If data on Mitt Romney's 2012 White House run serves as a benchmark, Jeb Bush should not worry about courting the support of his party's most conservative members as a future presidential nominee, The New York Times reports
"There is no evidence and no reason to believe that Mr. Bush — or Mr. Romney — is unelectable in 2016 because of the demands of the conservative wing of the party," wrote UCLA political science Professor Lynn Vavreck in the Times' "Upshot" column.
"This is not to say that the campaigns candidates run or the messages they send don’t matter. They just don’t matter in this way."
Vavreck added that Bush would have a clear path in bringing party leadership on board to his campaign. "Mr. Romney won the protracted GOP nomination in 2012 not by convincing voters he had moved to the right, but by convincing party leaders and other elites that he was the most viable candidate in the race. Mr. Bush can do the same."
Vavreck came to her conclusion on Bush after analyzing voter data over the period when Romney campaigned for his primary and then the general election, where he was defeated by incumbent President Barack Obama.
"Mr. Romney did not lose the 2012 election because he was too conservative for general-election voters — or even for those who call themselves independents. The data could not be clearer on this point," Vavreck noted in the Times.
"The data are also persuasive on another point. Mr. Romney won the nomination the same way most modern-day nominees of both parties win — by shoring up the endorsements of party leaders before the first primary."
She added: “ 'When a fight breaks out, watch the crowd,' ” E.E. Schattschneider wrote in “The Semi-Sovereign People” in 1960. If you want to track Mr. Bush’s chances of winning the nomination, watch the crowd — the elite crowd in particular."
Ideologically, identification did not change much during the 2012 election cycle, she noted, calling the lines "essentially flat."
Most voters began 2012 thinking Romney was conservative but not leaning too much to the right. "Any shifting, message-adjusting or pandering that Mr. Romney did during the primaries in 2012 did not hurt him in the general election by making him seem more conservative than he was earlier in the year, and it’s not at all clear it helped him in the primaries either," Vavrek noted.
Already politicos are lining up to handicap how Bush can earn a nomination without aggressively courting his party's most conservative wing, seen by many as out of step with the more moderate electorate he would need to capture a 2016 win, The Washington Post noted
in assessing Vavrek's hopeful rationale.
"What’s the lesson here if you’re Jeb Bush — or, for that matter, some other Republican who feels the need to genuflect before conservative primary voters? It isn’t that pandering will have no cost," writes the American Spectator's Paul Waldman in a Post column about Bush.
"Wherever they put Mitt Romney on an ideological scale, voters rated him as less honest and trustworthy than Barack Obama, and his performance in the primaries probably had something to do with that. The lesson is probably that 'ideology,' at least as political junkies understand it, is something that doesn’t matter all that much to most voters."
Others, however, say Bush cannot dismiss the GOP's most conservative leaders.
"Even successful establishment candidates must 'pander' to conservatives. History hasn’t been kind to the candidates who have given them the finger, from McCain 2000 to Jon Huntsman in 2012," noted W. James Antle III in a column for The Daily Caller
. "The best way to run for president without conservative support is to seek the Democratic nomination," Antle noted.
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