While premature chatter about the 2016 presidential election is well underway, the Republicans have a more immediate issue in recruitment and selection of Senate candidates for 2014. For those who run and fund campaigns it is a truism, especially in Senate races, that good candidates usually beat poor ones. (If you have any doubts ask Sens. Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, George Allen, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Connie Mack IV, etc.)
Conservative activists have an ideological checklist that they often try to foist on candidates ( pro-life, anti-gay marriage, never voted for tax increases, voted against TARP, etc.) They seem to be under the illusion that the most conservative candidate wins. Well sometimes, but he or she rarely wins in the general election because of that (unless it is a deep red state). Conservative candidates can win because they have other qualities — relatable, fundraising prowess, charismatic and a record of accomplishment (not necessarily in government), for example.
Rather than an affirmative policy checklist (“He must believe in X — with no ifs, ands or buts.“) Republicans should use a negative checklist to eliminate clunkers so they can start capturing winnable Senate seats. Here’s my list:
1. Never uses “God,” “rape” and “abortion” in the same sentence.
2. Does not sign any pledge. Ever. By any group.
3. Does not refight the culture wars of the 1960’s.
4. Does not pine for “small” government. Support for it does not exist and it is not happening. “Limited” or “effective” government is an attainable goal. (In a must-read piece, excerpted from his must-read book, Peter Berkowitz explains that “the U.S. federal government will continue to provide a social safety net, regulate the economy, and shoulder a substantial share of responsibility for safeguarding the social and economic bases of political equality. All signs are that a large majority of Americans will want it to continue to do so. In these circumstances, conservatives must redouble their efforts to reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities.”)
5. Does not whine about the media. Voters don’t care.
6. Does not speak about witchcraft, opine on the Devil or bemoan the prevalence of contraception.
It’s quite a comment on the state of the GOP and on the right-wing punditocracy that one needs to list these items (or worse, that the items would be controversial). Democrats have in places as far-flung as North Dakota, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Delaware come up with reasonable-sounding, pleasant enough candidates who seem like they know and are fond of the voters throughout their state. Republicans should be able to do the same.
Look at the people who win (e.g. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson). Compare them to the clunkers who have self-destructed in the last two Senate elections. It’s not hard to tell why one group wins (not nutty, not extreme, not prone to flap their gums on irrelevant topics, nice guys and gals, talk about real people’s problems and lives) and one loses. This isn’t rocket science, but if right-wing activists can’t tell the difference between the sorts of candidates who fall into each group they should consider staying out of electoral politics. They are only helping the Democrats.