Republicans: Nominate a Moderate or Lose the White House for a Generation

By Graham Glover


The Republican Party has a unique opportunity next year. It can win back the White House, keep control of Congress, and perhaps shape the Supreme Court for years to come. It can do these things and in so doing, significantly alter much of the political trajectory that President Obama and his administration has set America an during the past 7 years. On yes, the Republicans can win it all. They can have complete and total control of Washington DC, to complement their control of many statehouses and governorships. Whether or not they accomplish this political triumph may be entirely up to their primary voter.

For a Republican to be elected president, it must be a moderate. The GOP cannot nominate a rabid conservative. To win, it cannot hand the reins of its party to those on the farthest right of the American political spectrum. While I’m not sure any Republican can beat the Democratic nominee (Hillary), it will guarantee any hopes it has of regaining the White House are lost if it puts forth a staunch conservative. It may even lose the US Senate with a conservative at the top of the ticket.

For many party faithful, as well as some readers of this blog, I’m sure what I just wrote is tantamount to political heresy. “We don’t need to appease the moderates!” “Moderate Republicans never win the presidency!” “We are a party of principle, not pragmatics!” These are the cries of the hard right. These are the mantras that are popular during the primary. And if a majority of the Republican primary voters heed them, they will likely lose the White House for a generation.


First, let’s be honest about the American electorate. Americans are a moderate to moderate-left people. This isn’t to say there aren’t political conservatives out there. There are plenty. Some are social warriors, others fiscal hawks, and some who are both. But the average American voter is a left-leaning moderate, especially the undecided 10-20% that will ultimately decide who is elected president. With no more than 7 states truly in play, this election, like others, will be decided not by the party faithful, not even by how much the base turns out to vote, but by the 10-20% of those moderate-left Americans who may not be swayed until Election Day.

Second, social conservatism is a deal breaker of epic proportions for the Republicans. The GOP doesn’t need to abandon its social platforms, but it shouldn’t make those issues a centerpiece of their campaign. From Robertson to Buchanan, Huckabee to Santorum, social conservatives offer nothing to a national ticket. Placating the social warriors at the national convention and/or on the campaign trail may in fact hurt, more than help, the Republican campaign. With more and more voters becoming increasingly libertarian on social issues, a hard right conservative would be a disaster for the Republicans presidential hopes.

Third, the Republicans must make inroads with the Hispanic/Latino community if it wants to win on the national stage. It doesn’t need to win this vote (which it has zero chance of doing), but it has to perform better than Romney and McCain did. In fact, with an ever growing Hispanic/Latino population, it needs to surpass what George W. did in his two presidential wins (especially his first). But so far the message of the Party of Lincoln during this primary season has been to build walls, push immigrants out of the national discourse and future, and lay the blame of many social and economic woes on those who make up this voting bloc. A staunch conservative won’t reach out to this community, which will seal the deal on another Democrat winning the presidency.

GOP 2016 Debate

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Americans want to be inspired about the future. They want their president to be someone who casts a vision that speaks to the years to come, not the years that have passed. A conservative will likely harken to what they perceive as the glory of America’s past. They will speak of a time and place where they think America can/should return. But this vision does not win elections. This narrative does not inspire the undecided voter. Americans, whether you like it or not, look to the future – a future that is different and changing from today. Conservatism doesn’t appeal to this voter or this vision and if the Republicans make this the centerpiece of their campaign, they will see another presidential election pass them by.

It’s already going to be a stretch for the Republicans to win the Electoral College. If they nominate a conservative, the election will be over next summer. If they nominate a moderate, next November could be one of the most intriguing elections in my lifetime.

Don’t buy my political prognosis? Tell me why – not with your ideological passion, but with political realities that you think contradict my own.


41 thoughts on “Republicans: Nominate a Moderate or Lose the White House for a Generation

  1. These are all talking points of the progressives. There is not ONE piece of evidence that shows that Hispanics hate the GOP. In fact, many are moving toward Trump now. These mantras, repeated enough, may convince you. But not me or any clear-thinking American.


    1. soakland, 1) I’m not a progressive. 2) When have a significant number of Hispanics ever voted for a Republican presidential candidate? 3) Do you really think Trump can win the presidency? 4) I’m not advocating in this post for a Democratic president, only that the Republicans should choose wisely if they want to win.


  2. The culture wars, guns, abortion etc are just a smokescreen to hide the evolution of the US into a kleptocracy ruled by oligarchs. Screw them and their Republican enablers. The real issues are those of good jobs, healthcare and retirement security.


    1. Tom, I concur on jobs, healthcare and retirement being at the forefront of the issues our candidates should be discussing!


