During this past week I had a chance to reflect on the 5th annual RedState Gathering which I attended, that was held this year in New Orleans.
The event was extremely well run and attracted close to 400 loyal RedStaters who either write for or read the site. We all gathered to hear from numerous conservative leaders, including U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tim Scott (R-SC), currently the only African-American senator, who was appointed recently after Senator Jim DeMint stepped down to run the Heritage Foundation.
Three “red state” Governors also addressed the crowd: Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal (who rumor has it is planning to run for president in 2016), South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and finally the biggest, baddest, and longest serving governor in Texas history, Rick Perry.
As a long time RedState supporter, Governor Perry announced his disastrous 2012 presidential bid at the 2011 RedState Gathering and now teased the crowd that he would announce his 2016 presidential decision next summer and maybe even at the 2014 RedState gathering.
Whether Perry runs in 2016 or not, the Texas economy is flourishing and leads the nation in growth. Perry is a total rock star in my opinion and a shining example of conservative leadership principles in action.
At Saturday’s lunch before Perry spoke, I was sitting next to a man in his mid-thirties when the table conversation turned to the 2016 presidential race. I asked him who he was supporting and told me Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
Then I proceeded to ask the question I ask every Republican after they tell me who they are supporting in 2016, “Do you think Rand Paul can win 270 electoral votes?” He immediately replied, “I never thought about that question or Rand Paul from that perspective.”
For the record, I anonymously submitted that same question to Rand Paul himself at a Washington luncheon this past May. It was selected as the last question by the moderator, and Paul’s lip service answer about needing to attract voter groups who now vote Democrat provided as much clarity as my RedState lunch companion.
Saturday’s “by chance” lunch conversation and subsequent non-answer, along with Senator Paul’s answer to the same question, illustrate why the next Republican presidential nominee is going to have such a difficult, if not impossible task winning of 270 electoral votes.
The young man at lunch was not alone in his support for Rand Paul and, from my observations over the entire weekend, it appears that Senator Paul is the leading presidential candidate for 2016 among those attending the RedState Gathering.
For example, while I was enjoying myself at Governor Jindal’s Friday night reception, a woman who saw my name tag realized she had read a piece I had written and posted on RedState warning Republicans about Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the title, “Madame President” in 2016. Then, in a rather stern tone, she declared, “Rand Paul is my candidate and I am fed up with nominating moderates who only lose. So this time we must nominate a true conservative who can win.”
This sentiment was one I heard often at the RedState Gathering and hear even more frequently whenever two or more conservatives are gathered together in HIS name (Ronald Reagan that is).
Let me state emphatically, that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base.
Thus, I would be totally shocked if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could ever win the Republican nomination because he is perceived as a moderate in the losing mold of Dole ‘96, McCain ‘08 and Romney ’12.
Furthermore, as a direct result of those past losses, the primary voting base has “been there - done that”, so there will be no compromising in the selection of the 2016 nominee or you could expect a third party to emerge with disastrous electoral consequences.
My question about “how your potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination can win 270 electoral votes” is one to which I am always seeking answers. Therefore, I have made it my personal mantra to ask this question of every Republican I meet and have raised it numerous times in my writings.
However, with much sadness I predict the following three obstacles will preclude the next Republican presidential nominee from winning 270 electoral votes.
1. Awareness of the problem
My RedState lunch partner who had not even thought about the 270 question is typical of most conservative activists and primary voters. Therefore, raising the 270 question early and often should be an integral part of the 2016 GOP presidential primary dynamic. How can a problem find a solution when only a few Republicans are even willing to acknowledge that there is a problem?
2. No compromising on core principles
Conservative Republicans uphold their conservative principals as a shiny badge of honor never to be tarnished. I too am a conservative Republican, however I think the same way as Ronald Reagan who, when trying to get legislation passed in 1983, said the following:
I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process you’re not going to always get everything you want.
Sadly, I agree with former Senator and 1996 GOP Presidential Nominee Bob Dole, who appeared this past May on Fox News Sunday to discuss the growing conservative tilt among Republican primary and base voters when he stated that, "Reagan wouldn't have made it" in today’s Republican Party.
And that might actually be true, for at the RedState Gathering as I listened to speeches from a parade of Congressman, Senators and Governors, only one mentioned the C word, “compromise.”
