What Happened to Electability?

Where did “electability” go as a top criterion for primary voters?

Last night, Rick Santorum won three primaries (although one was a beauty contest, apparently). This is a fascinating shift from primary voters – some from just a few weeks ago – who viewed electability as a compelling concern.

Perhaps this is because Romney supporters thought he had it in the bag? Or because only the far-to-one-side voters show up when the election appears to be in the bag?

At this stage, Republican candidates are focused on appealing to the base, and that base is fractured. With Santorum appealing to evangelical voters, Ron Paul bringing libertarian and Tea Party supporters to the table and Gingrich appealing to … someone, the most centrist (and most electable) candidate – Romney –  is appealing to voters who aren’t listening.

Recent skirmishes about abortion, birth control and foreign policy issues (like Iran) are airing Republicans’ dirty laundry to a gawking public. The evangelical and Tea Party voters turning up for the primaries don’t represent most of American voters’ views – and for both the GOP and for civil society at large, that’s a pity.

This race to the base – a battle of extremes – is destructive to either party’s ability to lead real change. It sets unrealistic expectations, hampers representatives’ ability to negotiate compromise and belies a rich American history of the politics of the middle. Where do we go from here?  More broken politics and dying discourse.

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