Republicans have failed to win a plurality of voters (or a majority of the two-party vote) in four of the last five presidential elections. The single win was 2004, when George W. Bush was re-elected by the lowest margin of any successful incumbent since 1828.To explain this phenomenon, he says something that - at first - seems counterintuitive. And yet it makes perfect sense.
The GOP base is better organized and more engaged locally than Democrats are. But this actually undercuts the party at the national level. So well organized are the GOP’s ideological constituencies that they prevail in legislative primaries and push the party’s overall identity to the right...These ideological groups also have a great deal of muscle at the presidential primary or caucus level, but even beyond that, their success at the legislative level means that a presidential contender’s loyalty to the GOP brand — proof that he’s not a RINO — has to be demonstrated by professions of fealty to what is an essentially regional identity, not a national one.In other words, the Republican Party is pandering to their purists. And that means that they're on a pathway to being a Party that can no longer win national elections.
I would propose that this presents a warning to progressive activists as well. Whenever we push our elected leaders farther left than the majority of the country is willing to go - we'll face the same kind of defeat. As a matter of fact, for those of us old enough to remember, we know that the Democratic Party was facing the same trajectory not too long ago. The 1972 presidential election was a crushing defeat for the purists on the left.
I would propose that that election, followed a few years later by a similar trouncing in 1984, ensured that the Democratic Party gave up on the idea of base elections and started learning what it takes politically to win a national majority. Overall it means not pandering to your purists.
That does NOT mean giving up your ideals. It simply takes a different strategy to reach them. Our Community Organizer-in-Chief put it this way 7 years ago.
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.