Is the party over for Republican establishment presidential candidates?

Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call, wonders if the dominance of the GOP establishment in presidential politics might be coming to an end.

Rothenberg looks at every race since 1952, pointing out that in all but two nomination contests, conservatives were shut out.  Those two races – Goldwater's insurgent campaign of 1964 and Reagan's run in 1980 – stand out as the only victories by a candidate of the right in more than 60 years.

Some candidates like Mitt Romney have tried to run as conservatives but failed to attract much support.  But the litany of establishment winners – Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Bush 41, Dole, Bush 43, McCain, and Romney – has frustrated the right.  Until now.

So, as weak as McCain’s early campaign was and as uncomfortable as some in the party establishment were with the idea of him as the nominee, the GOP field did not offer a strong alternative.

Four years later, Romney became the candidate of the party establishment, so it didn’t matter that evangelicals and conservatives were still wary of him. He was able to win the nomination because insurgents never offered a credible alternative.

This time, things are very different.

Jeb Bush certainly has all of the establishment credentials anyone could want, including his family, experience, approach to issues and style. But he has more political baggage than normally associated with that support (including his family’s White House years), and he faces a more formidable array of opponents, including at least two with potentially broad appeal.

Moreover, the Republican Party continues to change. Rank-and-file GOP voters are angrier and more frustrated after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and they are looking for new voices that reflect their frustration and desire to roll back the Obama years.

While “blue” states such as New York and Connecticut still matter in the GOP nomination process, the decline of the party’s strength in the Northeast has cost those states delegates at Republican conventions. For example, New York sent 154 delegates to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, while the state had only 95 delegates at the 2012 convention in Tampa.

That development has strengthened the voices of Republicans in the South and conservatives nationally.

None of this means Bush or another pragmatist backed by the party establishment can’t be nominated in 2016 or beyond. But it does mean that assuming the party will nominate a hopeful backed by the establishment is both shortsighted and misguided.

The Republican Party has changed significantly from the days when it nominated people such as Dewey, Eisenhower, the elder Bush and even Dole. Even Bush must know this is not his father’s GOP.

The challenge for the right in recent decades has been an inability by conservatives to coalesce around a single alternative to the establishment candidate until late in the race.  By then, the establishment candidate has built up a huge lead in delegates, making it nearly impossible for the conservative to catch up.  In a field of up to 20 candidates, this may prove even more problematic – except in this case, the establishment has the same problem.

Christie, Bush, Graham, Pataki, and Kasich are obvious establishment candidates, and none of them is polling like gangbusters.  This means that for the first time in several election cycles, the establishment vote could be as fractured as the conservative vote.  This leaves an opening for candidates who can appeal to both Tea Party insurgents and establishment Republicans.  It's no accident that Rubio and Walker are leading the pack, given that they appear to bridge the divide between the two wings of the party.

This certainly doesn't guarantee that the race has come down to those two candidates.  But it might make it easier for the right to rally around a strong conservative while the moderate vote is split several ways.

Stuart Rothenberg, writing in Roll Call, wonders if the dominance of the GOP establishment in presidential politics might be coming to an end.

Rothenberg looks at every race since 1952, pointing out that in all but two nomination contests, conservatives were shut out.  Those two races – Goldwater's insurgent campaign of 1964 and Reagan's run in 1980 – stand out as the only victories by a candidate of the right in more than 60 years.

Some candidates like Mitt Romney have tried to run as conservatives but failed to attract much support.  But the litany of establishment winners – Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Bush 41, Dole, Bush 43, McCain, and Romney – has frustrated the right.  Until now.

So, as weak as McCain’s early campaign was and as uncomfortable as some in the party establishment were with the idea of him as the nominee, the GOP field did not offer a strong alternative.

Four years later, Romney became the candidate of the party establishment, so it didn’t matter that evangelicals and conservatives were still wary of him. He was able to win the nomination because insurgents never offered a credible alternative.

This time, things are very different.

Jeb Bush certainly has all of the establishment credentials anyone could want, including his family, experience, approach to issues and style. But he has more political baggage than normally associated with that support (including his family’s White House years), and he faces a more formidable array of opponents, including at least two with potentially broad appeal.

Moreover, the Republican Party continues to change. Rank-and-file GOP voters are angrier and more frustrated after eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and they are looking for new voices that reflect their frustration and desire to roll back the Obama years.

While “blue” states such as New York and Connecticut still matter in the GOP nomination process, the decline of the party’s strength in the Northeast has cost those states delegates at Republican conventions. For example, New York sent 154 delegates to the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, while the state had only 95 delegates at the 2012 convention in Tampa.

That development has strengthened the voices of Republicans in the South and conservatives nationally.

None of this means Bush or another pragmatist backed by the party establishment can’t be nominated in 2016 or beyond. But it does mean that assuming the party will nominate a hopeful backed by the establishment is both shortsighted and misguided.

The Republican Party has changed significantly from the days when it nominated people such as Dewey, Eisenhower, the elder Bush and even Dole. Even Bush must know this is not his father’s GOP.

The challenge for the right in recent decades has been an inability by conservatives to coalesce around a single alternative to the establishment candidate until late in the race.  By then, the establishment candidate has built up a huge lead in delegates, making it nearly impossible for the conservative to catch up.  In a field of up to 20 candidates, this may prove even more problematic – except in this case, the establishment has the same problem.

Christie, Bush, Graham, Pataki, and Kasich are obvious establishment candidates, and none of them is polling like gangbusters.  This means that for the first time in several election cycles, the establishment vote could be as fractured as the conservative vote.  This leaves an opening for candidates who can appeal to both Tea Party insurgents and establishment Republicans.  It's no accident that Rubio and Walker are leading the pack, given that they appear to bridge the divide between the two wings of the party.

This certainly doesn't guarantee that the race has come down to those two candidates.  But it might make it easier for the right to rally around a strong conservative while the moderate vote is split several ways.