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Conservatives fear another split Republican vote, with path for Christie win
Scrappy GOP newcomers start to pave the way
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has any chance of securing the Republican presidential nomination, he just might have to thank such darlings of the tea party movement as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz for an unlikely path to victory.
As Mr. Paul’s and Mr. Cruz’s recent filibusters on the Senate floor have shown, the 2016 quest for the White House is well underway. A fierce battle among the new small-government, libertarian stars is already raging.
That has left a growing number of conservative activists voicing concerns publicly about a scenario that would let a moderate Republican like Mr. Christie slip through the cracks of a movement divided between such strong conservative personalities as Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“It seems like a broken record every four years: a number of conservatives run against one or two ‘moderates’ — apparently there’s no such thing as a liberal Republican — the conservatives cancel each other, and the ‘moderate’ ekes out a primary win,” lamented Media Research Center President L. Brent Bozell.
Pollsters see the same scenario in 2016 based on current data.
“The pattern in recent cycles suggests that the GOP will ultimately settle on a more ‘establishment’ candidate as a result of a continued split among conservatives,” pollster and campaign strategist Matt Towery said.
An adviser to Mr. Christie, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Times that the New Jersey governor recognizes that a split electorate in 2016 could play to his advantage and is part of the reason his name remains on the short list of suitors for the primaries.
The debate reflects an ongoing tension between the Republican Party establishment, which has produced moderate mainstream presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain in the past two elections, and the more fervent wing of tea party activists and take-no-hostages conservatives, who yearn for a more ideologically ardent nominee who reflects their values.
Splitting the right
In 2012, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Ron Paul wooed conservatives with similar appeal, diluting the right’s electoral power and opening the door for Mr. Romney to carry the GOP standard to eventual defeat in November.
Mr. Romney, a moderate when he governed Massachusetts who crafted a state health care law that became a blueprint for Obamacare, made himself acceptable to a plurality of Republican primary voters by running to the right of his earlier agenda. He seized uncharted territory as a hawk on U.S. military intervention, a critic of Mr. Obama’s health care plan and an ardent critic of illegal immigration — then spent much of the campaign defending himself against charges he had become a flip-flopper.
Many conservatives say Mr. Romney’s strategy illustrated that moderate Republican presidential nominees running in the guise of conservatives almost invariably get defeated by Democrats.
Mr. Bozell said it happened in 1996 with the nomination of Bob Dole, who lost the general election to President Clinton, then in 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush won by running as a conservative who bashed big-spending and big-government liberals. It happened again in 2008 with Mr. McCain losing the general election to Barack Obama and in 2012 with Mr. Romney losing to Mr. Obama.
“In most cases, the GOP nominee went down in flames in the general. And why not? He never had the support of the GOP base,” said Mr. Bozell. “‘W’ was the exception, and I would suggest it was because he was perceived as a conservative.”
Moderates have a different theory, arguing that the Republican Party’s inability to win a presidential election since 2004 is because the party is hostage to its right wing and viewed as too extreme for mainstream America.
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About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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