Campaign consultants make bank on advising candidates how to win the independent voting bloc. These are perceived to be the 20% of the electorate who are in the middle of the spectrum between left and right.
The theory is that the Republican candidate has the 40% of the electorate to the right of center locked up, and the Democratic candidate has the 40% of the electorate to the left of center locked up, and the issue will be decided by those in the mushy middle.
There is one fundamental, lethal flaw for the Republican Party in this template. And that is that not all independents are in the center. Increasing numbers of conservatives have left the GOP, not because it is too conservative, but because it is not conservative enough.
They are independents because they are to the right of the GOP establishment. And there is plenty of room there, since the GOP establishment is essentially on the edge of the mushy middle to begin with. Ruling class Republicans paint with pale pastels, and that no longer works for far too many conservatives.
And so many genuine conservatives have declared their independence from the Republican Party because it no longer speaks for them. These are the independents the GOP ought to be worrying about, not those in no-man’s-land in the middle. There are two groups of independent voters, and the GOP is aiming for the wrong one.
Mitt Romney’s campaign should have been a reality check for the GOP establishment, since he won the moderate, independent vote going away and still got waxed at the polls. Why did he lose so decisively? Because four million conservative independents stayed home. Mitt Romney simply didn’t speak for them or to them. They had no one to vote for, so they didn’t vote at all.
Let’s say we use a very rough sliding percentage scale, just for the sake of argument. Polls consistently indicate that about 40% of the electorate self-identify as conservatives (not as Republicans, mind you) and about 20% of the electorate self-identify as liberals.
So on a scale of 1-100, self-identified liberals are roughly in the 1-20 range. (Now Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are both at about a 10 on that political scale, which means that 90% of the electorate is to their right. A GOP candidate who can’t pick enough of those voters off to win an election doesn’t deserve the nomination in the first place.)
If self-identified conservatives represent 40% of the electorate, and liberals just 20%, simple math indicates that a genuinely conservative candidate has a huge home-field advantage: he only has to get from 40 to 50, while his liberal opponent has got to find a way to get from 20 to 50.
So why doesn’t the GOP run the table in every election? Simple. They don’t run conservatives. They run feckless moderates who don’t seem to have any core conservative convictions of any sort.
The problem for the Republican Party is that a growing number of these self-identified conservatives no longer identify with the Republican Party. It no longer speaks for them. They love the party platform, but the GOP keeps giving them candidates who don’t seem to believe anything in it.
On a scale of 1-100, with 100 being a conservative who likes to paint with bold colors, let’s put the Democrats in the 1-20 range. Since liberals keep winning elections, let’s figure those who don’t self-identify as liberals but tend to vote that way are in the 21-40 range.
Among the 40% who self-identify as conservative, let’s put moderate conservatives in the 60-70 range, and thorough-going conservatives – pro-life, pro-natural marriage, smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes – in the 70-100 range. The problem for the GOP is that many of these – let’s say virtually everyone in the 80-100 range – are either in fact or in practice political independents. Their loyalty is to principle, not party.
Now the consultants want you to think that the battle will be determined by what those in the 40-60 range decide.
But that completely ignores everyone in the 80-100 range, those whose convictions are solidly and unrepentantly conservative. Maybe the voters in the 60-80 range will numbly or even happily vote for the lesser of two evils, but those in the 80-100 range won’t.
These voters, the conservative base, the true GOP base, have had it with the punchless and gutless philosophy that party poobahs are trying to pass off as conservatism.
They will not vote, not for the rest of their lives, for another Mitt Romney or John McCain. John McCain has advised Jeb Bush that the key to winning the GOP nomination is to run against the conservative base, and Bush has eagerly accepted his advice.
But the goal is not to win the nomination; it is to win the presidency. The voters in the 80-100 range – and a GOP candidate cannot win without them – will stay home or vote for an independent or third party candidate before they will vote for the Common-Core-and-amnesty-promoting Jeb Bush.
These voters – as large a bloc as the precious moderate independents and far more strategic – are contemptuously ignored by the GOP consultants and advisers. They are taken for granted, with the assumption being that they will vote GOP because they have nowhere else to go.
Well, they do have some place else to go, and that’s home to sit on the couch election night. And that’s where four million of them went in 2012.
Here’s the fatal problem for the Jeb Bushes and the Chris Christies and the John McCains and the Karl Roves: the more a Republican candidate tacks to the center, the more he lurches away from the conservative base.
The more moderate he becomes, in a misguided effort to reach the convictionless middle, the more distance he creates between himself and the base until he loses touch with them altogether and they completely lose interest in him.
Now all of this emphatically does not mean a GOP candidate must abandon moderate independents. He doesn’t need to pander to them to get their vote; he can win the middle by showing the superiority of conservative ideas to liberal ones. Conservatism is better for everybody, and the job of a candidate is to educate the electorate and help open-minded moderates see that. That’s why they call it a campaign.
Bottom line: the key to the 2016 election is in fact the independent vote. But it’s not the independent vote the GOP establishment thinks it is.
Here’s an idea: let’s run a genuine conservative this time and let the ruling class Republicans hold their noses and vote for our guy for a change.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)