That honor belonged to Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) in the context of mentioning his membership in No Labels, a growing, bipartisan group that is trying to forge compromise in order to pass legislation on economic issues and is not looked upon kindly by RedStaters.
But instead of the word “compromise,” all I kept hearing was “we must fight hard to uphold the principles of conservatism.”
Now, I too believe in fighting for the following conservative principals: less government; less regulation; balanced budgets; lower taxes; more personal responsibility; traditional family values; repeal and then repair Obamacare; maximizing our abundant energy resources; cutting all the waste, fraud and abuse from the entitlement programs to preserve them for the truly needy as they were originally intended; a strong national defense; and a favorable business climate that encourages entrepreneurs and investment, to name a few.
However, because conservatives are an ever shrinking minority within the electorate, it is imperative that we nominate a presidential candidate (and other leaders) who can attract moderate voters by stating that he or she, like Reagan, are willing to accept a “half loaf instead of a whole” in order to solve the difficult issues facing our nation.
Otherwise, we will remain where we are now, locked out of the White House and stuck in neutral with a gridlocked government. There is danger ahead when we allow our core conservative principles to become roadblocks to any progress.
3. GOP’s biggest problem is Democrats start with 246 electoral votes
As Republicans gear up to “take back the White House” we all need to be aware that in 2012 if Romney had won the three swing states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia, he still would have lost the election to President Obama.
If you want to explore this new reality, check out www.270towin.com. Here you can play around with each state’s electoral votes and plot your favorite candidate’s path to 270 in 2016.
For instance, let’s look at Wisconsin with its 10 electoral votes. Every four years the Republican mind-set says Wisconsin will be a swing state. Then, within a few months into the campaign the state loses it’s coveted “battleground” status as polls begin to show “blue” reality. And the truth is that not since 1984, when Reagan won in a landslide against Walter Mondale, has Wisconsin seen red.
Or take Pennsylvania with 20 electoral votes and New York with 29 -- both have been blue since Bill Clinton won them in 1992 and blue they will remain.
Then we have the mega-rich electoral state of California with its 55 votes that turned red for the last time in 1988 when George H.W. Bush won that “California guy,” Reagan’s “third term.”
After totaling the electoral votes in all the solid blue states, it becomes apparent that even a below average Democrat presidential candidate could begin the race with a whopping 246 advantage.
Let me repeat, if only for the shock value – 246 votes out of 270 is 91 percent. That means the Democrat candidate needs to win only 24 more votes out of the remaining 292. (There are a total of 538 electoral votes.)
No wonder President Obama was so confident of victory in 2012 for he knew the game was practically over before it began.
In case you need reminding, the final Electoral College score was a lopsided 332 - 206.
Here are the 20 solid blue states and their 246 electoral votes for a clearer understanding of just how skewed the Electoral College is against Republicans.
CA (55), NY (29), PA (20), IL (20), MI (16), NJ (14), WA (12), MA (11), MN (10), WI (10), MD (10), CT (7), OR (7), HI (4), ME (4), NH (4), RT (4), VT (3), DE (3), DC (3).
The Republican Party leadership, well aware of this depressing math, is now making an attempt to change the rules of the game by supporting an effort whereby states would proportionally award their electoral votes to the popular vote winner in each congressional district.
It is obvious that discarding the current “winner take all” system would vastly improve the prospects of electing a Republican president. But first, this initiative must pass state legislatures before reaching a governor’s desk where it may or may not be signed into law.
There is some precedent here, for the states of Nebraska and Maine are already using this method. However, it is unlikely that more states will follow Nebraska and Maine because this drastic change is politically “too hot to handle” for most governors, even Republican ones.
My suggestion would be to dump the entire Electoral College system and elect the president through direct “popular” vote. That, by the way, is the method favored by 63 percent of Americans.
To change from the Electoral College to direct voting would require a constitutional amendment. But it is highly doubtful that such an amendment would gain any traction in Congress since Democrat leaders love the slanted Electoral College and have no incentive to make such a change. (Yes, they remember Al Gore in 2000, but that was ancient electoral math.)
Therefore, no changes in the Electoral College means that I will continue asking my question, “Name a Republican who can win 270 electoral votes in 2016?” And please be ready with a candidate you can defend using “real” electoral math because, “I have not given that question any thought” is not an acceptable answer and could result in a potential landslide for the Democrats in 2016.