Politics & Policy

Conservative Purists Could Cost the GOP the White House in 2016

(Scott Olson/Getty)

In the late 1970s, TV Guide ran a poll to find out which sportscaster fans liked the most and which one they disliked the most. Howard Cosell finished first in both categories. Which brings us to Donald Trump, another loud, over-the-top, brash personality.

According to the latest Quinnipiac University national poll, when Republicans were asked who they would vote for if the primary for president were held today, Trump finished first. When asked who they definitely would not support for the nomination, the very same Donald Trump finished first again.

Being a polarizing figure didn’t hurt Howard Cosell. Even people who said they didn’t like him tuned in to watch the game — and, truth be told, to watch him, too. But politics is different. In that arena, you can get away with being polarizing after you win the election — Barack Obama is proof of that. But polarizing pols have a tough time winning in the first place; the math doesn’t add up.

So, if these were normal times, the numbers would be bad news for The Donald. But these are not normal times. Pundits who are still confidently saying he can’t win the nomination are the same ones who said he’d never get this far. Or to put it another way: The smarties aren’t as smart as they think they are.

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When voters were asked what the first word was that came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump, respondents said “arrogant,” followed by “blowhard” and “idiot.”

And when voters were asked what the first word was that came to mind when they thought of Hillary Clinton, they said “liar,” followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy.”

Note well: These two are the front-runners! Rodney Dangerfield got more respect.

So which party is in more trouble? You can make a case that it’s the Republicans.

Democrats may prefer Bernie Sanders, or one of the others, but when push comes to shove, almost all of them will vote for Clinton.

While 26 percent of Republicans say they would never vote for Trump, only 11 percent of Democrats say they would never vote for Clinton. Democrats don’t have the same kind of ideologically pure wing that has hurt GOP presidential candidates in the past. Democrats, it seems, are more practical. They may prefer Bernie Sanders, or one of the others, but when push comes to shove, almost all of them will vote for Clinton. Why? They want to win.

I recently received an e-mail from someone named Carl who described himself as a conservative Christian, and he wrote, “I have voted Republican since Eisenhower beat Stevenson, and if Jeb, Christie, Kasich, or Graham are nominated, I WILL STAY HOME!” 

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Carl is not alone. I received similar e-mails during the last two presidential campaigns and millions of the ideologically pure — who normally would vote Republican — did in fact sit home, if not handing the elections to Barack Obama, at least making it a lot easier for him to win.

These purists have told me that there’s little or no difference between a moderate Republican and a liberal Democrat. They’re delusional, of course, blinded by their hard-right ideology, but that’s what they believe nonetheless. And depending on who the GOP nominee is, they could represent big trouble for the party.

#related#Finally, consider this: In the last six presidential elections, 18 states have voted for the Democratic candidate every time, totaling 242 electoral votes — just 28 short of victory. That means Democrats are about 90 percent of the way to winning the White House even before the actual voting begins.

Of course, anything can happen. Technically, history tells us only about the past. But it’s often a good indicator of what lies ahead.   

So if Republicans hope to win in 2016, they will have to unite and support the GOP candidate whoever he or she is. Republicans, who today are vowing to never support Donald Trump, will have to reconsider, should he win the nomination. And the conservative purists, who swear they will never vote for a moderate, will have to abandon their ideological purity — or abandon all hope of a GOP victory.

This won’t be easy. But it’s the only thing certain in this summer of uncertainty.

— Bernard Goldberg is a news and media analyst for Fox News and the author of Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News. His website is BernardGoldberg.com.

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