The Magazine

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

The Republican establishment needs the grassroots, and vice versa.

Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By JAY COST
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Lacking institutional mechanisms to force consensus, Republicans themselves will have to choose it, given the reality that the establishment and the grassroots cannot thrive without each other. As they mull the alternatives, all participants in the nomination process must ask themselves three questions: (1) Can this candidate win the support of the unaffiliated voters who decide general elections? (2) Is the establishment of the party comfortable enough with this nominee to put forth all the money it can? And (3) are the grassroots excited enough about this nominee to show up in November?

The candidates for whom all three answers are “yes” are the “fusion” candidates who belong at the top of any Republican’s list. Most of the successful Republican nominees from Lincoln to the second Bush were such candidates, able to bridge the socioeconomic and ideological divides within their party. Such candidates unite the party by emphasizing the issues that excite both sides, ignoring those that are divisive, projecting a disposition that makes everybody feel welcome, and highlighting a personal background with which all factions can identify.

For some, this will feel like a letdown. It is more emotionally satisfying to channel Theodore Roosevelt prior to the GOP convention in 1912 declaiming, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” But TR’s breakaway Bull Moose party was short-lived, the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won in 1912, and TR was back in the Republican fold by 1916. That is how it usually goes: Disagreements within a coalition are rarely resolved, only papered over, usually by the personal charm and political skill of the nominee. 

The smart play, then, is always the same: Find the guy who can make both sides reasonably happy and nominate him.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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