  3. Two things to add: 1) Almost everything you said is advice coming from a liberal to tell Republicans they have to be more liberal to win. Which seems a little silly, since no liberal wants any Republican to win anything. Thus the terrible advice, although I believe that part is unintentional. It’s just the way liberals think for conservatives. 2) No Republican has won any election in the past 40 years by being a moderate, except occasionally in very Democratic states and locales. Conservatives don’t vote for moderates in any numbers because they don’t stand for anything, and so moderates lose, because moderates and liberals never vote for Republican moderates either – they prefer the real thing.

    I would also say, in a different line, that none of the Republican hopefuls are moderates. Every one of them is very conservative, differing only in small degree and details. The only problem the Republican party can’t seem to shake is that the DC insiders, professional politicians, have forgotten how to fight for conservative principles. That is the central concern of conservative voters right now. That’s why Boehner and McCarthy are not the Speaker today and why Ryan is hesitating. That’s why ousiders are doing well and insiders are not. I myself am concentrated on finding a candidate who wants a fight, sooner the better. And I hope the criminal, Hillary, gets everything she has worked so hard to get.


    1. Don, I know this might shock you, but I am an undecided voter for next year! And although I know you think otherwise, I am no liberal!

      How is my argument flawed? Do you think Americans are more conservative than I noted? Does social conservatism ever win on the national stage? How will the GOP appeal to Hispanics?

      Yes, they are all conservatives, but to varying degrees. The key is how the GOP is branded as a party next November. Their choice for president will determine whether they have national appeal and whether they will win.

      Remember, if you don’t win, you can’t implement your policies. Would you be happier losing on principle or winning with a more moderate platform/message?


      1. I don’t think it matters whether Americans are right, left, or middle. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush were all social conservatives. What appealed to people was principled leadership, expectation that these men would do what they ought with a look toward the common good. Conservatism properly executed means three things – fiscal conservatism, national security conservatism, and social conservatism. Without all three, conservatives lose, because it means they are missing some element of the common good that good government is suppose to concern itself with.

        By conservatism, I don’t mean crazy right wingers. I mean doing the right thing as best as can be conceived, with ethics and skill. If you listen to these guys, although they don’t all have the same emphases or approaches, they are on board with the 3 items. They will try to spend wisely, they will protect this country from internal and external threats, and they will discourage immorality. I would say some of them (like Rubio or Jeb Bush on immigration, Graham on legislative approach, etc.) emphasize things in such a way that they seem more moderate, but a careful examination still sets them on doing what the country needs by their own understanding.


    2. The GOP is doomed by demographics and will lose relevance as older voters die off. The majority of the country is already moderate/moderate liberal and more folks vote Democratic than Republican in national elections. Gerrymandering and voter suppression won’t work much longer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What do you mean by national elections? Are they not in charge of both houses of Congress because of two recent national elections?


      2. I suppose that could be so, but the best gerrymandering only renders a few seats. Also, the courts do not let that go for long – certainly not 10 years. And Democrats do the same thing in states they control, which has been less and less over the years. I don’t think that is a substantial issue, although I am with you on the annoying nature of the practice. I myself am stuck with a very poor Dem representative in Congress because of that (in FL).


  4. There are definitely some good points here. I don’t think we need to elect a moderate, necessarily, but like you said, we need to stop harping on social issues that we’ve already lost in the broader culture.

    I think someone like Rubio, who has great conservative credentials, but is also a great communicator, would be an excellent candidate. He’s also more moderate on immigration, which pisses off many on the right, but I actually think that’s the right stance.

    Trump vs. Hillary? I’m afraid we’d be crushed in a general election. Really, I don’t know how people can take Hillary seriously, given the fact that she compromised our national security, but the new “narrative” that’s coming out is gaining some ground, so it looks like she’ll be able to successfully avoid any real consequences for her actions. That’s sad, but not surprising. If the media has your back, it seems like no one can take you down, no matter what you do.


    1. Ken, I think Rubio “could” fit the bill for a moderate candidate. Curious to see how he evolves as a national candidate during the primary season.

      Personally, I think Jeb and Kasich would be better and appeal to more voters, but you are absolutely right that Rubio is the best communicator of the bunch.


  5. Graham, I posted this on Facebook, and of course am a Jagged Word columnist so I might be accused of bias. But, I regularly disagree with columns here but find it to be refreshing. I am posting this while proctoring an exam on the early American republic and so I would like to wax on about Federalist 10 and how ideologies suffocate that vision, but “factions” are exactly what we need. I will leave that for now.
    I would like to ask something, maybe to our broader readership, but to many of our particular posts. If you disagree with a point, I would love to see the responder write: 1) what about X? or 2) have you taken into account Y? before name calling or spouting back. I dig the variety of readers, I hope that we get more variation (over at the podcast- we regularly hit political topics and find that our best discussions are with those who disagree with us, but ask “could you further explain why…..” at any rate. Jolly good post, keep at it.


