Recently, I attended a political event where about 400 conservative Republicans gathered to hear an impressive parade of conservative congressman, governors, and senators.
As I was chatting with a man in his mid-30s, the conversation turned to the 2016 presidential race. When I asked him who he was supporting as the Republican nominee, his answer was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Then I was prompted to ask the question I ask every Republican after they tell me their preferred candidate: “Do you think Rand Paul can win 270 electoral votes?” The man immediately replied, “I never thought about that.”
For the record, I anonymously submitted that same question to Rand Paul himself at a Washington luncheon this past May. It was selected as the last question by the moderator, and Paul largely deflected it, instead speaking vaguely about the need to attract Democratic voter groups.
There is no doubt that Senator Paul is gaining traction among the conservative Republican base—for whenever two or more conservatives are gathered together in His name (Ronald Reagan, that is) Paul is always mentioned as someone who could lead the charge to take back the White House.
Also, let me state that the concept of nominating someone more conservative than ever in 2016 is a foregone conclusion among the Republican base. That is to say, I would be totally shocked if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won the nomination, because he is perceived as a moderate in the losing mold of Dole ’96, McCain ’08, and Romney ’12.
Furthermore, as a direct result of those past losses, the primary voting base has a “been there, done that” attitude, so there will be no compromising in the selection of the 2016 nominee, or you can expect a conservative third party to emerge with disastrous electoral consequences.
As I continue to ask the question “What Republican can win 270 electoral votes in 2016?” there are no good answers, because the following three obstacles serve as cement barriers blocking the GOP from the White House driveway.
1. Awareness of the problem
The Rand Paul supporter who had not even thought about the answer to the 270 question is typical of many, if not most, conservative activists and primary voters. Therefore, raising the 270 question early and often should be an integral part of the 2016 GOP presidential-primary dynamic. How can a problem find a solution when only a few Republicans are even willing to acknowledge that there is a problem?
2. No compromising on core principles
Conservative Republicans uphold their conservative principles as a shiny badge of honor never to be tarnished. I, too, am a conservative Republican. However, I think like Ronald Reagan, who when trying to get legislation passed in 1983 said the following:
“I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process you’re not going to always get everything you want.”
Sadly, I also agree with former senator and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, who appeared this past May on Fox News Sunday to discuss the growing conservative tilt among Republican primary and base voters when he stated that “Reagan wouldn't have made it” in today’s Republican Party.
That might actually be true, for at my conservative event, as I listened to speeches from a host of elected leaders, only one mentioned the “C word”: compromise. Instead of “compromise,” all I heard was “we must battle and fight to uphold the principles of conservatism.”
Now, I also believe in fighting for conservative principles, but realizing that conservatives are an ever shrinking minority within the electorate, it is imperative that Republicans nominate a presidential candidate (and other leaders) who can attract moderate voters by stating that he or she, like Reagan, are willing to accept a “half loaf instead of a whole” in order to solve the difficult issues facing our nation.
Otherwise, the GOP will remain locked out of the White House and leave our nation stuck in neutral with a gridlocked government. There is danger ahead for conservatives when core conservative principles are used as roadblocks to any progress.
3. The GOP’s biggest problem is that Democrats start with 246 electoral votes
As Republicans gear up to “take back the White House” conservatives need to be aware of one startling fact: in 2012 if Romney had won the three swing states of Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, he still would have lost the election.
If you want to explore this new reality, check out www.270towin.com. There you can play around with the interactive map and plot out your favorite candidate’s path to 270.
For instance, let’s look at Wisconsin, with its 10 electoral votes. Every four years the Republican mindset says Wisconsin will be a swing state. Then, a few months into the campaign the state loses it’s coveted “battleground” status as polls begin to show its “blue” reality. The truth is that not since 1984, when Reagan won in a landslide against Walter Mondale, has Wisconsin seen red.
Or take Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes, and New York, with 29—both have been blue since Bill Clinton won them in 1992, and blue they will remain.
Then there’s the mega-rich electoral state of California with its 55 votes that turned red for the last time in 1988 when George H.W. Bush won that “California guy” Reagan’s “third term.”
After totaling the electoral votes in all the terminally blue states, an inconvenient math emerges, providing even a below average Democrat presidential candidate a potential starting advantage of 246. Here are the states and their votes:
CA (55), NY (29), PA (20), IL (20), MI (16), NJ (14), WA (12), MA (11), MN (10), WI (10), MD (10), CT (7), OR (7), HI (4), ME (4), NH (4), RT (4), VT (3), DE (3), DC (3).
Let me repeat, if only for the shock value: 246 votes out of 270 is 91 percent. That means the Democrat candidate needs to win only 24 more votes out of the remaining 292. (There are a total of 538 electoral votes.)
With this in mind, David Plouffe, Obama’s chief campaign strategist, predicted in June 2011 that Obama would win over 300 electoral votes. Plouffe stated his early prediction to Dan Balz of The Washington Post and it appears in Balz’s new book, Collision, about the 2012 campaign.
No wonder President Obama was so confident of victory in 2012, for he knew the game was practically over before it began. In case you need reminding, the final Electoral College score was a lopsided 332–206.
The Republican Party leadership, well aware of this depressing math, is now making an attempt to change the rules of the game by supporting an effort whereby states would proportionally award their electoral votes to the popular vote winner in each congressional district.
It is obvious that discarding the current “winner take all” system would vastly improve the prospects of electing a Republican president. But first, this initiative must pass state legislatures before reaching a governor’s desk, where it may or may not be signed into law.
There is some precedent here—the states of Nebraska and Maine are already using this method. However, it is unlikely that more states will follow Nebraska and Maine because this drastic change is politically “too hot to handle” for most governors, even Republican ones.
My suggestion would be to dump the entire Electoral College system and elect the president through direct “popular” vote. That, by the way, is the method favored by 63 percent of Americans.
To change from the Electoral College to direct voting would require a constitutional amendment. But it is highly doubtful that such an amendment would gain any traction in Congress since Democrat leaders have grown fond of the severely slanted Electoral College and have no incentive to make such a change. (Yes, Democrats also remember Al Gore in 2000, but that was ancient electoral math.)
Therefore, no change to the Electoral College means that I will continue asking my question, “What Republican can win 270 electoral votes in 2016?”
And if you are a Republican, please be ready with a candidate you can defend using “real” electoral math. “I have not given that question any thought” is not an acceptable answer and could result in a potential landslide for the Democrats in 2016.