Republican Party

Republican Powerbrokers Intend to Clear the GOP Field for a Favored Establishment Candidate

Republicans actually have to sort out some substantive differences on policy. Coronations do not lend themselves to self-examination.


Although the specifics are still hazy, The New York Times reports that a group of deep-pocketed Republican donors and bundlers has hatched a plan to clear the GOP field of all insurgents to make room for a favored "establishment" candidate—preferably Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or Mitt Romney. But there can only be one.

This strikes me as a dubious strategy for a number of reasons. But the main point of the Times piece is to inform everyone that Republican powerbrokers intend to get ahead of the intraparty squabbling that accompanies the long primary season because, in the end, all of that ugliness would only help elect Hillary Clinton:

For the first time in decades, the Republican Party is facing a wide-open primary with up to a dozen serious candidates representing virtually every branch of the party. Republican leaders, hoping to minimize damage to their eventual standard-bearer, have already sought to compress the formal primary season and reduce the number of candidate debates.

There are a number of problems with this pitch.

To begin with, there's scant evidence that bypassing crowded primaries enhances a party's chances of winning a national election. If you take a look at some of the "wide-open" races (ones without preordained vice presidential successors) over the past few decades, you'll find that plenty of candidates prevailed in the general election after winning competitive—and sometimes acrimonious—party contests. Ronald Reagan in 1980. Bill Clinton in 1992. George W. Bush in 2000. Barack Obama in 2008. In some cases, it was the establishment that was won over in the process. All of these races determined the course of party politics for years.

These days, there is incessant whining about the slog of the primary and debate season from the media. This may just be a perfunctory complaint. But it's also wrong. Politics has a ton of problems, but too much debate isn't one of them.

We've all heard that primaries help hone a candidate's skills or test a candidate's organization or allow us to see how a candidate reacts to intense scrutiny. True. But sometimes a primary makes the candidate. A lot of people watched Obama beat Hillary—and inevitability—in 2008. The Obama mythos was secured before he ever had to repel a real GOP attack. By the general election, it was probably too late to stop his momentum. I bet Hillary wished there had been a compressed primary season that year.

And 2016 may be a bit different in other ways, as well. After seven years of functioning as the opposition, Republicans may actually have to sort out some substantive differences on policy. Coronations do not lend themselves to self-examination.

Jeb Bush recently told The Wall Street Journal that a Republican nominee should be willing to "lose the primary to win the general without violating" his principles. What he most likely meant to say was that a principled candidate should be willing to make his case on Common Core or immigration reform even if his positions are detested by most rank-and-file conservatives. Those are certainly debates worth having. And with the probable inclusion of Rand Paul in the mix, there will also probably be debates centered on foreign policy, domestic spying, criminal justice reform, and other issues that big donors would rather avoid.

Then again, if you're interested in generating recrimination and anger, there is no more effective strategy than having a complete disdain for your party's democratic process. Attempting to crowd out competition with big dollars isn't new. But let's not forget that those designated kingmakers of the GOP in the Times piece have had a tendency to make appallingly bad political choices.

In the Times piece, we meet some of the players. One is Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a big Romney booster. Then there's Foster Friess, a man who single-handedly shoehorned Rick Santorum into the conversation last time around even though there was virtually no support for the big-government-loving former senator from Pennsylvania. There is also Las Vegas' Sheldon Adelson, who, according to the Times' Nicholas Confessore, is now stressing the importance of funding a person who can win. Which is a nice change of pace for a guy willing to throw millions behind the always entertaining, thought-provoking and unelectable former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012. (I guess crowded primary fields are less of a concern when they're populated by the right kind of vanity candidates.)

Santorum, Gingrich, Bush, Romney—these guys know all the fresh faces.

NEXT: Justice Breyer violates "Bernstein's Law" (again) by using Lochner v. New York as a bogeyman

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  1. Well, they can do whatever they want, but they’re handing their opponents a PR tool: R’s pick candidate in secret, back-room deal; no primary for you.

    1. Democrats in the NE picks the most Rino candidate for us in their open primaries. Then both ruling parties are happy.

      Its much easier to rule over sheep than it is to rule over Cats.

  2. The one thing the Republicans can do which guarantees that a Democrat will win is to nominate a Republican who won’t cut spending — and that includes any governor whose state budget increased while he was in office.

    This needs to be the litmus test. Nominate someone who CUT spending, and the Tea Party and libertarians will vote for you. Otherwise forget it — there’ll always be a Libertarian Party candidate.

  3. So, that’s the Republican establishment’s strategy – compress the primary enough to shove a candidate no one other then they really want. If I recall correctly, didn’t the GOP have a problem with turnout last time? Yeah, I’m sure an establishment guy without much popular support is just the answer for that.

  4. If their shortlist is Romney, Christie, or some random Bush or other, then I have to question whether they even care much about winning the general election.

    Of course, the Dem shortlist seems to be one of the Clintons (probably Hillary, but who knows? or cares?) or a partial-term Senator from MA, I suppose the same question applies to them as well.


    Lather, rinse, repeat…

  6. the establishment has been so good at picking candidates.

    1. Has there been a losing Repub in recent years who wasn’t an establishment candidate?

      Romney, check.

      McCain, check.

      Dole, check.

      The winning candidates since Nixon include Bush (establishment) and Reagan (not really an establishment candidate running against Bush and Connally).

