The party or the people? Republicans' biggest 2012 Presidential dilemma

May 16, 2011

What will be the biggest challenge for Republicans in the 2012 Presidential race: Conflicts within the party or a lack of serious Republican Presidential candidates? Read today's opinion column Lincoln would weep at the GOP's 2012 field, and then chat with political analyst Alan Abramowitz about if you agree. Submit your questions and comments now!

Hi, this is Alan Abramowitz of Emory University in Altanta and I'll be answering your questions about the 2012 presidential nomination process and the outlook for the general election. 

I consider myself a true independant and so much would vote for a moderate Republican in the next presidential election but I fear that such a candidate will never win the GOP. Can't they see through this that the main goal should not be to win the support of the tea partiers but to win the Presidential election. And, the rate they're going, it's going to be Obama for four more years and Congress at an empasse - no one compromising to realistically solve this nation's debt crisis. Gotta raise revenue (through taxes) and cut spending - including the sacred cows.

You are not alone.  This is where the GOP faces a fundamental conflict between appealing to moderate swing voters like yourself and energizing its conservative base.  But in the primaries, the base carries the day.

It is sad to see what has happened to the Republican party, but won't it eventually just die out-- it seems it is a majority of over 50 whites, (not an increasing demo) while the Dems is younger and more diverse. I think the party will be very marginalized if they continue down this path of purity.

I doubt if the Republican Party will die out any time soon.  In our two-party system, the party out of power can count on the voters getting disenchanted with the governing (presidential) party sooner or later.  I also expect the GOP eventually to adapt to a changing political environment including a rising minority vote, but that may take some time.

Given how much the GOP is looking to scale back the Federal Government, I think Lincoln, and Reagan, TR and others would not even recognize the party today. How did the party allow themselves to get hijacked by the ultra-right wing.

Over the past 30-40 years the GOP have become an increasingly conservative party.  Reagan was actually one of the most important leaders pushing for this shift, although the party has gone even further to the right since his time.  The goal, largely successful, was to appeal to white conservative voters in the South and elsewhere who had remained loyal to the Democrats through the 1960s and 1970s.

Why is it that so few Republicans seem willing to break with the party's orthodoxy of No Taxes (ever), anti-abortion, anti-global warming, downsize government but keep defense strong? Quite frankly I almost feel that outside of differences in charisma and wording, you could probably use quotes from the party's candidates interchangeably. Are they that afraid of the base? Also, can the Republicans really expect moderate voters to support them considering their position basically seems to be "Get rid of government"? Why would I vote for someone who doesn't believe in the office they are holding?

There are differences of emphasis and style, but you are correct that there is little difference on substantive issues in today's GOP.  I think that's largely a reflection of the growing conservatism of the party's electoral base.

I will never register with the GOP party due to their extreme right wing positions. It is too bad candidates have to sign on for such social conservative stands that they lose those of us in the middle.

There is no doubt that attempts to appeal to social conservatives alienate some moderate voters who might otherwise consider supporting the GOP.  But religious conservatives are now a key part of the GOP coalition and one not easily ignored by the party's candidates.

The press always--ALWAYS--writes stories about the lack of serious contenders early in the election cycle, typically in the party that is out of power. It's a conventional story line that helps fill space until the winner emerges, at which time the person is proclaimed serious and substantial by virtue of the fact that he won. My point: Isn't it rather silly and misleading to discuss whether candidates have presidential "heft" because, as it turns out, one of them always does?

You make a valid point--the 1992 Democratic race is a great example of this phenomenon.  However, there are times when a party ends up with a nominee who has difficulty uniting all factions within the party and appealing beyond the base and this could end up being such an election, depending on who wins the nomination and how.

Isn't this one of the downfalls of the primary process in general? In both parties, you have essentially fringe parts of the parties voring for the 2 people that everyone else has to vote on.

It is definitely a risk that you run by relying on primaries and caucuses to nominate the candidate, but what's the alternative?  I don't think anyone wants to bring back the old days when a closed group of party bosses and insiders chose the nominees.  And that didn't always work very well either.

Professor Abramowitz,

How do you see the Republican party addressing their lack of support within the Hispanic community?

They will try to appeal to Hispanics with conservative views on major issues, especially social issues, but I don't think this approach will be very successful as long as the party is viewed as hostile to Hispanic concerns about immigration.  And Hispanics also tend to be liberal on issues of government spending so the Tea Party influence on the GOP is making it difficult for the party to reach out to Hispanics.

As we move from the era in which a large baby boom population filled government coffers, to one in which they're entering their government-consumption years, isn't inevitable expense-cutting going to split apart what had been artificially convenient alliances? Southerners and Wall Street had never been allies before Reagan. Military personnel and subsidized farmers will oppose cuts to their budget. That's just the Republican side. The Democrats will face splits between unionized teachers and impoverished school districts. Are we in for a major political realignment over the change between spending alliances and cut-avoiding ones?

There are going to be tensions within each coalition due to budget pressures and conflict between groups with different priorities.  Some shifts may take place but I expect both coalitions to hold together pretty well for the next few election cycles because the differences between the parties are so much greater than the differences within each party.