    1. Don, even when we disagree I always look forward to your comments!

      I like factions, especially in Congress. I think the help shape the debate in ways that are healthy for our democracy.

      My point is that for the Republicans to win the presidency, they shouldn’t run to the right. I just don’t know how that helps them win the 5-7 contested states.


      1. I understand the point of running is to win, but I don’t think about them running to the right or left anyway. The job is to represent the constituency with respect toward the need to do what is right, instead of always doing what is expressed by the electorate. Elected representatives often find out things that the constituencey doesn’t know – thus the need for representative government. Showing people that’s what will happen, assuming the expressed views are indeed representative at the time of election, should get one elected. I expect people to be principled, to be honest about what their principles are, to hold to them when they win, and to fight for them with every ethical tool at their disposal in the face of opposition. If they are running right or left to win, I don’t see any reason to trust them anyway.

        Factions in every walk of life are factual, but unfortunately human in failings, not virtue. I guess it’s like St. Paul’s statement that “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval (1 Corinthians 11:19).” I’m not really talking about thelogical things, but the idea is similar. I always wish debate could be about getting at the truth together, instead of winning. Alas, it ain’t that way so much.


  6. New to this site so I need some terms defined. What is a moderate? What is a moderate-left? Using this definition of moderate, what is substantively different between a Republican president vs a Democrat one? Under the old definition of moderate Republican we’d get higher taxes, more government spending, and Supreme Court nominees who don’t defend the rights of the unborn. So if a moderate Republican president gets you these things, I don’t see why it makes a difference which party wins.


    1. I think a lot of it has to do with approach rather than substance. We need a government that works, which means both sides need to work with each other. If we dig in our heels and say, “all or nothing” on every issue, we’ll never get anything done. If we constantly slander and attack each other, we can’t work together.

      We need a candidate that recognizes reality as it is, which means we have to take an incremental approach to improvement. We can’t throw out 200 years of history and instantly go back to the way America was at it’s founding. Instead, we need to work to getting back to those principles in incremental steps.

      To me, that’s the problem with guys like Rand Paul. I think he’s spot on with a lot of things, but he’s so idealistic he can’t work realistically with what we’re currently facing.


    2. I won’t try to define the terms, but I don’t consider any of the current Republicans contenders “moderate.” Coddled by the corporate media, they are actually all extremist nutjobs. If any of them beat Hillary while the GOP retains Congress we are in for a national nightmare of privatized & reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits, third world levels of income disparity, and unrestrained Wall Street excess. I used to be a loyal Republican, but all their policies are against my economic interest. The miracle of the GOP is that they can hoodwink millions of non-plutocrats into voting against their own interests.


      1. Tom,
        So you are saying that the government is doing a good job (at least on the right track) with Social Security and Medicare. That income disparity isn’t a problem, but would become one under the current crop of Republicans and that Wall Street excesses are currently under control.


    3. Brian, perhaps another way to pose the question: Would you rather a less conservative candidate like Bush or Kasich, instead of Cruz or possibly Rubio, even if that meant you would lose the election?

      For a historical perspective, would you have preferred another 4 years of George H. W. Bush instead of Clinton, or was Bush 41 to moderate?

      If a Republican wins next year, which I still think will be next to impossible, legislation that the Republican Congress passes has a chance of being signed. Also, with several justices likely to retire soon, a Republican president could nominate a more conservative justice.

      Do Republicans fall on their sword or do they nominate someone who can win?


  7. You might be on to something there Tom. A little late though. I’ve been saying something similar for a while. Boehner could have gotten enough votes without the stinkin Tea Party and passed some good legislation. Instead he sat on his hands. his legacy is the do nothing congress. He might have lost his job for doing the right thing nstead we all suffer. The focus of todays conservative should be to rein in the left not take us back into the stone age.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Don, yes the GOP controls Congress, but that could change next November. Unlike 2014, the GOP is much more susceptible to lose the Senate.


    1. My point is simpler than that. That majority was won by overwhelming numbers in the last three national elections. Conservatives do win national elections. They lost the last two presidential elections because of more moderate looking candidates, who could not inspire their base to go out and vote – their conservative loss of turnout lost the elections.


  9. If winning elections means giving up the fight to end abortion and abandoning conservative values, then we certainly have no backbone. I am a Christian first, and an independent voter. I will flush my ballot down the toilet before giving it to a moderate, pro-choice Republican. If this means the Democrats win, we will have to still fight on, even if the country goes totally left.


