The Electability Question
Who can beat President Obama in the fall on the Republican side? The question of electability is the main point of concern among Republicans so far in this cycle. To date, a handful of former first-tier candidates have succumbed to the specter of electability including Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty and yes, even the “perfect candidate” Michelle Bachmann. With only four candidates left in the field, the electability question is even more intense as primary and caucus voters have weighed in with their views. My question to the electability question is WHAT IS ELECTABILITY?
As a teacher of political science, and a staff member of several successful presidential campaigns, here are the important measures of electability: Money, Organization and Message. Here are the facts about the three factors… only One of Them counts in the fall; while the other two are the only reasons why Romney is still in the race for the Republican nomination.
The Romney campaign has pushed the electability mantra as their sole message for the past year. Their logic is that their candidate is the only one that will have the money, organization and message to defeat President Obama. Here are the facts – as I mentioned to my students last night in lecture, and what Senator Santorum mentioned in his CPAC address this morning, both parties will have about the same amount of money and organizational strength; the deciding factor will be the message. Mitt Romney’s only chance to win the nomination will be if he can continue to convince people who have money to disregard the fact that he has no credibility to be elected.
It is a historical fact that in a general election, where a moderate Republican has gone up against a Democrat, the moderate Republican loses BADLY. These elections include open seats (McCain), challenger seats against Democratic incumbents (Dole) and re-election bids for Republican incumbents in the White House (Ford, George H.W. Bush). When there is a contrast in message, when the American people can choose between a Democrat and a Republican nominee that has credible Conservative values and a vision, the Conservative candidate wins (Reagan, George H.W. Bush – 88, George W. Bush).
There are two electability questions that should be asked – who can win the Republican nomination and who can beat President Obama? What is more important – money and organization to win the nomination OR credibility of message to win the Presidency?
If Rick Santorum wants to win the nomination, someone on his campaign staff better figure out how to communicate this to Republican voters and donors before Santorum’s message gets lost in the uninspired mediocrity of organization.