Clearing the field for hand-picked Republican candidates who "can win" is both poor policy and poor politics.
When did the pro-competition, pro-free market Republican Party start squashing those principles in their own political primary system? "Clearing the field" for hand-picked candidates because a few consultants sitting in a circle say "he can win!" is both poor policy and poor politics. It also robs the voters of their right to choose.
For outside groups such as American Crossroads' reinvented "Conservative Victory Fund" to intervene in races is not new. It was attempted just last year, and with spectacular failure. Conservative senate candidate in Missouri Todd Akin and his Indiana counterpart Richard Mourdock are the easy soundbites from the 2012 GOP losses, but those memorable names hide many more failed Senate candidates who had all the king's horses and all the king's men -- and all the king's money -- and lost: Josh Mandel (Ohio), Connie Mack (Fla.), Denny Rehberg (Mont.), Rick Berg (N.D.), Heather Wilson (N.M.), Tommy Thompson (Wis.), George Allen (Va.), Linda McMahon (Conn.) and Linda Lingle (Hawaii).
Lack of controversy means little
Although none of these candidates seemed to say anything objectionable or outrageous a la Mourdock or Akin, it appears they said nothing particularly compelling, either. With the exception of North Dakota, the actual election results were not close.
The list is long, and includes candidates who had many of the criteria that the would-be-interveners seek in 2014: high name-identification, deep pockets and that mystical word, "electability." Problem is, electability cannot be proved until it does or doesn't happen.
Ironically, the establishment wizards tried to stop the two most prominent Hispanic Republicans in Washington from winning the U.S. Senate seats they now hold. In 2010 Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) overcame outgoing governor and Beltway crowd favorite Charlie Crist, and the $5 million the party spent on his behalf in the Republican primary in Florida. Rubio is now seen as presidential timber; Crist is now a Democrat.
No lesson had been learned by two years later, when Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), the Ivy League-educated, Supreme Court litigator whose father's touching story of immigration to the U.S. from Cuba commands notice by a party increasingly losing the Hispanic vote, dared to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas against the state's self-funding, popular Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The pattern was familiar: deny the electability of a "right-wing" upstart, then dismiss his growing chances, then try to destroy him.
Cruz beat the establishment interveners. Like Rubio, Cruz cannot walk down the street without being encouraged to run for president.
Smart consultants can't foretell the future
The fiction of electability is how Mitt Romney, too, overcame seven different people swiping the lead from him in presidential primary polls last year before becoming the eventual nominee. "He can win," otherwise sensible people repeated infinitely, some so confident they doubled down with "he is the ONLY ONE who can win" against President Obama. He lost.
Romney, like Sen. John McCain and Bob Dole before him, were meant to mollify moderates, attract Independents and "rebrand" the party in a way that mostly fits the ideal of media types who would never vote Republican anyhow. Each of them lost. They had something else in common: they relied upon some of the same consultants and advisers. Unless and until the party cleans out some of this "staff infection," it won't compete with a Democratic party that ignores "who can win" and attracts "who can think anew" and "who wants to work their tails off on the ground."
The Democrats are laughing all the way to the White House. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, each were told repeatedly "you can't win." They all won.
Defying the naysayers, dismissing early (meaningless) poll numbers, they produced 20 years of Democratic presidencies. And they did it with new advisers who wished to shake-up the establishment Democratic Party rather than be beholden to it. Unlike her two-term, husband-president, Hillary Clinton, was assured in 2004, "you can't lose." She did. The Republicans can learn from this.
Former President George W. Bush was told for more than two years "you can win" and lost in the first primary in New Hampshire to John McCain by 18 points. He became a better candidate overnight, and went on to win the GOP nomination and two terms as president. Nothing creates a winner quite like earning it, not just inheriting it.
Good guys, wrong views
Karl Rove and Steven Law, who ran Crossroads and are heading this new effort, are smart men whom I like and have worked with amicably. But they are wrong to deny men and women who wish to serve the right to seek elective office and presumptuous to rob the voters in each state of the right to choose their nominees. If outside donors place too heavy a thumb on the scales of the democratic electoral system, where does that leave the National Republican Senatorial Committee, or for that matter, we the people?
Since Rep. Steve King of Iowa was singled out by Law in The New York Times, it is worth noting King's impressive odds-defying victory in 2012 when so many Republicans, most of them moderates, lost. King's opponent in a new, less-GOP-friendly district was Christie Vilsack, a popular former First Lady of Iowa and wife of an Obama Cabinet Secretary, Tom Vilsack.
Christie Vilsack and her national Democratic money base and feminists spent $5 million against King and tried to make him "exhibit A" in their "war on women." For those who say "King can't win" - he just did, and big. An 8-point victory over Christie Vilsack is a rout, not a squeaker.
Compare this to the fortunes of other House candidates who ran as moderates on the campaign trail and as voted as moderates in Congress, and lost in 2012. They had voted to protect funding for Planned Parenthood, Cash for Clunkers, Cap and Trade and other doozies that did not sit well with general election voters.
Candidates matter. Campaigns matter. "He can win" or "she can't win" is up there with "I'm going to lose 10 pounds, win the lottery and live forever." Saying it does not make it so.
Voters don't ask themselves "who can win" but rather, "who can lead." And their definition of leadership is sometimes complex.
Republicans are right to feel frustrated and anxious to point fingers after two consecutive losses to President Obama and back-to-back defeats in their quest to retake control of the U.S. Senate. Catching up with demographic changes and technological advances is imperative, but pronouncing 20 months before an election who will lose is no way to win.
This post originally appeared on USA Today.