  10. Recent experience and evidence would seem to demonstrate that a moderate Republican is actually less likely to win: Exhibit A) John McCain. Exhibit B) Mit Romney. Two moderates put forward with the claims that such moderate concessions were necessary in order to win. And what happened? Hello 8 years of what I consider to be the worst administration of modern times.

    It didn’t work the last two cycles and it surely won’t work this time. What I think is a better tactic is the branding of said Republican candidate. Karl Rove figured it out for George W. Bush with the tag line of “compassionate conservative,” though Bush turned out to be a fiscal neocon.

    Additionally, I think the bluedog Democrats that Reagan snagged are now few and far between, at least in my opinion. There are simply more undecideds and uninteresteds than anything. But then the demonization of one’s “opponent” often forces them into categories they don’t like. Such vitriol has created black and white approaches to candidates, where civility, good will, and statesmanship are a thing of the past. Though I suppose the political process has always had a degree of brutality to it. Even so, many long for the return of integrity and civility (note the current rise of Ben Carson), while others flock to one who can sling mud with the best of them (note Donald Trump’s unexpected success).

    However, if branding and image are what “sell” a candidate and is what’s needed for a Republican win, I think Carly Fiorina may have real potential in that regard. Some current polls are even tipping to her favor in a head to head with Hillary.

    So what does she have going for her? She is female, she is well spoken and has emotional oratory skills. She can stand in their with the boys without losing her humanity and femininity. She is principled and reasoned, and projects an authentic demeanor, which, when next to Hillary, distinguishes her image far more favorably. Her problem? The establishment will never except her, so if anything, she might get a VP odd on a Rubio or Cruz ticket.

    Presently, I think this election is still wide open. Hillary is far from having it in the bag given what’s still to come regarding her improprieties. True, the Clinton magic that works the system is nothing short of imperially impressive, but I think they have worn out their welcome, and are not going to have it as easy as they are used to. That is, unless Republicans stick a moderate up against her.


    1. Lucas, thanks for the comments. A few thoughts:
      1) Nobody was going to beat Obama in ’08. McCain was a great choice, but his campaign imploded after he chose the horrendous Palin and after he botched the Recession response in August. Who could have done better than McCain? Huckabee? No way.
      2) Romney proved he could match Obama, especially in the first debate. Unfortunately, I think Romney ran to hard to the right. He has always been a genuine moderate and never seemed comfortable on the national stage as a champion of the right. Still, I’m not sure even he could have overcome the Electoral College math.
      3) Absolutely agree on the imaging of compassionate conservatism that made W. so successful. Conservatism is not a bad thing (even when I often disagree with it). W. portrayed himself as a common man (even though he is far from it) who tailored his message as one that Hispanics, Blue Dogs, etc. could resonate with and support.
      4) Concur on the death of the Blue Dog. If they still exit, I am one of those. A pro-life, pro-military, traditional values Democrat. For many like me, both parties offer little on the macro-level to support.
      5) Yes Hillary is vulnerable, certainly more so than 6-12 months ago. But I don’t know how the GOP wins. I’m not sure it can pick up FL (even with Rubio), OH, VA, and a few other key states in needs to win. Fiorna was great in the last debate. Still not sure on her staying power in the primary.

      Great thoughts.

      Who knows how this thing plays out. Predicting politics is often like predicting the weather…


      1. If you vote for pro-abort politicians or parties, you are not “pro-life.” If none of the candidates on any given ballot are anti-abortion, then it would be better not to vote at all.

        As this post and all your comments here have shown, you are a man of politics and the world before you are a Christian, Graham Glover.


  11. Graham, you are absolutely correct. The country is slowly moving left. We used to be a right-center nation, but those days are behind us.

    Bush won because he promised to give tons of money back to the people (center of his campaign was tax cuts). He also seemed unlikely to soil the oval office with adultery and obstruction of justice. Obama won because he promised people health care: Romney and McCain lost because they opposed this. If Americans really hated ACA that much, they would have voted for Romney (which is why the Ted Cruz wing of the party is dreaming if they think they can repeal it).

    Republicans won’t compromise on anything which is why they won’t win.

    Millions of people receive too much from the government. This massive block of voters will certainly not vote against their own gravy train. Newsflash: these voters are NOT Republicans.

    The other major determining factor is the candidates charisma on TV. Ever since JFK, the President has needed to present himself well on TV. Reagan, Clinton, and Obama were/are brilliant on TV. Gore, McCain, Nixon, and Dukakis looked terrible on TV. Appearance is a major factor (a major, major strike against Hillary: she looks rundown and worn out).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Graham, a few quick comments:

    (1) There are no moderates in the GOP line up.

