In an obvious effort to get conservatives to warm up to the idea of moderate Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee for president, talk show host Michael Medved does a little jujitsu move against election facts. As I have shown elsewhere, in every presidential election since 1972, GOP candidates do better when they are seen in greater contrast with the Democratic nominee. This was never more true than in 2008, and though Medved admits that John McCain was a moderate, he implies that the GOP would have won if they had nominatedsomeone even more moderate than McCain. This is pure poppycock. Medved confuses things by mixing apples and oranges, facts and fallacy.
Apple I: Some moderate Senate candidates did better in liberal states than McCain did.
Orange: It is irrelevant that moderate candidates did better than McCain in liberal states like Maine and Vermont. We are not a liberal country.
Apple II: Moderates won in conservative states in which McCain lost.
Orange: Lindsey Graham did win in conservative South Carolina, but not by that much (58 to 42%), considering that his opponent only spent $15,202 compared to the $6.5M spent by Graham, and of whom Graham said
“Almost no one knows my opponent,” Graham said. “The Democrats really didn’t field a — make a serious challenge — in terms of trying to find an opponent for me.”
Apple III: McCain’s problem was not among conservatives, who showed up in big numbers, but rather among moderates, who voted for Obama
Orange: While it is true that Obama won the moderate vote and conservatives showed up in droves, Medved assumes wrongly that self-attesting moderates are more likely to vote for the moderate candidate. This is to misunderstand who moderates are. They are a swing vote precisely because they don’t vote on principles. It is not that they are passionate about their moderate positions, it is that they aren’t impressed with party labels, and don’t consider themselves ideologues. Many of them are independents who are looking for a candidate with character. When it comes to positions, they are really more conservative than liberal, but won’t waste their time voting on candidates who run to the right during the primaries and change their tune during the general election. You can’t blame them for being skeptical.
So it isn’t that moderate candidates don’t fire up the base, it is that they don’t attract the middle. Good candidates persuade voters to come to their positions, not stick their fingers to the wind. This is exactly what Medved wants the candidates to do: Find the voice of the people and run to it. That isn’t leadership, that is pandership. I like Michael Medved, he is a reasonable fellow, but his biggest fault in politics is his desperate attempt to win moderates to the GOP by convincing Republican politicians to be moderate or at least talk like a moderate. Sadly, he has accepted the notions of pollster Frank Luntz, a self-proclaimed expert on the language of politics. Luntz is the go-to-man for all the GOP pundits who want to politic like Bill Clinton governed by focus group, and Luntz relies on this approach almost exclusively.
Apple IV: GOP House members got less votes than McCain nationwide in 2008.
Orange: This one is totally irrelevant. First, it does not tell us how conservatives did compared to moderates while running in moderate areas. Second, it does not take into account the coattail effect. Had McCain run as a conservative and painted Obama as the liberal many others knew him to be, perhaps both would have had higher numbers.
Apple V: Medved wrote:
It’s true that Ronald Reagan’s inspiring, comprehensive conservatism brought two sweeping victories (in 1980 and ’84). But the same supremely gifted candidate lost two prior runs for the presidency (in 1968 and 1976) to two charismatically challenged, moderate rivals, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Orange: This is Medved’s biggest error and refutes his own point. Gerald Ford LOST in 1976 and the more conservative Reagan might have won against Carter (he creamed him in 1980, so history supports my premise).
Apple VI: Medved wrote:
It is much harder (if not impossible) to describe the sort of voter—Republican, Democrat or independent—who would refuse to support Mr. Romney (over Barack Obama!) but would somehow eagerly back Messrs. Perry, Cain or Gingrich, let alone Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.
Orange: I have to admit this one baffles me. There are tons of Paul supporters who won’t back Romney over Obama. And there are no doubt many moderates who will stay home if they don’t see a difference between Obama and Romney, and why shouldn’t they? Give them a Santorum or Bachmann and they might just surprise you, Mr. Medved. Moderate are as fed up with the country as anybody – and they probably make up a significant portion of the Tea Party. And Romney doesn’t inspire them.
Shedlock is author of the soon to be released book, With Christ in the Voting Booth: Casting Out Political Demons Before Casting Your Vote (with a Foreword by Mike Huckabee).