I was part of a panel a few days ago on politics, culture and the media. And the first question put to us was right to the point: “Can Barack Obama win re-election?”
Political guru Dick Morris, Tea Party unofficial leader Dick Armey, a scholar from the Heritage Foundation all said, No. It’s tough to argue with that. President Obama’s approval ratings are not good and most Americans think we’re on the wrong track. He’s lost support from his key constituents, including Jewish voters and African-Americans. Worst of all for the president, independents who supported him in 2008 have jumped ship in big numbers.
Like the others, Dick Armey offered a smart analysis of why Obama is in big trouble. But unlike the others, he ended his analysis saying, quietly and almost as an afterthought, Obama can’t win, “Unless the Republicans nominate the wrong candidate.”
That’s like saying, “Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you enjoy the play?
“Unless the Republicans pick the wrong candidate” is hardly a throwaway line, despite the fact that that’s how it was delivered. It just may be the single most important consideration in this whole discussion.
I was the odd man out on the panel. I said, Yes, Barack Obama can be re-elected – but it won’t be because the economy is in great shape on Election Day. And it won’t be because the unemployment rate has dropped from nine percent to six percent, or seven percent or even eight percent. It won’t be because a majority of American do an about face and suddenly believe the nation is on the right track, I said. And it won’t be because Al Qaeda has raised the white flag and said Barack Obama was the reason they were putting an end to their evil ways.
If Barack Obama wins, I said, it would be because Republicans have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It will be because the Republicans picked the wrong candidate.
How would this come about? Let’s start with the fact that there’s a split in the Republican Party. There are two separate and distinct factions. One that demands conservative purity in its candidate for president and one that is far more practical and will gladly accept any candidate who can beat President Obama, no matter how moderate.
The purists want the most conservative Republican candidate to be nominated. They detest moderates. Compromise to them is tantamount to a crime against humanity. Rush Limbaugh and some members of the Tea Party are the loudest voices on the purity side.
The other side consists of followers of the late William F. Buckley, who famously said that he would support the most viable conservative candidate in any race – meaning the most conservative candidate who can actually win.
But wait, the purists say, the most conservative candidate can win. I’m not so sure. Look at it this way: Rush Limbaugh is the most famous conservative in America. He’s smart, articulate and expresses conservative ideas better than just about anyone. But Rush couldn’t win a national election. He’s way too polarizing a figure. So if Rush couldn’t win, why do the purists think that someone like him could?
As for the Tea Party: Its members have done a lot of good. Without them we might not be having a national debate about the spending and deficits and debt that are crippling our economy. They deserve our thanks and a lot of credit. But the Tea Party also brought us Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell – two horrible candidates who lost in states that Republicans would almost certainly have won if the Tea Party had thrown its support behind more moderate – more electable -- candidates.
The Buckley faction would rather have a moderate Republican in the Senate, who will vote with his or her party only half the time, rather than a liberal Democrat who will never vote with the Republicans. And that’s what Nevada and Delaware wound up with: two liberal Democrats who back President Obama on just about everything. That’s the price Republicans pay for ideological purity.
I’m with the Buckley faction. I want to win. I will accept any Republican who can beat Mr. Obama. I’d vote for Charlie Sheen if he ran on the GOP line. But if the purists have their way, if the most conservative candidate in the pack manages to win the nomination, I fear there will be a second term for President Obama.
The good news for Republicans is that even if the purists don’t get their way, they’ll hold their nose and vote for a moderate, someone like Mitt Romney. They have no place else to go. And they won’t stay home on Election Day, either. They dislike the president too much to sit home and pout.
The bad news for Republicans is that independents – who have no roots in either party – might not be as generous. They may not support President Obama today as the polls tell us, but the election isn’t being held today. If the Republicans pick the wrong candidate – someone who is too doctrinaire, too uncompromising, yes, too conservative, there’s a good chance the independents will vote for Obama just as they did in 2008 – even with a bad economy.
And if Republicans lose they won’t be able to blame anybody but themselves; not Democratic scare tactics aimed at the elderly, not the president’s penchant for class warfare, not even the so-called mainstream media that once again will jump on the Obama bandwagon. If Obama wins, it will be because Republicans opted for purity and handed Barack Obama the victory.
That great American political philosopher Yogi Berra knew what he was talking about when he said, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”
Bernie Goldberg is a journalist, author and Fox News analyst. He is the winner of 11Emmy Awards and has written five books on the media and American culture, including the No. 1 best-seller "Bias." His most recent book, "A Slobbering Love Affair," is about the mainstream media's fascination with Barack Obama. You can learn more about Bernie Goldberg by visiting his website at www.bernardgoldberg.com.