There are two things that normally happen to GOP candidates through the election cycle. First, they veer to the right during the primaries to court the Tea Party, far right, and evangelical votes (more on that statement in a second). Second, they veer back towards the middle after they win the nomination (more on that as well).
During the last primaries, one could listen to Mitt Romney and think that he was as far right as possible based upon his campaign messages. He echoed the sentiment of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and other candidates who were considered more conservative than him. Then, once he had the nomination locked up, his tone started to soften. For the fourth time in six Presidential election cycles, the tone from the nominee was moderate by the time the general election came. Coincidentally, for the fourth time in six Presidential election cycles, the Democrats won the election.
The Evangelical vote goes through the same basic cycle. They are the most important vote during the primaries in about half of the states. If you get their vote, you’ll place well. Once the primaries are done and the nominee is announced, the general election campaign stops focusing on them. Most are going to vote Republican, so there’s no need to keep their attention. That’s the flawed premise that has resulted in a 2-4 record since 1992.
This year, things are starting out the same but they’re going to end very differently. Pseudo-conservatives like George Pataki, Donald Trump. and Chris Christie are making statements that go against their core beliefs in an effort to appeal, as expected. True conservatives like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are trying to defend their right-wing territory. Everyone in between is appealing to the Tea Party and evangelicals to varying degrees of conservatism.
— Mark Tooley (@markdtooley) September 13, 2015
Depending on who gets the nomination, the shift towards the middle may or may not happen. The reason is because the evangelical vote is no longer secured along party lines. More evangelicals are leaning to the middle, even crossing over into liberal territory. There’s a reason that far-left Bernie Sanders is already courting their votes.
Sanders tries to appeal to Christian conservatives over 'injustice' of wealth inequality http://t.co/rL38O9mDsz
— I'm IBM (@bizzyboneee) September 14, 2015
Evangelicals are going to be voting with their hearts and minds more than along party lines this election. That much is certain, which is why appealing to them must continue throughout the cycle all the way to election day.
Regarding the Tea Party, far right, and evangelical votes, it’s important to note that these three groups are more diverse than they’ve ever been. In the past, it was easy to lump them together with the appropriate messaging in order to earn their support. Today, the complexity of political issues makes it necessary for candidates to treat them differently. The Tea Party is still about protecting the economy and reducing debt. The far right is still about a strong military and secured borders. The Evangelicals are still about religious freedoms. These are now separate and often conflicting issues. For example, reducing spending can come in the form of taking down entire governmental departments, but those changes could adversely affect the border situation. Defending religious liberties could mean increased spending. The issues on the right are no longer aligned properly.
That particular topic deserves its own post in order to flesh it out properly, but for now the key is to understand that candidates need their messages to resonate at multiple tones. They can no longer sing a single note and expect conservatives to flock. Their strategy must diversify in an effort to realign the Republican platform around ideas that do not have to conflict. This is a challenge and it’s one of the reasons that Donald Trump is performing so well in the polls. Republicans aren’t recognizing that his own promises are conflicting. They only see the one talking point that appeals to them without reconciling that they don’t align with other talking points. His “platform” is very unstable even if the individual components seem to sound good on the surface.
With that understood, it’s important to understand why a shift to the center won’t work this time around (not that it ever really worked well in the past). This election is going to be won because the general electorate believes that our leader is strong, intelligent, and willing to make the hard choices. By the time they vote, they will have had nearly eight years of weakness in the Oval office. Shifting to the center in order to appeal to independents would be a huge mistake.
Barack Obama won because he didn’t shift. He lied regarding certain components of his perspective such as socialism and gay marriage, but he stayed consistent with a far-left message. In fact, his actual Presidency has been more moderate than his campaign promises. The logic that a candidate must be closer to the center has been dispelled by President Obama and President Bush. Polarizing works. It breeds passion. Four out of six election cycles, the Republicans have tried appeal to independents and minorities by pushing their platform to the left. That strategy hasn’t worked and it won’t work this time. Of the candidates who have a change of securing the nomination, we’re leaning towards Ted Cruz as the one who has the best chance of making this happen and winning the election regardless of the Democratic nominee.
Finally, we have to note that the Evangelical vote is splintering. That’s why it is the most important vote in the general election this time around even though it hasn’t been for a couple of decades. To win the general election, we must solidify the need for conservative values within the Evangelical vote by demonstrating how important it is for them. They are waning because America has shifted left from a religious perspective. In essence, some are assimilating with reality rather than fighting for religious freedoms. The thought that Evangelicals would vote for Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton should be offensive to us all.
To win the election, it’s imperative that we nominate a true conservative. We can’t appeal by pretending to be closer to the center. We will appeal by demonstrating that a conservative platform will work better than a liberal one.