Morning Jay: No Frontrunner? No Problem!
6:00 AM, May 11, 2011 • By JAY COST
On Sunday, Byron York offered a fascinating report on the thinking among Republican insiders in South Carolina:
I appreciate why the party’s grand poo-bahs are concerned. We can basically go back in party history to World War II, and discover that almost every nominee falls into one of three categories: former runner-up (either for the general or the nomination), larger-than-life candidate who dominated the field, or incumbent president.
Really, the only exception here is 1964, when Barry Goldwater squeaked out a victory over Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.
So, psychologically speaking, it should not be a huge surprise that Republicans are nervous. The one candidate who could in theory fit on this graph – Mitt Romney – has real problems within the party. That’s not to say that Romney cannot win, but it does make for the most open contest since 1964.
Beyond the psychic discomfort, which is understandable, I really do not think Republicans need to worry about this at all. For three big reasons.
First, it is unlikely that this wide open field will result in some kind of knock-down, drag-out fight that lasts the length of the primary season, like the Clinton-Obama battle in 2008. The reason is that, on an ideological level, the Republican party is much more homogenous than the Democratic party. Republicans tend to be in the same demographic and socioeconomic brackets, and their only real differences are the extent to which they are conservative. Obama and Clinton did not disagree much on the big issues, but their voting coalitions were very different. That is just not going to happen in the Republican party, which is dominated by the white, married middle class.
Second, this nomination battle gives the party an opportunity to do something that is long overdue: have a real conversation about its future. The 2010 midterm was a good one for Republicans, but that was due largely to dissatisfaction with the Democrats – both parties had approval ratings in the low 40s. It is high time for the GOP to reflect on the last decade, evaluate what it has done right and done wrong, and make some corrections. Frankly, if one of those nominees in the above chart were in the field this year, such self-reflection would probably not happen.