On the Electability Game for Republicans


A series of diaries and even a front-page post here on Redstate recently is making me think about the whole notion of ‘electability’. What is it? What does it mean? What are its features and factors?

After all, there is no point in supporting a candidate in the primary if he’s just going to lose in the general election against Barack Obama.

Kevin Holtsberry, in his well-written and well-argued post, is surely correct when he writes:

So here is my, probably equally naive, plea: lets debate and discuss this primary with an awareness that politics is a profession that requires skills and experience; and that all of the candidates have strengths and weaknesses.  We need to decide who we think has the best blend of the skills and experience necessary to get elected and succeed in office. We need to decide what policy or beliefs are non-negotiable and which tradeoffs we are willing to make in order to move our ideals forward (or at the least prevent further destruction).

In other words, we need to go into this with our eyes wide open to the actual political landscape we find ourselves in not the one we wish existed.

He’s right. And despite the fact that Kevin was writing to write off Herman Cain as a candidate, I had to think about what he’s suggesting.

So I did. And I remain in support of Cain, albeit with only a slight edge over Rick Perry. I’d like to share that thinking with you all, not necessarily to convince (although, that would be nice) but to discuss the idea further.

Features of Electability

From the various posts, diaries, comments both here on Redstate and across the Dextrosphere, it appears that “electability” has certain factors:

  • Money
  • Organization
  • Media Savvy
  • Ability to Convince Moderates

All of the above is supposed to give us a measure of how well Candidate X would perform against Obama.

At this early stage, however, money seems relevant only in whether Candidate X would survive. I read that Michele Bachmann is out of money, and therefore, is no longer a serious contender. That doesn’t tell me how Bachmann would do in fundraising if she were the actual GOP nominee, but it does say she’s unlikely to win the primary.

People say Cain has no chance, because he doesn’t have the money or the fundraising capabilities of Romney and Perry. At least for third quarter, Cain raised $2.8M, compared to $17.2M for Perry and 14.2M for Romney. But $2.8M probably keeps him in the primary for now, and who knows how he’d do in this quarter, after his polls have risen?

Erick criticizes Cain for not having a real solid campaign organization, and that will kill his campaign. He’s likely correct, unless Cain fixes things in a hurry.

I know much has been made of Cain’s recent misstatements in the media, but I confess I’m not terribly concerned about those. Not yet, as I’ll discuss below.

And the final factor — the appeal to “moderates” and “independents” — is one whose value changes, I think, based on the actual political landscape.

The Political Landscape: Divided Electorate?

The first question, then, is “What is the actual political landscape”? Depending on who you ask, 2012 will either be a Repulican Landslide, or it will be a tight race since the country is more divided than ever, and more balanced than ever. Rasmussen reports:

During the month of September, 33.9% of Americans considered themselves to be Republicans while 33.7% consider themselves Democrats. For both parties, those numbers are up less than a single percentage point from August. As a result, the number of voters not affiliated with either party fell from an all time high of 33.5% in August back to 32.4% in September.

If we really are in a country divided evenly in thirds between those who would never vote for Obama under any circumstance, those who would vote for Obama no matter what, and those who are undecided… then the real contest is for that 1/3 of “moderates” or “independents”.

Appeal to the moderate, then, appears to be the key factor in ‘electability’. All the money and organization and personal media savviness don’t necessarily create an appeal to moderates and independents. It has to be something else.

There is something to consider, however, about the “moderate” and the “independent”. Except for the very small minority who are principled libertarians, the vast majority of these so-called moderates are political morons. To say something like, “I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal” simply means that one hasn’t thought about politics, about government, about principles, about the Constitution, or the proper relationship between the State and the Individual. Most people are not political junkies the way Redstaters are. Most people fall into this unthinking voter category.

Those people more than any other make their decisions based on image, soundbites, and impressions. They get their information not from blogs and Tea Party meetings, but from the media — in particular, television.

Based on the above, the only candidate for the GOP on the basis of electability in a 33/33/33 environment is Mitt Romney. He looks the part. He’s smooth. He proposes slight reforms, since people who haven’t thought much about politics or policies don’t want to confront the Big Issues. He’s well-spoken, unless flustered in a debate, and I’m sure he’ll have ironed that wrinkle out of his tailored suits by the next debate. He is, in Kevin’s words, a professional.

Plus, he’ll likely appeal to the unthinking moderates because he has taken a position on virtually every side of every issue over the course of his political career. The oft-repeated maxim that one must tack to the base during the primaries, and then tack to the center during the general, is one that Romney can fulfill better than anyone not named John Kerry.

The Republican Advantage Scenario

If, on the other hand, you believe as I do that we are actually in a situation where the GOP advantage is enormous, then Romney’s appeal declines significantly. Michele Bachmann made the point during one of the early debates. She reflected the conservative viewpoint that for years and years, we conservatives have been told to swallow our objections and vote for a guy we didn’t particularly care for because he was electable. This time, we don’t need to compromise. Obama and his policies, as well as his terrible execution, and his haughty faculty lounge demeanor have alienated at least 51% of Americans such that whoever is the Republican nominee will roll to victory in 2012.

