Another Reason Ted Cruz or Rand Paul Won't Win the GOP Primary in 2016

It's long been known by political scientists that the longer a party has been out of power -- that is, has not held the presidency -- the more likely it is to nominate a moderate. This is one reason, out of many, that we can expect Chris Christie to emerge as the Republican standard bearer in 2016.

Another reason why the far right-wing of the Republican Party, the Tea Party wing, will not get its wishes is because new research shows that when a party nominates an extremist, it vote share falls by a significant amount (e.g., Barry Goldwater in 1964). While the research actually studied primary elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, it certainly sheds light on voting behavior of the public in any general election; as the paper notes:

When an extremist (as measured by primary-election campaign receipt patterns) wins a "coin-flip" election over a moderate, the party's general-election vote share decreases by approximately 12 percentage points, and the probability that the party wins the seat decreases by 38-46 percentage points.

That is a significant penalty. However, in safe districts, parties are freer to run more extremist candidates:

Because extreme nominees are more likely to win office anyways in safe districts, the effect on downstream roll-call behavior washes out or, in especially safe districts, even goes positive. The tradeoff voters face is therefore variable: in competitive districts they ought to support more moderate primary candidates (if they care about winning the office), but in safer districts they have more slack to support extremists.

So, at the House level, this research provides more evidence that gerrymandering is not blame for partisanship. Extremist politicians come from safe districts, not because they're gerrymandered, but because people self-select to live near those like-minded, ideologically speaking (along with the urban-rural divide).

But this research also lets us extrapolate about general elections which is what any presidential election will be. The parties, as they conduct their respective "invisible primaries," are vetting candidates not only to make sure they're ideologically palatable, but also electable. (I suppose the Democrats' analogue to Cruz/Paul would be Elizabeth Warren who is more progressive than Hilary Clinton).

And make no mistake, the party elites are well aware of the dangers of nominating an extremist candidate, even more so when that candidate is perceived by the mainstream media to be extremist, as are Cruz and Rubio. Meanwhile, the press -- as for right now, just wait until the vetting process kicks in -- loves Christie, as do the big donors who lined up to kiss the brass ring in 2012 in a failed attempt to get him to run.

Getting worried about a Ted Cruz/Rand Paul presidency is tilting at windmills. Focus your energies elsewhere.

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