Cosman: Schism within Republican Party evidence of electoral shortcomings

Put bluntly, the Republican Party had a very disappointing Election Day. Failing in its efforts at the presidency and for a majority in the Senate, the Nov. 6 results have sent the GOP into disarray as its members attempt to explain why exactly the party came up so short.

The discussion, however, fails to address the fundamental flaw within the Republican Party that has been building long before November: The dichotomy between ideologues and established candidates makes for a party that no longer appeals to a majority of the American electorate.

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn said that Republicans “didn’t sell a positive vision” and “didn’t explain to people what [it’s] for.” The problem, according to Coburn, is that American voters weren’t sure what Republican candidates stood for.

Political strategist Karl Rove appears to disagree. He said the problem is that voters knew too well what the conservative candidates stood for and that their extremity is the very thing that lost them elections.

An article in The Washington Post said Rove’s – and his goliath super political action committee American Crossroads – plan for future elections is a means to “boost the candidate it deems most electable” and to “avoid nominating the kind of flawed and extreme” candidates that discuss things like legitimate rape.

But wasn’t that exactly what former Gov. Mitt Romney was supposed to be? Wasn’t Romney the “electable” Republican candidate in 2012? He defeated a set of conservative ideologues during the GOP primaries – the likes of which included U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum – because they were deemed too politically extreme, too right wing. Romney was exactly the kind of safe candidate Rove described, and he still lost.

The Republican Party has tried both. After 2008, the claim was that Sen. John McCain was too moderate – that he didn’t adequately represent what the party stood for. So came the Tea Party movement in 2010, which was successful for a period of time. But the extreme right didn’t play well on a national stage in 2012, and it won’t in the future either.

There is a tension within the GOP between its conservative ideologues and its electable candidates. The fact that the two are separated so distinctly is evidence, simply, that the party needs to re-evaluate its own platform. Infighting isn’t going to lead to electoral victories when the framework of the party remains, at this point, unelectable.

Rove’s plan to “start picking sides in Republican primaries” isn’t going to work because, at the root of it all, the problem with the GOP isn’t who they’re running in elections – it’s what they’re running on.

In the current political climate, the majority of American voters simply aren’t voting for GOP candidates. President Barack Obama won 365 electoral votes in 2008 and 332 in 2012. Even though the Republican Party maintained its majority in the House of Representatives, Democratic candidates actually received a larger share of the national popular vote in 2012.

This speaks not so much to the specific candidates but rather the party as a whole. The GOP establishment cannot win national elections and neither can extreme right-wing ideological movements. Only in heavily Republican districts and states do candidates have anything remotely close to an electoral advantage.

According to the Nov. 6 exit polls, Democrats edged Republicans by 6 percentage points in terms of voter party identification. That isn’t just which candidate they’re voting for, it’s which party voters align with – and nationally, voters go with Democrat over Republican.

It can nominate whichever candidates it likes, ideologues or electable candidates, but until the GOP addresses its fundamental platform, electoral forecasts look bleak.