THE FIX was in from the start when Virginia Republicans picked their ticket for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2013.
Hard-line conservatives who control the state party apparatus decreed that the nominations would be determined not by primaries but by a convention, a mechanism well suited to limit the number of participants.
In the event, just 8,000 of the Republican faithful showed up — representing perhaps half of 1 percent of the party’s sympathizers in the state — and the right-wing ticket they picked was swept in the fall by the Democrats, who held much more widely attended nominating primaries.
The defeats were part of a GOP losing streak in Virginia’s statewide elections. Despite being evenly divided between the two major parties, Virginia has not elected a Republican to any statewide position since 2009, nor has it elected one to the U.S. Senate since 2002.
That string of losses has coincided with venomous internecine divisions in the Republican ranks, in which hard-liners generally have prevailed by forcing nominating conventions, most of which have yielded hard-line candidates. A notable exception was the GOP convention that nominated Ed Gillespie , a pragmatic candidate for the U.S. Senate last year; he was defeated by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the incumbent, but narrowly.
Rather than rethinking that losing strategy, Virginia’s conservative activists now seem inclined to double down on it. They are pressing for the GOP to hold a convention rather than a state-run primary to choose a presidential nominee in 2016.
That move would be designed to favor more ideological candidates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and handicap more moderate candidates, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
In addition to giving more extreme candidates a leg up, the effect would be undemocratic. Tens of thousands of moderate Republicans — the sort of voters who might go to the polls for a primary but are unlikely to travel dozens or hundreds of miles to a convention — would be excluded.
Tens of millions of Americans might not be committed to one party or the other, but surely most would favor more participatory elections and more moderate candidates. By pressing for a process that would produce neither, hard-line Republicans are pursuing a losing strategy — not just for themselves but also for voters.
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