Under this scenario, Romney’s “electability” advantage really disappears. If the country would want to fire Obama no matter who we put up, then we conservatives might as well go for purity of principle and not compromise for sake of appealing to moderates.

But even in a GOP Advantage scenario, it is true that the candidate will need to be competitive. Since elections are not a neutral selection from a large group of individuals, but a competition between two individuals and all of their supporters, we should consider the competition for a moment.

The Obama/Democrat Advantage

As a general matter, it is simply indisputable that the Democrats hold a sustained advantage in national elections due to their control over the culture.

Tim Groseclose, a political scientist at UCLA, recently wrote Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, in which he contends that because of overwhelming bias in our newsrooms, the American voter has been shifted dramatically to the left:

…the media has shifted the PQ of the average American by about 20 points on a scale of 100, the difference between (i) the current political views of the average American and (ii) the political views of the average resident of Orange County, California or Salt Lake County, Utah.

We know this already, of course. And then we throw in Hollywood and its empty-headed celebutards, who unfortunately still sway large numbers of the aforementioned “moderates”, and it is simply a fact that any Republican must swim against the stream from day one.

No matter who we select, the media and the other culture industries that shape opinion will be fully on board the Obama campaign. We must recognize this. It isn’t as if Romney will skate by, any more than John McCain — a media darling until 2008 — skated by.

Obama Money Advantage

In the factors of electability above, money and organization were listed first and second, because all of the commenters on Redstate talk about money and organization as key features of electability when looking at Romney, Perry, Cain, Newt and others. Fine, how about Obama’s money and organization?

Well, it appears that Obama will have a dominant edge over any Republican candidate in money:

But as an incumbent president facing no primary challenger, Mr. Obama enjoys one big advantage: fundraising. So far, he has raised $155 million for both his campaign and for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which will help his reelection effort. That’s way more than all the Republican candidates have raised, combined.

We have heard that Obama will raise $1 billion for the 2012 campaign. Since the man did raise $745 million in 2008 (almost double what McCain raised), and since he’s now President and happily handing out crony capitalism cash from the Treasury, I see no reason why he wouldn’t at least come close.

The Obama Organizational Advantage

Well, besides the fact that Obama is using the Federal Government as an extension of his campaign, his 2008 campaign organization was made permanent after he was elected. Obama For America simply became Organizing for America. The OFA is in all 50 states, and coordinated through the DNC. It has already been involved in, has financed, and continues to organize a number of activities in support of Obama’s policies.

And even in 2008, Obama’s ground game was being praised even by Republicans for how good it was:

Listen to this from one top Republican campaign official who says Barack Obama’s ground game is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before: “This is the greatest ground game they’ve ever put together,” he told ABC News on the condition of anonymity. “It’s scary.” He said Obama holds a considerable ground game advantage over McCain and suggests the Democratic nominee has hundreds of paid staffers in each state. Unlike in 2004 when then-Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry’s campaign “parachuted” paid staff people into key states a few days before the election, the GOP official said the Obama campaign has had paid staffers and enthusiastic volunteers in key battleground states for months….

Is there any reason to think that OFA is less organized and less formidable today, after three years of having their guy be the President?

Personal Communications & Media Savvy

Look, I think Obama is a terrible speaker. I think he’s boring, wooden, given to vacuous generalities, and the like. He doesn’t do well on his feet. And all that, but.. I’m partisan. It would be a giant mistake to underestimate Obama’s personal abilities as a speaker and as a debater. He didn’t win the Democratic nomination in 2008, and then the general election because he’s a terrible speaker.

In 2012, with the media bias as it is, it would be a mistake to think that Obama would just stick his foot in his mouth for our benefit. (Of course, if he did stick his foot in his mouth, the Praetorian Media would do everything it could to bury those, while taking our nominee’s statements out of context if it had to.)

I don’t think it’s reasonable to think the guy would self-destruct in a debate.

Competition Strategy

With all of the above, here’s where I come out.

There is a saying in the business world, “Don’t try to out-Walmart Walmart.” More generally, it means not to compete with a stronger competitor on his chosen battlefield using his methods for success. There isn’t a retailer in the world that tries to compete with Walmart on price: the advantages of Walmart are simply too great. You compete with Walmart in other ways, such as service or product selection (see, e.g., Costco, Target, etc.).

The same dynamic holds in military strategy. There isn’t a standing army anywhere in the world that could go toe to toe with the United States military: we simply dominate in every single aspect of “traditional” war. Which is why every enemy of America goes to some sort of an “insurgency” or terrorist play, hoping to win the media war, hoping to undermine the civilian support, since they simply cannot win a straight up fight.

If electability is Money, Organization, and Media Savvy, then none of our guys could go toe to toe with Obama and his machine (which includes the media). Even Mitt Romney, as “electable” as he is, gets crushed in all measures of electability against Obama. I suspect even Romney would get outspent 2:1 or 3:1 by Obama. I suspect his vaunted organization would get wrecked by OFA and its union allies in terms of numbers and ground game tactics.