    (2) The right wing electorate is crazy. They think a TV personality, school boy from Florida or retired doctor is going to somehow fix everything/something. These are their “saviors”. If you don’t like that word or think it’s appropriate, notice that the number of comments for this article outnumber about two weeks of comments from all authors combined on this blog.

    (3) I don’t even know how the the GOP candidates can call themselves “conservative”. Are they in favor of conserving our environment and climate for future generations? Are they in favor of conserving our economy from the rise of oligarchs? Are the in favor of conserving our democratic republic from the corruption of campaigns financed by the super wealthy? Are they in favor of conserving American jobs with plans to educate a workforce which can compete globally? Are they in favor of conserving our fiscal health and the lives of our children by not entangling us in every conflict around the world?

    Really, all the GOP does is sow anger and fear, with no positive message or hope.


    1. Jean, obviously this is much about perspective. Yes, the current GOP lineup is very conservative. For them to be competitive I think they need to nominate Bush or Kasich. Otherwise, I think it’s a blowout.

      Interesting insight on the amount of comments given. Politics has a tendency to do that and I am typically (although not always, and not by rule) the politics guy of The Jagged Word.

      Love your 3). Spot on. I might plagiarize your thoughts and write a post based on them!


  13. A couple of observations…If you don’t vote don’t whine about what you get. I get disappointed when I hear someone say they won’t vote if they can’lt have the perfect candidate. Jim, you and I share the same sentiments on prolife but since 1973 I really don’t see the party putting that genie back in the bottle anytime soon. And let me tell you it was the pro lifers that elected Pataki in NY. Then he flips on us to our disappointment. He threw the prolifeers under the bus once he got into office. Second is finding a congress wiling to work with the president and each other. And that doesn’t mean caving in. Right now there doesn’t seem to be much dialogue for the common good.


  14. The obsession with abortion here is amazing, and it seems to be men only posting their opposition to the practice. Conservative opponents of abortion would be a lot more credible if they extended their compassion for “life” to children once they are out of the package.
    This means that society needs to help new parents to feed, clothe, house, and educate their children. How? By providing a secure economy with good jobs and decent wages.
    Liberal proponents of abortion are virtually unanimous in believing that abortion is NOT a good thing. However, these reality-based Americans realize that allowing abortions is the lesser evil, since if it were not legal, the back-alley abortionists would be back in business just like in the bad old days. The suffering this would cause among young women would be horrible. Or do you believe that death or disfigurement should be the penalty for sex?
    And yes, I believe that life begins at conception. But it differs in kind from the life of a person already born.


    1. Choosing to abort a baby is well-deserving of suffering. It is the murder of a human being. I understand the need for arranging some kind of assistance beforehand, and certainly the great need for grace if it does happen, but that doesn’t mean killing babies should be legal. In any case, killing a million or so babies a year doesn’t seem like a great alternative to supporting a practice that is opposed (if you are saying it true). I don’t see the great shame in conservatives opposing the practice, actually trying to make it not happen.


    2. Actually, abortion proponents believe it is a good thing, as can be seen in their own rhetoric (Lindy West, Amanda Marcotte, et al.)

      Abortion outweighs the other issues because it is the murder of an unborn child, regardless of who does it or where it takes place. It is the greatest evil occurring in America today. You claim that unborn huma life “differs in kind” from other human life. This is false; a lie you tell yourself to suppress your conscience as you support this ongoing genocide.


      1. I disagree with both your positions (1) that one is not pro-life if one votes for a pro-choice candidate, and (2) that abortion outweighs all other issues. Life out of the womb is just as sacred as life in the womb. All innocent life deserves protection.


      2. Christians do support the protection of all innocent human life.

        Leftists, who support abortion, euthanasia, population control, etc. do not.

        Voting for a candidate is a vote for all of his stated positions. Voting for a candidate who supports legal abortion (which is murder) is a vote for legal abortion.

        A truly pro-life person opposes abortion for any reason, and does not vote for or support in any way anyone who supports abortion.

        It is better to not vote at all than to engage in soul-damning compromise with the slaughter and genocide of the innocent. If I do go to the ballot box, I will vote for the candidate with the correct position on these matters, regardless of whether or not anyone thinks he will win.


    3. Tom tried to claim on a previous thread that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality, and even repeated the insane claims that David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi were homosexuals.


  15. Nicholas, always glad to have your participate on my threads. Your insight is profound and it’s great to have a genuine Christian admonish a worldly and heretic like myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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