The veteran Democratic pollster whose past clients include Bill Clinton in his winning 1992 presidential race said the way to go for a candidate to win the Republican nomination in 2016 is appeal to the 25 percent of party members who are moderate and then "grow that base."
At a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Stan Greenberg specifically cited former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as presidential hopefuls who could appeal to the moderate group.
Greenberg, who has also done polling for Tony Blair and Nelson Mandela, unveiled a survey his firm has done among Republicans nationwide. In a Republican Party that is increasingly conservative, Greenberg's survey found, the number of party members who considered themselves "moderate" is only 25 percent.
"And they feel disaffected because they feel they have no ability to control the future," Greenberg said. "It is hard for [the moderates] to find a place in the party that is increasingly the party of evangelicals, observant Catholics, and the tea party."
Greenberg also noted that his just-completed study found that the influential bases of evangelicals and the tea party tend to "overlap a lot" in the Republican Party nationally.
As for just who "moderate Republicans" are, Greenberg cited research showing they are "not personally hostile to President Obama," are favorable to government assisting "the vulnerable," and not so vigorously opposed as conservatives on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and global warming.
When the moderate Republicans were asked in the survey if the Republican Party shared their views, the polling found only 45 percent said yes, and only 29 percent said the party "was open to change." More than 57 percent agreed their party was "out of touch," Greenberg's polling found.
Based on this data, Greenberg believes the winning tactic for a Republican candidate in 2016 is to "put this challenge on the table" and "win the confidence of those who want to challenge [the evangelicals' and tea partiers'] hold."
"If I were Jeb Bush, I would run as a moderate," said Greenberg, "and grow that 25 percent." He added there were others in the Republican Party who could "play that role" as well, notably Christie.
Greenberg also addressed the prospects of two of the most recently mentioned GOP prospects for 2016: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and New York Rep. Peter King.
To Newsmax's question as to whether Snyder could fill that role, Greenberg was a bit skeptical.
"It's hard to imagine a Republican [presidential] candidate from Michigan," he said.
Referring to Snyder's recent call for bankruptcy in Detroit and his support of right-to-work in his state, Greenberg said: "He's part of the shift right [in Michigan]. I'm not so sure he's a moderate." Snyder has also upset conservatives within his state by supporting Medicaid expansion and a tax-funded bridge to Canada and he is not close to social conservatives.
When asked if New York Rep. Peter King could fill that role as a maverick moderate in 2016, Greenberg said, "Yes, it's possible."
Greenberg also told Newsmax that Mike Huckabee would have been "the best choice" to execute the plan of wooing moderates and challenging the established Republican order in 2008 and 2012.
Although a onetime pastor who made no secret of his social conservatism, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee sounded open to new ideas, was criticized by the tea party for supporting a gas-tax increase to repair roads in his state, and backed government programs for the poor.
Greenberg's vision of a candidate challenging the established order in a major party has been tried successfully before — by his client Clinton, when he won the Democratic nomination in 1992.
As Greenberg recalled, "Gov. Clinton ran against Jesse Jackson, disagreed sharply with [then-Nebraska Sen. and primary foe] Bob Kerrey on trade. He said he 'welcomed' [then New York Gov. Mario] Cuomo getting into the race — and we convinced ourselves we really believed that. He set out self-consciously to run against the [liberal] order of the Democratic Party. And he won."
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