To the consternation of conservatives, character and experience aren’t required to win the presidency. Being meritocracy advocates, they would like to think that the military hero and senatorial heavyweight would beat the guy who had been in the Senate only two years and accomplished virtually nothing there. Nope. Well, certainly the business executive with the sterling reputation and former governor (not to mention Olympics savior) would beat the incumbent who wouldn’t dare run on his shabby record, right? Nope.
Republicans keep running on resume and losing. Perhaps they are too hung up in qualifications. Seriously, Democrats think lack of national security expertise and a dearth of executive experience should not be barriers that prevent a charismatic liberal from becoming president. And they are right!
In fact, Republicans put in front of their candidates multiple hoops to leap through, far more than Democrats do. On the GOP side, nominees have to be pristine, lifelong conservatives (or adopt the dogma in exaggerated terms). They have to forfeit immigration reform views (McCain) or become late converts to the cause of keeping hardworking risk-takers out of the country. But they also have to have blue-collar appeal. They have to wow conservatives with rhetoric but be accomplished as well.
The strainer is so fine that no one makes it through, so the Republicans wind up, well, with the crop of 2012 contenders for Senate and the presidency, of which Mitt Romney was the only remotely credible contender (and only after several others refused to be drafted). In other words, in search of perfection the GOP winds up with people who can’t get elected. They have managed to turn the primary process from a selection process to one that excludes the normal, the relatable and the flexible.
Now it is tempting for conservatives to say, “Fine. We’ll find our own charismatic, eloquent lightweight who hasn’t left footprints.” I’ve got nothing against expediency (this is politics, not theology), but the responsible party, the “Dad” party, can’t bring itself to do it. It would be like telling their kids, “Yes, do run with scissors. And don’t get hung up about leaving on every light in the house. It’s only money.” In other words, it is just not in Republicans’ nature to be frivolous and irresponsible in selecting the leader of the free world.
Perhaps the format for candidate selection is wrong. Primaries, especially closed primaries, which the hard-line base prefers, and caucuses (where only the “severely” conservative are dogged enough to turn out) are about preaching to the choir. Republicans have got that down for sure, but it turns out to be counterproductive in the general election. And it is not predictive of being a good president. Should Republicans come up with a reality-show format to test-run these people before letting them loose? (Finalists, create a flat-tax plan and sell it to a focus group in an hour. Go!) Not very practical.
Instead, Republican candidates for any office in which independents and Democrats are needed to win should, in primary, caucus, conventions, town halls and debate settings, be pressed to answer two fundamental questions before being selected as the party’s nominee. First, what have you been doing to expand the reach of the GOP beyond its hardcore base? If the answer is not much, open trap door and remove candidate.
Second, what innovative policy idea have you come up with that expands liberty and opportunity? (A family-friendly tax plan, you say? A plan to expand legal immigration? You there ... go to the head of the line.) If they haven’t tried to take conservative philosophy, apply it to real problems and experiment as needed, they aren’t worth much.
You see, the goal for conservatives can’t be to promote rigidity, marginalize the party, limit innovation and reject reasonable governance ( which sadly the primary process does). The core objective of modern conservatism is to foster liberty through limited government and support for civil society. Electability is the essential task. So demonstrated belief in the former and talent in the latter should be prized above other qualities. In the primary setting, bonus points should be given for answers like, “Yeah, I used to believe that, but in the real world it turned out to be a rotten idea.”
Think of it like your kids’ science fair — prizes go to those who think creatively, challenge themselves and the audience, and don’t fear failure. Oh, and it helps if they can explain in layman’s terms what they’ve done.