Republicans’ Nomination Woes Keep On Coming

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Another round of primaries on Tuesday, along with the resolution of one from last week, gave us a new trend for 2018: Republicans are still having a lot of trouble nominating good general-election candidates. Democrats, meanwhile, continue to mostly choose seemingly electable candidates in contested elections, even if they are nominating some very liberal people in safe and hopeless seats.

Two Republican nominations decided Tuesday were gubernatorial choices in Minnesota, where former governor Tim Pawlenty was defeated by Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, and in Kansas, where Governor Jeff Colyer conceded to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had a very narrow lead after last week’s primary. 

We don’t know whether either of these picks will cost Republicans anything. In Minnesota, Democrat Tim Walz, a member of the House, would have been mildly favored against Pawlenty anyway. And Kobach remains more likely to win than not in very Republican Kansas. Still, most observers think Pawlenty would have given Republicans a better chance than Johnson, and a weak top of the ticket — if that’s what they have — could also affect down-ballot contests. And in Kansas, which is still recovering from very unpopular Republican former governor Sam Brownback, nominating Kobach probably gives Democrats a plausible, if still very uphill, path to victory, and, as with Minnesota, a less-successful top of the ticket could hurt other Republicans. Since the Cook Political Report rates six House districts in those two states as toss-ups, that down-ballot effect if it happens could be a very big deal.

Democrats, of course, don’t always pick the best November candidates, either. But for the most part, Democrats are selecting very liberal nominees (who could alienate swing voters) in districts where it won’t make a difference, such as the New York district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset incumbent Joseph Crowley.  

The odd thing is that in some ways, Republicans have proven more tolerant of moderates in some highly Democratic states. That explains Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Vermont Governor Phil Scott, all of whom appear to be well-positioned for re-election in November. I don’t think West Virginia’s Joe Manchin or Alabama’s Doug Jones, both moderate Democrats, are quite as conservative as those Republican governors are liberal. So sometimes, it seems, Republicans can support candidates who do what they have to in order to win in their districts. And yet there are also plenty of cases like those of Johnson and Kobach in which Republicans just seem indifferent to general-election success. 

For their part, Democrats rarely go against the mainstream of the party network, as Meredith Conroy, Nathaniel Rakich and Mai Nguyen explain over at FiveThirtyEight — see also work by Casey Dominguez and Hans Hassell. But as Conroy, Rakich and Nguyen correctly point out, that doesn’t mean that Democrats are nominating moderates; it just means that the party as a whole is pretty liberal these days. What they do seem capable of doing, however, is selecting candidates who at least so far appear to be good fits for their districts. 

1. Maya Kornberg at the Monkey Cage on congressional hearings: They’re not all partisan circuses

2. Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics has the numbers on what happens when House special-election candidates have a rematch in the regular election: The loser of the special usually loses again

3. James Goldgeier and Elizabeth N. Saunders at Foreign Affairs on “the unconstrained presidency.” 

4. Lindsay M. Chervinsky on the history of presidential cabinet scandals.

5. And my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Timothy L. O'Brien on President Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault-Newman

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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