This opinion article is part of The Chron’s summer blog, “in the summertime.” Stay tuned for more opinion, feature, and entertainment articles this summer.
The announcement by Rick Perry to not run for re-election for governor of Texas has begun the early speculations for a presidential run. Perry is being added to the ever-growing list of potential candidates for the 2016 presidential campaign, but the Republican base continues to struggle with who they want as a candidate.
Coming from back-to-back presidential losses, Republicans must now change their strategies and political stances to adapt to a changing country. Yet the problem does not lie in the candidates, but in the Republican base that will choose who represents their party in the future.
The Republican base seems to struggle in a basic human skill: compromise. It continually pushes for a candidate that stands for core family and Christian values, fights against taxation, and refuses to negotiate across party lines. When a Republican candidate deviates from any of these ideologies, no matter what the circumstance, the base is ready to drop the candidate faster than you can say Herman Cain.
Although Republicans pride themselves in their defense of their core beliefs and values, it becomes problematic when it pigeonholes candidates to fit only one type of mold. Republican candidates recognize the dangers in changing political stances away from what the Republican base stands for, and thus are forced to follow a mob mentality of “my way or the highway”.
While this stubborn ideology may work with senators and representatives because they only must appeal to their local constituents to be re-elected, presidential candidates must conform to appeal to a majority of Americans. Think of America as a line going from 0 to 100, with all Americans evenly placed along the line. Simple math will show that the closer a candidate gets to the 50 point, the more votes they should receive and the better chance they have at being elected president.
Unfortunately, the Republican base does not agree with this type of negotiation. Instead, they prefer the candidates who continually push their beliefs to the far right extreme, rather than the candidates who compromise and work across the aisles.
The Republican base is flocking to far-right candidates like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. All three of these candidates voted against the 2012 Fiscal Cliff Resolutions, are staunchly pro-life and anti-gay marriage, refused to raise the debt limit, and fervently fought against any tax increases in recent budgets. These candidates also are endorsed by the American Conservative Union, along with many other important conservative PACs.
Although these candidates might offer the best solutions in the minds of the Republican base, these solutions will only appeal to a minority of the population. Moderates are looking for a candidate that appeals to both their conservative and liberal ideologies, and seeing a candidate that refuses to negotiate will turn them towards other options.
Therefore, if the Republican base wants to win the next election, they must learn to accept compromise from a candidate. Working across the aisle is an important part of the American political system, and moderates expect this behavior from their President.
Looking at the field of candidates so far, the candidate best known for working across the aisle and taking more moderate stances, even when pressured not to by the Republican party, is Chris Christie. Christie is a strong, conservative candidate that is willing to listen to multiple opinions before making his decisions. He cut the payroll tax by $190 million per year, vetoed a bill that would have legalized gay marriage, and battled the teacher’s union to prevent higher cost to the New Jersey people. He is also pro-life and against Obamacare.
But the Republican base is not excited to see him as a candidate. A recent Gallup poll found only 58% of Republicans view him favorably, which is quite low for his own party. The main problems the Republican base found with Christie was his praise of Obama during Hurricane Sandy and his push for gun control in New Jersey. Now, Republicans say he is “too moderate” to be a true conservative candidate.
This dismissal of candidates for their moderate stances on certain issues will be the downfall of the Republican party in the next presidential election if nothing changes. Christie’s ability to appeal to a wide range of voters would be beneficial to the Republican party, potentially leading to a victory for the first time in eight years.
Instead, the Republican base continues to push candidates to the absolute extreme, unable to appeal to a wide audience. But as potential candidates are appearing, the Republican base is forced into an ultimatum: compromise, or prepare for defeat.
photo by Walter Burns.