02.23.11

Republican Endangered Species Will Be Key to 2012

Instead of striving for party purity, GOP elephants and grizzlies must accept moderates and RINOs if they’re going to have a prayer against Obama in 2012. Mark McKinnon on why Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour are on the right track.

If the GOP is going to win the presidency back, we have to put more animals on the ark, not fewer. And that includes RINOs.

President Obama’s proposed budget cuts offer little to thwart the deluge of debt that threatens the nation—with “ endless deficit spending” and an unsustainable interest burden. While House Republicans are working furiously to stem the coming entitlement tsunami, potential GOP presidential candidates Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) and Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) are working to expand the size of the lifeboat. Having been at the helm of the ship of state, they recognize more hands on board can change the course faster.

RINOs and elephants and grizzlies, working together with moderates and other endangered species, oh my.

Historically, roughly 40 percent of the presidential electorate traditionally vote Democrat, and 40 percent vote Republican. It’s the remaining 20 percent, the independent and persuadable, who must be invited on board by the GOP to gain the majority vote in 2012 for a return trip to the Oval Office. (Though with growth of independents and erosion of support for the parties, the persuadable number could be growing to about a third.)

Conservative voters will have to determine which seemingly fatal flaw they can live with in an imperfect-but-electable GOP candidate—or face the alternative, a second Obama term.

Though Daniels calls his administration “the most pro-life administration” in Indiana’s history, the two-term governor and former director of the Office of Budget and Management under President George W. Bush was thrown overboard by some on the conservative crew last June for suggesting that the next president “ would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues” while the debt and deficits pose such a national danger.

He explained more of his thinking on the nation’s priorities in a recent interview with talk radio’s Laura Ingraham: “I would like to think that fixing it [exploding deficits and debt] and saving our kids’ future could be a unifying moment for our country and we wouldn’t stop our disagreements or our passionate belief in these other questions, we just sort of mute them for a little while, while we try to come together on the thing that menaces us all.”

And he reiterated the call for party inclusiveness in his stark economic address this month at CPAC: “ Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers...Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of communism in order to fight World War II...We are at such a moment...We must be the vanguard of recovery, but we cannot do it alone...big change requires big majorities.”

Michael Gerson explained the paradox Daniels presents: “He is a uniter with an apocalyptic message, a genial Jeremiah.”

Looking at the political realities for 2012, Daniels echoes the psychoanalysis offered by the GOP veteran Barbour last year in an interview with Newsweek: “People are crazy if they think we win by getting more pure. We win by getting big.” Barbour, the usually savvy and successful former head of the Republican Governors Association who stands on his state’s record as being the “safest state in America for an unborn child,” defended Daniels and strengthened the call to focus on economic priorities at CPAC: “The main thing is to elect a Republican president in 2012. It’s why we all need to work together...unity is what we need, that’ll help us win. Purity is not a winner in politics.”

The battle of purity versus pragmatism, or electability, is really a choice between the lesser of perceived evils. Conservative voters will have to determine which seemingly fatal flaw they can live with in an imperfect-but-electable GOP candidate—or face the alternative, a second Obama term.

Tea Party supporters rewarded candidates who pledged to uphold fiscally conservative principles in 2010, as did swing voters—independents, suburban residents, college graduates, working-class voters, and even Hispanic voters, who shifted right. Despite that historic Republican resurgence, ideological purity helped lead to two big losses for Republicans, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada. The GOP cannot win in 2012 without independents and moderates on board.

There should be room on the GOP ark for conservatives, moderates, and independents of all stripes.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.