Establishment Republicans need to coalesce on a candidate, and fastPolitically Aware Thursday, December 10th, 2015
Commentary: Politically Aware
The first votes in the 2016 presidential race will be cast at the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1. That leaves establishment Republicans just over 50 days to avoid nominating a candidate too conservative for the general election. They should start by getting some of the moderate candidates to drop out, and can use the 2012 San Diego mayoral election to make their case.
Filner’s entry into the race effectively cleared the Democratic field, much as Hillary Clinton appears to have done this year. (Sorry, Sanders fans, but I’m not feeling the Bern, at least in terms of winning. I’m also leaving the plummeting Ben Carson out of the discussion.) Republicans started with three candidates that year: Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis and Nathan Fletcher.
In this comparison, as he did in San Diego, DeMaio represents the hard line conservatives, e.g., Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. As we are seeing with Trump, that core of support tends to be loyal, creating a “high floor” of support that the candidate won’t drop below, but appealing to it requires statements and positions that create a “low ceiling” of potential voters that the candidate can sway. Such candidates thrive in split races where their base is enough to make it to the next level, as DeMaio showed by winning the primary with 31 percent of the vote.
Dumanis and Fletcher were the Bush/Rubio/Kasich/Christie/etc. of 2012: moderates who were believed to be the better general election candidates. Dumanis earned 13 percent of the primary vote while Fletcher won 24 percent. Had that 37 percent of the vote been consolidated behind one of them, he or she would have won the primary with 5 percent to spare. Given the highly negative perceptions of DeMaio and Filner, the Dumanis/Fletcher hybrid would likely have been the favorite against either. Instead, DeMaio’s ceiling proved to be under 50 percent (twice now) and Filner won the “hold your nose and pull a lever” election.
Moderate San Diego Republicans tried to avoid that outcome, but had little leverage. Outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders endorsed Dumanis, which left no one with the clout to ask her to make way for Fletcher. Fletcher bolted the party after it endorsed DeMaio, eliminating any power they may have had over him.
National Republican leaders face a similar leverage problem this year. Marco Rubio appears to be the best general election candidate, but Jeb Bush has the money and Chris Christie can claim some momentum in New Hampshire. Kasich and others probably see the writing on the wall, but have little to lose.
Filner may have won the mayor’s office in November 2012, but Republicans arguably lost it the day they nominated Carl DeMaio. Similarly, any Republican convention that nominates Donald Trump or Ted Cruz also elects President Hillary Clinton. Establishment Republicans have the votes to nominate a candidate who can be competitive in the general, but they need to coalesce, and fast.
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