      1. sarcasm was implied. As it is, the establishment is looking worse by the day what with Obama and Co seemingly coming to Boehner’s rescue, the tea folks trying to remind the party what it believes, and so forth. Reagan was out of the norm. Bush didn’t win so much as Gore lost.

        1. But Romney didn’t lose so much as Obama won. Nobody the GOP would’ve nominated would’ve done any better.

          1. I disagree. Obama would have won in ’08 regardless of the GOP candidate, but they had a shot in ’12 with the right candidate.

      2. The only two winning candidates were anomalus. Bush the elder won as Reagan’s third term and Bush the Younger won on a quirk of the Presodential election rules. There has been nothing to suggest that GOP establishment formula is one that wins on its own merits.

      3. McCain wasn’t an Establishment candidate. He had enemies coming out of his ears.

        1. I have to put this comment by you in the category of, “Things I’ve heard on the Internet which are so stupid I can’t even rate them.”

          Where did you get the ridiculous idea being the Establishment candidate meant you didn’t have enemies?

  7. So basically the GOP establishment is a bunch of Democrat infiltrators. That can be the only explanation for their deep, unrelenting desire to lose.

    1. I honestly believe many of the team red establishment would vote for Hillary over Rand Paul.

      1. You say that as if it were shocking.

      2. But they’re not going to get the chance. No way she wins the nomination.

      3. I will never vote for Rand until and unless his foreign policy is credibly as aggressive toward our enemies as both the Constitution and prudence permit.

        1. and exactly why the GOP gets turds for Candidates…

          You really need to open your eyes and your mind regarding single issues.

  8. As long as the Republican National Party continues to ignore those who WOULD vote for a Republican candidate and promote candidates who tend to be quite similar to the Democrats candidates they are telling those who WOULD be their base to vote a third party candidate instead. Look at what is happening in the House today after the voters kicked out a number of establishment politicians. The people want CHANGE, and more now than ever.

    1. Politicians hear the word change and come to the conclusion the change we want is a bigger less accountable Govt.

  9. THe problems Republicans have had aren’t because of exposure in the primaries, it’s the desire, during the primaries, to get a nominee quickly. It seems that, as soon as someone wins Iowa and New Hampshire there’s the desire to coronate. If the Republicans were really smart, they’d drag the primary season out into May and then have a super primary where there are enough votes available for the right person to get the nomination. I’m not sure who would have been nominated, had the primaries gone on a little longer in 2008 or 2012, it could well have been the same candidates, but they would have had a chance to hone their message to more different regions of the country, had the process been extended. Romney basically had the nomination in hand after Florida in 2012 and the same for McCain.

    Now, that being said, I don’t feel we need to have debate, after debate, after debate televised on successive weeks. What is needed are planned debates, debates where the candidates have had a sufficient amount of time on the stump and know what they need to do to improve their message, and then debate. If they debated once a month into April, that would be fine. Then, in May, schedule a primary day with, say, Texas, Florida, voting on the same day and then another where California and New York vote on the same day, one at the beginning and one at the end, which would allow candidates to overcome any mistakes they made in the beginning of the run.

    1. What is needed are planned debates

      We haven’t actually had debates pretty much since TV was invented. We’ve had talking heads throwing establishment questions to trigger the candidate’s prepared speeches.

  10. Newt Gingrich had a far better chance of winning than the man who lost. There could have been actual improvement in electing him.

    If Romney, the man who lost, had been half as aggressive at tearing down Obama, the man who won, as Mitt had been at taking out his primary opposition, Newt especially included, then I think Obama would have lost.

  11. I for one ALWAYS go to the NYT when I want to know exactly what the GOP is doing..

  12. I am trying to figure Jeb Bush’s comment: to lose the primary so you can win the national. The only way I can figure that is if the primary is rigged. Call me naive but any nuaced explanation would be even more brow knitting than the original comment.

    1. It’s a cute way of saying that the policies necessary to win the national election will lose the GOP primary.

      IOW, a candidate who wins the primary by running heavy on right-to-life, traditional marriage, and marijuana prohibition will be unelectable in the national election.

    2. Why try to understand Bush’s comment?

      In my book, Jeb’s inability to communicate clearly, or say what he stands for (other than amnesty and Common Core – something he is financially invested in and hopes to profit from) says enough to me that I won’t vote for him. I’ll be voting Libertarian if he’s nominated.

  13. “….hatched a plan to clear the GOP field of all insurgents to make room for a favored “establishment” candidate….”

    Let me know when and where the funeral for the GoP will be.

  14. This reminds me of the California GOP convention, where the dozen remaining CA Republicans were sitting around wondering how they could revitalize the state party.

    All of a sudden Ron Paul and his Reloveution kids showed up. They bounced with energy, danced with enthusiasm, vibrated with youth.

    After they left the CAGOP breathed a sigh of relief, then went back to sitting around wondering how they could revitalize the state party.

  15. Let’s not forget two facts:

    1. Those who raise the most cash, are typically those politicians who’ve shown the 1% rich, they’ll sell out taxpayers/consumers to give the 1% rich government favors at our expense.
    2. Voters elected politicians, not money.

    The GOP power brokers, are looking to elect someone who will sell us out. That is except the Koch’s who look to reduce govenrment’s power to sell us out. The Koch’s aren’t the power brokers the Democrats make them out to be: they are just the target of statists who’d rather we attack the Koch’s who defend our freedoms, when government is supposed to be doing that. The statists would prefer government that protects their wealth, by taking it from us.

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