Why the 2016 Republican nominee is likely to be chosen by the blue states

February 17, 2015
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses delegates during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012 REUTERS/Mike Segar

President Richard M. Nixon once advised his fellow Republicans, “Run to the right in the primary election, and then run to the center in the general election.” That advice may now be backward.

Today, relatively moderate contenders are more likely to win nominations. Then they move away from the center to rally the base in the general election. The new rule is: “Unite the party and divide the voters.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he won’t pander to the conservative base to win the Republican nomination. Bush told a meeting of chief executives in December, “Lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.” In other words, run as who you are.

Of course, you do have to win the primary to be able to run in the general. Can a centrist candidate do that? Neither Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 nor Mitt Romney in 2012 was a favorite of conservatives. How did they unite the party? Both chose running mates to their right. Strong hostility to Barack Obama helped solidify conservatives’ support.

In the New York Times, Nate Cohn has written about “the surprising power of blue-state Republicans” in the nominating process. He explains that Republicans from states that Obama won (i.e., blue states) are “all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats.” But “blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Rolling Meadows, Illinois

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, February 12, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

At the 2012 Republican National Convention, more than half the delegates came from states that Obama later carried. Only 44 percent of Republican delegates came from Romney states — the “red states.”

Blue-state Republicans tend to be relatively moderate — fewer Tea Party activists, fewer evangelicals. They don’t have much power in Congress. Of the 54 Republican senators now serving, only 11 come from Obama states. Cohn reports that 11 percent of House Republicans were elected in congressional districts that voted for Obama.

Blue-state Republicans have power over nominations because blue states tend to be big. Seven of the nation’s 10 states with the largest population voted for Obama in 2012 (California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan). Only three voted for Romney (Texas, Georgia and North Carolina).

California is a solidly blue state. Not one statewide elected official in California is a Republican. But because California is so large, it sent 172 delegates to the 2012 Republican convention. Texas is solidly red. Not one statewide elected official in Texas is a Democrat. Texas sent 155 delegates to the last Republican convention. Romney got more votes in California (4.8 million) than he got in Texas (4.6 million).

The definition of a blue-state Republican is someone who loses elections. In blue states, Republicans have to be relatively centrist and pragmatic, as Bush was in Florida or Governor Chris Christie is in New Jersey.

Does the same rule apply to Democrats? It does to some extent. But blue states are far more dominant in the Democratic nominating process. In 2012, two-thirds of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention were from Obama states. Moreover, many Romney states are in the South, where minority voters have a strong voice in the Democratic Party.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton was the more centrist Democrat. She won white working-class voters. Obama won the total national primary vote, but only narrowly (18.1 million votes for Obama, 18.0 million for Clinton). If Clinton has an opponent to her left in 2016, she is likely to retain her support among white working-class Democrats and make big gains with African-Americans.

General election campaigns are supposed to pull candidates to the center where they compete for the swing vote. But there aren’t many swing voters any more. Independents may be the fastest-growing group in the electorate, but most independents are either liberals or conservatives and vote reliably for one party. They don’t swing.

The two parties, according to Gallup, are roughly equal in size nationwide: 45 percent Democrats and Democratic leaners, 42 percent Republicans and Republican leaners. But the parties are geographically segregated: Republicans dominate the South and rural West, Democrats the Northeast and West Coast. The number of battleground states has sharply diminished.

Next year’s campaign will be ferocious in the handful of truly competitive battleground states (Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania). In a race between closely matched contenders in battleground states, the incentive is to rally your base. Candidates do that with a divisive campaign that demonizes the opposition: “If you don’t vote Democratic for president, right-wing extremists will take over.” Or, “If you don’t vote for the Republican, illegal aliens will flood our borders.”

We’re likely to end up with two relatively pragmatic, establishment-oriented party nominees in 2016. Possibly Bush and Clinton. But the campaigns they run will be intensely polarizing, full of dire warnings about what will happen if the other side wins. That’s how President George W. Bush won reelection in 2004. And how Obama won reelection in 2012.

“Unite the party and divide the country” may be the new formula for winning. But it’s also why the division between red and blue America keeps getting deeper and deeper.


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As the divide widens as there is continued legislating by ALEC and State Policy Network against consumer and work place protections, inequality, life and health from environmental impact, family issues, etc. people will be running to the blue.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

America is now a country with the majority of people looking to receive some benefits from the govt, paid for by those who still work hard, the minority.

If Hillary runs she will win, because of this- the majority of losers who refuse to work hard and go to college and get a student loan like I did. (6 years of night school to get my business degree) Now they even whine about a 5% interest rate on a student loan! America, land of the growing deficit and run by the takers on the take.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Republicans is blue states better wake up and support conservative agenda. They more than anyone should realize that the states with the biggest deficits and financial problems are blue states run by democratic majorities. It is going to take strong conservative principles to even begin to clean up the disasters left by the democratic leaderships and the Obama administration. There is no room for these so called moderate Republicans that are afraid to make waves and take on the status quo. It is time to clean house and set this county on a path that returns us to our founders principles and protect our nation against the lunacy of Islamic terrorism. Forget the mealy mouth Republicans and choose a real leader—a truly conservative one and not another Bush.

Posted by fedupaj | Report as abusive


Too much FOX.

Red states have had credit downgrades, less investment, lower quality of life, and more poverty.

Pennsylvania under Corbett, Kansas, etc.

Check the facts.

Red states receive more federal aid, and blue states receive less.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

I can’t believe so many Americans still fall for the “Red Team versus Blue Team” charade. I don’t care what Fox or BSNBC told you: both the Republicans AND the Democrats are controlled by wealthy special interests who can afford the millions of dollars required to buy representation in government. While some of these special interests primarily influence one party or the other, some lobbying groups have the politicians of BOTH major parties in their collective pocket. These include the Israel lobby, the “defense” manufacturing lobby, and anyone else who profits from endless wars abroad and the police state at home.

America is an oligarchy. The vast majority of the US population has ZERO representation in the federal government. You have NO say in what laws are passed or in choosing the future direction of the country. Your purpose is to simply pay taxes and slavishly obey whatever commands you are given by the oligarchs via their police/military enforcement class. You are permitted to choose who will represent the oligarchs every so often, and you are still allowed the privilege of griping about this System on the Internet (as I am doing); but you are not permitted to vote for anyone who will actually represent YOU and YOUR family. Neither are you permitted to vote for anyone who will protect the Bill of Rights against the growing police state. (Ron Paul was probably the one and only chance we’ll ever get.)

This is why Obama continued (or expanded upon) Bush’s policies. Had Romney won, he would have been just like Obama, barring a few wedge issues. And barring a mass awakening of America’s simpleminded, TV-addicted proles, those same policies will continue under the next Democrat or Republican in the White House, and regardless of which team controls Congress.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

It’s just academic anyway. No GOP presidential nominee in ’16, whether conservative or moderate, is capable of securing 270 electoral votes.

Posted by wschill | Report as abusive

DO NOT use Jeb Bush as our “poster boy”, most of the Republican party base DESPISES that RINO… Same goes for Chris Christie. No way we are giving that fake conservative fool our party’s ticket.

Also, look at this poll, here is a poll showing Scott Walker closing in on Hillary Clinton. Before he wasn’t even close to her, couldn’t even touch a woman, who has no accomplishments, like a couple months ago, but now look at this, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015  /mar/3/scott-walker-trails-hillary-clin ton-by-5-in-head-t/.

Posted by eh… | Report as abusive