To win, then, a Republican must use some other strategy, rely on some other factor where he is strong and Obama is not.

In 2012, in this election cycle, I can think of only one area where our guy (whoever he be) holds the advantage: passion.

The Republican base, thanks in large part to the Tea Party movement, is engaged and passionate in ways that the Left is not. The unions might be fighting for their survival, but I have to believe that the rank and file members who are out in the streets organizing for Obama knows in their hearts that they’re not saving the country, but saving their own bacon. The students, the glitterati, the media… they may be fervent in their support for Obama in some sort of a cult of personality way fit for North Korea, but I suspect even they realize in an honest moment that they’re not saving the country from doom.

On our side, we all believe that we’re saving the country from certain decline. People who have never been involved in politics or campaigns are turning out, saying, “I have to do something; I can’t just let this go on.”

As long as our political pros define “electability” as money, organization, media savvy… we go into 2012 at a massive disadvantage. That’s a losing strategy.

If, however, the candidates and the political wisemen of the Right start to think of electability in terms of passion, then we have a distinct advantage.

In my mind, that means two candidates: Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Both have flaws. Both have advantages. Both inspire passion in their supporters. Both are better than Obama. Both have a chance to win in the general.

Assuming that Perry continues a stronger debate performance, and assuming that Perry does release a Flat Tax plan, he does have an edge on Cain in the more traditional metrics: money and organization.

Yet, I continue to support Cain by a slim margin… because of the X Factor.

The X-Factor: Race

Fact is, race matters. And it matters more than ever in this election cycle against this president.

Having been a leftist, I know just how powerful the race card is. Remember that the “moderate” is a political moron. He hasn’t thought about much, and has no real principles to speak of. Above all, he’s marinated in the political correctness culture that dominates our campuses, our media, and our corporations.

As Kevin wrote, we must consider the actual political environment we have, rather than the one we wish we had. Do I wish that Martin Luther King’s dream was fulfilled and that a person could be measured by the content of his character rather than by the color of his skin? Of course. But that isn’t the America we live in.

Against Rick Perry, race will be the single most powerful weapon in Obama’s arsenal. Since Obama can’t run on his record, he will have to savage the GOP nominee. Against both Romney and Perry, he and his surrogates will use any race card they can find, and manufacture race cards if none exist. Remember the racist rock incident? That is fairly minor as far as I’m concerned.

The Democrats and the Praetorian Media will, of course, try to use the race card against Cain. But those attacks rebound back on them, and reveal them for the racists they really are under the surface. (Just like numerous #OccupyNarnia events feature open anti-semitism.) If anything, more the Left and its controllers in the Obama campaign try to paint Herman Cain as an uncle tom, as a house negro, an oreo, or whatever other disgusting thing, the more it would make the “moderates” recoil in rightful disgust.

Being able to largely neutralize the race card from the Obama arsenal is literally priceless. There is no amount of money that either Romney or Perry could spend to take the race card out of the race for the White House against the first black President in the nation’s history.

For this reason, Cain gets the slight edge in my mind as an electable candidate in the general. Of course, he still has to survive the primary, raise money, put together an organization, and refine his media strategy. Because the GOP primary voter is not going to choose Cain because he’s black. But let’s not pretend it won’t matter in the general.

In The End, Go With Your Heart In the Primary

So it comes down to this.

If you believe that we are in a 33/33/33 landscape, and the key to the election will turn on the unthinking “moderates” and independents… then Romney and only Romney is your guy. We may not get the actual policies we want. We may find that he will “grow in office” once he’s in the White House. We may find that he starts to “tack to the center” once the nomination is secured and find ourselves frustrated beyond belief… but if you genuinely believe there is no Republican advantage in 2012 and conservatives have to take one for the team once again, you need to be for Romney.

Neither Perry nor Cain can appeal to these unthinking moderates. Perry in particular will have a tough time, given the Texas swagger thing (which I dig as a new Texas immigrant, but recognize how much of a turnoff it would be from an image/impression standpoint).

And recognize that Romney will be getting trounced by Obama in the traditional electability factors of money, organization, and media savviness. Nonetheless, trounced or not, he’s the only one with a chance to convince moderates… since he is one himself.

But if you believe that we have a once-in-a-lifetime advantage in 2012 — coupled to a once-in-a-lifetime responsibility to do something to reverse the decline of the Republic — then go with your heart. Don’t support a candidate because he’s “more electable” than the next guy. The general election will be decided because we bring more passion to the contest, because we get more involved personally, because we individually give more to the GOP nominee than we ever have before, because of the grassroots of the Party.

For me, that remains Cain by the slimmest of margins. But I understand the principled opposition to Cain, whether over 999 or some other issue. I respect such opposition, and consider such to be the vetting we must put our ultimate nominee through.

Let us not make the mistake, however, of playing the traditional electability game for our candidate. That way lies defeat at the hands of Obama.