As a growing number of conservatives insist that the GOP needs to rethink or at the very least recast its ideological commitments in order to remain politically viable, Seth Masket offers a contrary view in a recent issue of Pacific Standard:
Some political science studies have noted that members of Congress who vote too ideologically or too often with their party tend to pay an electoral price for it. And, to be sure, while polarization is occurring today among both parties, the Republicans appear to be running to their extreme more quickly than the Democrats are running to theirs. What we don’t see, however, is evidence that this extremism is hurting Republicans electorally, at least not yet. If the economy had been experiencing a recession last year instead of modest growth, Mitt Romney would be president today.
Masket doesn’t dismiss this possibility out of hand, and he offers a useful corrective to the DLC narrative. But he remains skeptical of GOP doomsaying:
Would it help for the Republicans to have such an effort today? Well, maybe, but there’s not overwhelming evidence that they’re suffering for being ideologically extreme just yet. Yes, the Republicans lost the popular vote in five of the past six elections, but that can largely (with the possible exception of 2000) be explained by economic growth trends. Barack Obama did almost exactly as well as we should have expected last year given the economy’s record of slow but steady growth. Had there been a recession last year, it would be President Mitt Romney writing congratulatory messages to Pope Francis this year, regardless of his (Romney’s) ideological stances. It’s possible that Tea Party insurgencies have led to a few Republican Senate losses in the last two cycles, but that’s about it.
Parties do tend to moderate the longer they’re out of power, so it’s not surprising to see them having conversations along these lines. But we don’t have much reason to think they’ve made themselves unelectable just yet. History suggests that, knowing nothing about the candidates or the conditions of the economy three years from now, they’ve got about a 50-50 shot at winning the next presidential election. Chances are that some sort of GOP-DLC won’t really change that coin toss.