Richard Lugar runs every year that the Repubs don't have an incumbent, and always does badly. But doesn't that imply he's their "floor"? No matter what, they'll get a nominee at least as appeal as he is, and he seems a perfectly fine candidate in a challenge year.

I don't think Lugar has ever run for president.  He's  up for reelection to the Senate this year, though, and is likely to face a strong challenge from a Tea Party candidate in the GOP primary.

Donald Trump just announced he's not running. Do you think this helps Republicans? Or did he already do too much damage?

There was never a real chance that he would be the nominee, let alone win the presidency.  This was a publicity stunt pure and simple.

Have the actions of the Tea Party memmbers of Congress and the governors in WI, OH., MI and PA moved more moderates out of the Republican party?

We'll see what happens in next year's presidential and congressional elections.  Certainly some of the positions advocated by Tea Party candidates and office-holders could hurt the GOP in the general elections but the outcome will also depend on the state of the economy and other factors.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not insist on a controversial House GOP plan that would partly privatize Medicare, and Newt Gingrich said the plan went too far and is too radical. Did these two GOP stalwarts metaphorically throw Republican Whiz Kid Paul Ryan under the bus, and then for effect back that bus over Ryan's prone body with Ryan's right hand clutching his 100 page Path Plan to Prosperity while his left hand was outstretched and touching the dreaded Medicare third rail? Perhaps Whiz Kid Ryan is too young to know about and/or understand third rail politics.

Nice extended metaphor.  There's definitely a lot of nervousness within the GOP right now over the Ryan plan and especially the proposed changes to Medicare.  I think we're likely to see more Republican candidates in marginal states and districts trying to distance themselves from it.

Certainly there are issues with the current crop of GOP candidates-- the WSJ op-ed attack on Romney is just one example. But won't the base eventually rally around whoever the candidate is as they hate Obama so much. I mean Mike Huckabee said that he thought Donald Trump would be a better Pres. than Obama. Idont know in what universe that could be called a credible statement, except maybe cable TV. the GOP will do whatever necessary tobeat Obama-- I think the take up of the Birther thing was the least of it.

The GOP base will almost certainly rally around the eventual nominee because of their intense dislike of Obama.  The problem is that a fringe nominee would also unify the Democratic base and pull a majority of swing voters into the Democratic camp.

To what extent do you think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will impact the Presidential and Congressional elections? I strongly doubt it is in Israel's best interest to trust a peace plan with the Palestinians now that their leadership has united with Hamas, a group dedicated to Israel's destruction and continually attacks Israel from Gaza. Can the American Govt or the Red Cross do anything to get Gilad Shalit released? Thank you.

I can't speak to the issue of what can be done about the Israeli soldier but I doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a major issue in the U.S. elections unless there is a major crisis in the region.

I don't know -- unless you live in New Hampshire or Iowa, or happen to find yourself in a contested swing state, you have no say in presidential politics anyway. I'm not sure the old way wasn't better.

Well in 2008 the contest between Obama and Clinton went down to the final primaries and caucuses.  That could happen again next year although the GOP's winner-take-all rules make it less likely. 

As a libertarian and early Tea Party proponent, I find it heartening that there is more discussion about fiscal issues and smaller government than social issues this time around (at least thus far). But I am also chagrined that people equate spending nips of well under one percent as "radical" and "right-wing". Government spending needs to be slashed, not cut or trimmed, to get our financial house in order. And, yes, that includes the military as well as social security. Ron Paul, or someone like him, is what we need.

Proposals to cut government spending are popular until the discussion gets down to which programs are going to be slashed and then support diminishes drastically, especially when it comes to the big entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.  As for Ron Paul, he's not going anywhere.  He has a small, dedicated following and can raise some money but he won't win many delegates and he'd be an absolutely disastrous general election candidate.

He could be the face of the new Republican party. A cost-cutting Republican from a liberal state. Do we know how much behind-the-scenes conversations are going on between Christie and the GOP? I wonder if they would make him change his positions on various issues (ahem, McCain). Christie is a smart guy, he knows it would be crazy to run against Obama.

He's made it pretty clear that he's not interested in running this year.  Like some others, he'll wait for 2016 when there will be an open seat.  He'd be appealing to the same voters as Daniels.

The only thing even less surprising is the statements Trump will make in August 2012 that he *could* have been the nominee if he had so chosen and that he could have beaten Obama...attracting the usual naive dupes who will then call for him to be a third-party candidate.

He won't do that either--would conflict with his TV show.  Hopefully he'll stop getting covered by the media now that it's clear that he was never serious about running.  One can hope anyway.

In This Chat
Alan Abramowitz
Alan I. Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1969 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1976. Dr. Abramowitz has authored or coauthored five books, dozens of contributions to edited volumes, and more than forty articles in political science journals dealing with political parties, elections, and voting behavior in the United States. Dr. Abramowitz’s newest book, The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization and American Democracy, was published in 2010 by Yale University Press.
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