Ramesh Ponnuru vs. Ben Domenech on the Importance of Candidate Selection

Ramesh Ponnuru’s latest Bloomberg View column argues that candidate selection is overrated as a theory of why Republicans fared so poorly in Senate races in 2012:

Better candidates would have made a very good election night for Republicans in 2010 even better. This year, unlike 2010, Republicans lost most of the closely contested Senate races. Choosing the wrong candidates made those losses slightly worse, but didn’t cause the night to go sour in the first place.

Republicans have now lost seats in three of the last four Senate elections. The party’s message isn’t sufficiently attractive to win a majority of the votes, it appears, absent highly favorable circumstances. No change in the process of picking candidates can possibly fix that problem.

In The Transom, Ben Domenech pushes back, arguing that candidate selection was of central importance in 2012, citing the lackluster campaigns of Josh Mandel, Connie Mack, and Rick Berg as particularly egregious examples of GOP recruitment gone wrong. For Domenech, Heidi Heitkamp, the conservative North Dakota Democrat who defeated Berg, is a sterling example of the difference candidate selection can make. I am more inclined to take Ramesh’s side of the argument, but Ben makes a strong case. One can easily reconcile the two arguments: Mandel, Mack, and Berg failed in part because they ran campaigns that didn’t fit the national mood, and this was more than a question of competence or lack of it.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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