I actually really liked this column from Pajamas Media. Besides the sense of humor a lot of it rings true from my perspective (though clearly I don’t think Democratic presidents have been as left-wing as author Frank J. Fleming does):
The problem is that at the end of the day, conservatives are just practical people. Why do we have the bomb shelters? We like to survive. And you don’t survive by getting caught up in wild-eyed fantasies. While we want to nominate some crazed anti-politician, at the end of the day we can’t pull the trigger when we know it just means we’re guaranteeing four more years of having a far left Democrat in charge. Sure, we’d love to send an extreme right-winger to the White House screaming about how Gardasil makes you retarded — if for no other reason than to make the left apoplectic — but we know that’s not going to happen. That’s why we always end up with someone like Mitt Romney, the creator of Obamacare’s predecessor. Yes, conservatives loathe him, and he loathes us, but he seems like the best chance to win.
What I would also add is that for both the activist left and the activist right, our preferred candidates will never reach the highest office because the truth is that moderates and independents decide every single presidential election. That middle ten percent are ultimately the folks who will push every President over the top in any election.
Take a look at Howard Dean in 2004 who was by far my preferred candidate and the preferred candidate of the American left in that election. After stirring up the base and doing well in a few primaries he ultimately flamed out due to a few campaign gaffs (the completely overblown “whoo”) and the realization by lots of moderates and pragmatic Democrats that he probably could never seriously challenge Bush nationwide for those crucial independents in the battleground states (Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc). John Kerry was certainly not someone who the Democratic base was fired up about but he was, in some ways, the anti-Bush given his politics (even though their backgrounds were similarly blue blooded). There is a reason neither Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul ever get any serious traction in the primaries despite their ideological bona-fides.
The same rings true for Republicans. In 2000 George Bush ran as a moderate Republican and in many respects he was (especially as compared to today’s Republican base). Pat Buchanan never gets a serious sniff even if he fires up certain parts of the Republican base. The bottom line is, moderate presidents are the most acceptable to the most people. As much as I want single-payer health care, a drastically scaled down military and stuff like that, having %30 of the electorate support an idea isn’t quite enough and, really, it shouldn’t be. Not in any sane republic anyway.
Mitt Romney, as unsatisfactory as he might be as a candidate, is the Republican party’s best hope to win in a general election (or John Huntsman, but, yeah). He won’t be a crazed ideologue as president but what really matters in some ways are the genuinely conservative people who populate his administration during his time as President. As we saw with GWB, those kinds of actors having genuine power and authority can do lots to advance specific ideological agendas without needing Congress or any popular election to do so. The best hope for activists on either side is that their elected presidents put people in place who can change policy from the inside without being elected (this is why Congressional Republican’s intransigence when it comes to voting on Obama appointees has been a particularly effective way of undercutting the Obama presidency). As we saw with Bush the 2nd’s judicial nominees, the influence and impact of appointed officials and bureaucrats can last far longer than any presidency.