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January 30, 2015

All the recent excitement about who might be running for the Republican presidential nomination next year has been difficult for me to take seriously, and not just because so many of the GOP aspirants would be unserious candidates. With all that we have learned about the salience of party identification for voters, particularly in federal elections, I just can't see any Republican nominee being able to make the case that a Republican House, Senate, Supreme Court, and President is what Americans need or want in 2016.

Darrell West of the Brookings Institute wrote a piece this week about the potential of the Koch brothers and others like them to give the GOP enough of a financial advantage to win the presidency. He concludes in part as follows:

"Money alone, of course, does not dictate elections. Research shows clearly that public opinion, media coverage, campaign strategies, policy positions, and the nature of the times matter as well. However, during a time of rising campaign costs and limited public engagement in the political process, big money sets the agenda, affects how the campaign develops, and shapes how particular people and policy problems get defined. It takes skilled candidates, favorable media coverage, and strong organizational efforts to offset the power of great wealth....If Republicans nominate someone who relates well to ordinary voters and they tone down policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, the money story in 2016 likely will turn out very different from the last time. Billionaire activism very well could tilt a close election in favor of conservative interests."

Though West's analysis looks quite reasonable, I can't imagine how a Republican nominee could relate so well to ordinary voters that they would forget that Republican control of the entire federal government would empower the long list of GOP "wacko birds" that have pulled their party to the far right on virtually every major policy issue over the last 8 years. I also cannot imagine how the Republican nominee will be able to "tone down policies that disproportionally benefit the wealthy." I realize that voters might sometimes have short memories, but with Republican majorities on Capitol Hill doing battle with an emboldened Barack Obama while the 2016 presidential election is being contested, no amount of "toning down" by the nominee will obscure the extremism and lack of interest in addressing economic inequality that congressional Republicans can't help but display over the next two years. If they still have five different responses to the president's State of the Union address next year, you can bet that McConnell and Boehner will not be able to tame their Tea Party tormentors enough to give cover to their party's presidential nominee down the stretch. Convincing Democratic and independent voters that a Republican president would be similarly beholden to his party's extremists seems like a layup that no amount of money could effectively block.

The 2016 race for the White House will no doubt be covered by the media as if it were a Super Bowl game between the Patriots and Seahawks, the two best teams in football, but I think candor requires we admit that as of now the Republicans are without a star quarterback or a winning game plan and that they are very likely headed for their third straight defeat in the big game.

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