There are two competing lines of conventional wisdom about how to win an election. Both make sense in theory and both are argued by people of good will and of serious intellect and accomplishment. Which one is right is of no small importance since winning this election will most assuredly determine the fate of America and may well determine the eventual fate of the world.
The first argument -- often voiced by Michael Medved -- is that since elections are won in the middle (and there is no doubt that at least in a sense they are) the best way to assure victory is to choose the most centrist of the available candidates. The idea is that whoever the nominee is in either party, he is assured of the overwhelming majority of those who fall on his side of the political spectrum, the battle then, is for a simple majority of the remainder.
If Medved is right – and defeating Barack Obama trumps all of your other concerns – then Mitt Romney is your guy.
The second is the strategy employed by “The Architect,” Karl Rove. Its premise is that since elections are won in the middle, make the number of votes one needs to win from the middle as few as possible. This is accomplished by growing, energizing and getting out the folks on your side of the political spectrum, something that is best accomplished by the Republicans by choosing a true and articulate conservative. In the remainder of this year’s crop, that would be Newt Gingrich or, if things change, Rick Santorum.
So, which one of these strategies is right? Let’s dig deeper.
The “centrist” strategy is based on the assumption that party affiliation is about even in America and, in fact, it is (35.4-to-32.7) If this were as far as it went, then the “centrist” theory would be right. But a new survey from the Gallup Organization – confirming the results from previous such surveys -- offers very different numbers when it comes to voters’ ideological affiliations, with Americans self-identifying as conservative almost two-to-one rather than liberal (40-21).
If you buy into my assumption that Conservatives are more to the right than are Republicans and Liberals are more to the Left than are Democrats, then the political spectrum would go like this (from right-to-left) Conservative (40) – Republican (35) –Democrat (33) –Liberal (21).
Conventional wisdom is that as you get to the “extremes” you find more fervent supporters but fewer of them. But that is not what these numbers show. These numbers show that the furthest right candidate gets the most support not only from within his own party, but across the entire spectrum. Further, the more to the left he moves, the more support he loses, going from 40 as a Conservative to 35 as a Republican, to 33 as a Democrat to just 21 as a Liberal.
The conventional wisdom is wrong, then, in another sense. “The center” where elections are to be won is not found somewhere between Democrat and Republican or conservative and liberal, equidistant from each, it is significantly further to the right.
Another way of looking at this is to recognize that, given two choices from their half of the spectrum (conservative/Republican or Democrat/liberal) both sides pick the furthest right of the options. This means the entire political spectrum as it is now understood needs to be shifted significantly to the right to achieve accuracy.
The candidate who runs as a conservative, then not only starts with the most votes, he starts out with the most energized supporters as he has remained true to the cause. Already fervently supported by four out of ten voters, he only then begins to campaign to win over but one of six of the remaining votes, doing so from an electorate far closer to his beliefs than the “conventional wisdom” has it and far further from the reality of the candidate he is opposing (Barack Obama.)
Every iteration to the left only weakens this candidates stance as he goes from forty percent (and fervent) support to thirty-five percent and tepid support to 33 percent and antatonism from his own electorate to 21 percent and antagonism from the entire nation.
The winning formula in America today is not to muddy the waters with moderate stands or to “move to the middle” – not the real one and, even worse, the one defined by the old conventional wisdom. It is to nominate a true conservative, one articulate enough to make the case for the ideas that are not only held by a plurality of Americans but which are closest to the true beliefs of virtually all Americans.