As The New York Times’ Nate Cohn astutely observed in January, Republicans in blue states hold surprising power in the GOP presidential primary process even though they are “all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats.” This explains why Republicans have selected relatively moderate presidential nominees while the party’s members in Congress have continued to veer right.
The key to this pattern: “Blue-state Republicans are less religious, more moderate and less rural than their red-state counterparts,” Cohn concluded after crunching Pew Research survey data. By Cohn’s math, Republicans in states that Obama won in 2012 were 15 percentage points likelier to support Romney in the 2012 primary and 9 points likelier to support McCain in 2008 than their red-state compatriots. Romney and McCain’s advantage in blue states made it “all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination,” Cohn wrote.
Blue-state Republicans have already propelled moderates in the 2016 money chase. According to Federal Election Commission filings, donors in the 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992 have accounted for 45 percent of Rubio’s total itemized contributions, 45 percent of Bush’s, 53 percent of Fiorina’s and 85 percent of Chris Christie’s. By contrast, they’ve provided just 20 percent of Cruz’s contributions and 36 percent of Carson’s. For comparison, blue-state Republicans cast just 37 percent of all votes in the 2012 GOP primaries.[SUP]2[/SUP]
What’s more, an imbalance lies in a nuance of the RNC’s delegate allocation. Although it can be a byzantine process, here are the basics: The RNC allows state parties some leeway in how to award delegates to candidates. In a few states, including Florida, Ohio and Arizona, the primary winner wins all the state’s delegates. In most others, delegates are allocated either proportionally to votes or by the winner in each congressional district.
A total of 832 delegates (about 34 percent of all 2,472 delegates) spanning 23 states will be awarded based on results at the congressional district level. Here’s the catch: According to the RNC’s allotment rules, three delegates are at stake in each district, regardless of the partisan lopsidedness of the seat. This creates a “rotten boroughs” phenomenon in which Blue Zone Republicans’ votes can be disproportionately valuable.
But the bigger boon to Rubio, Bush and other moderates is that the opinions of GOP voters in places like Massachusetts count at all in this process — in an era when the Bay State sends zero Republicans to Congress. It’s a huge factor that many pundits tend to overlook, and it’s why the temperament and qualities that the broader party looks for in a nominee differ so much from those of the loudest and most ideological Freedom Caucus types in Washington.
It’s not that national polls are skewed in favor of conservative, red-meat Republicans. It’s that the Republican Party’s delegate geography rewards their moderate rivals.
Don’t be so sure it’s not a “RINO” year.