in that battle, worse than I’d ever seen it before. Many people would include election fraud in that list; I don’t see it as having been all that significant, although some may have occurred.
Of course, Cruz (whom I happen to respect) has a vested interest in saying what he did about election history and principles. After all, he’s not the most charismatic guy in the world. Then again, neither is Hillary. But is he “likeable enough” to win?