How the GOP can avoid the next Todd Akin
By Chris Chocola
November 21st, 2012
As Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran takes the reins of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is dedicated to electing a Republican Senate, Republicans are reflecting on what went wrong in the 2012 elections.
In the wake of some missed opportunities to pick up seats in the U.S. Senate over the last few cycles, one tactical change floated by the GOP establishment is that the party apparatus and its affiliated Super PACs should play a more influential role in primaries to make sure that more “electable” candidates are nominated.
It is hard to imagine a bigger mistake.
First, let’s review the Senate races where the Republicans nominated so-called “electable” establishment candidates in 2012: Denny Rehberg in Montana, Rick Berg in North Dakota, Heather Wilson in New Mexico, George Allen in Virginia, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. All were establishment favorites because they were all “electable.” All of them lost.
Second, let’s review the recent history of the Republican establishment’s choices of candidates in high-profile Republican primaries against fiscal conservatives.
The names that come to mind include Dede Scozzafava, Arlen Specter, and Charlie Crist. All were supported by the Republican Party establishment as the most “electable” in their respective races. These stellar “Republican” candidates ended up either endorsing the Democratic candidate in the race or became Democrats themselves.
Finally, let’s review the candidates that ended up winning races where the Republican establishment initially opposed them. Most instructive are the names Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. All of those candidates were deemed unelectable or outside the mainstream in the past, and yet now they are viewed as major parts of the future of the Republican Party.
The Club for Growth PAC supported Toomey, Rubio, and Cruz when almost no one else would. We did so not because we deemed them electable. We did so because we deemed them principled. These candidates believe in the power of economic freedom and are able to articulate their beliefs in a way that inspires others.
Everyone wants to avoid the next Todd Akin or Christine O’Donnell, neither of whom received any support from the Club for Growth PAC. But the Republican establishment has a horrendous track record of accurately identifying which candidates are truly unelectable and which are not. Too often, party insiders mistakenly substitute the word “unelectable” for the word “conservative.”
There is a clear solution. If the GOP wants to involve itself in primaries again it should focus on supporting candidates who clearly believe in and can articulate what the Republican Party says it stands for, limited government and economic freedom. Not candidates who simply adopt whatever positions make them the most “electable.”
One of the biggest silver linings of the 2012 election is the deep Republican bench. In addition to rising stars endorsed by the Club for Growth PAC like Senators Toomey, Rubio, Cruz, Mike Lee, Jeff Flake, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul, a whole new generation of governors who support economic freedom stand ready in the wings.
While Charlie Crist went on to back President Barack Obama this year and Arlen Specter provided critical votes for Obama’s stimulus and ObamaCare, the candidates elected over the objections of the Republican establishment are providing a clear vision for the future.
If you are a Republican who yearns for the days of Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist, then you might welcome a return to GOP insiders meddling in primaries.
But if you prefer the Republican Party of Toomey, Rubio, and Cruz, you should be very leery of the folks in Washington deciding which Republicans are the most “electable.”
Chris Chocola, a former Congressman from Indiana, is president of the Club for Growth. He lives in Bristol, Ind.