When Romney loses, it won't be because he was too moderate

Barring a major game-changer, Mitt Romney looks like he's toast. Obama has a comfortable lead in nearly every poll, Romney is still desperately casting about for a campaign theme, and early voting has already begun in many states. What's perhaps even more telling is that Republicans both inside and outside the Romney campaign have started either playing the blame game or trying to come to grips with what a Romney loss means for the party.

Conservatives, who now enjoy nearly absolute control over the party, are ready with an answer: Blame party leaders who pushed  for "moderate" Mitt Romney. The problem, they insist, is that Romney isn't conservative enough. His defeat will be proof that the Republican party needs to move even farther to the right.

I'd love to believe that an Obama victory, along with Democratic gains in the House and Senate, would make the Republican Party stop for a moment and question whether it's wise to let the conservatives continue to lead the party ever further rightward. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. Nevertheless, as Republicans sink into a spiral of self-recrimination, I'd like to ask them to look at the actual evidence. The fact is, it's arch-conservatives who are holding your party back. After the break, we'll look at a bit of evidence.
Let's start with Romney. Yes, at one time, he was a moderate. However, he's spent the last 10 years reshaping himself into a "severe conservative." Furthermore, he signaled his commitment to a hardline right-wing agenda when he selected Paul Ryan as his running mate. There's some evidence that Ryan and his unpopular budget plans are doing a lot of damage to the Romney campaign:

Back in late August, Obama led Romney on the question of who would handle Medicare better by 8 points in Florida and 10 points in Ohio; now he's up 15 in Florida and 16 in Ohio. And the problems are especially acute among senior citizens, a group Obama has traditionally struggled with. A month ago, Obama was down 13 points in Florida among people 65 and older; today he's up 4. On the specific question of Medicare, Obama was down 4 points among Florida seniors in August; today he's up 5 points.

But I'll give you that Romney is somewhat more moderate than some of the folks you're running for office. That seems like a pretty good test, then. Are Tea Party Republicans doing better than Romney? If so, that would be good evidence that the GOP really needs to move farther to the right. Let's take a look.

A new Howey/DePauw poll in Indiana shows Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) with a small lead over Richard Mourdock (R), 40% to 38%, with Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning getting 7% support.

The presidential race isn't nearly as close with Mitt Romney ahead of President Obama by double-digits, 52% to 40%. (Political Wire)

This particular poll caught my eye because Mourdock was one of the Tea Party's shining stars earlier this year, ousting longtime Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). Now it looks like Mourdock's primary victory could cost the GOP that seat.

But it's not just Mourdock. For example, there's the infamous Todd Akin, and our own Kurt Bills -- staunch conservatives who are seriously trailing Romney. If it were true that the answer were to move farther to the right, they should be outperforming Romney.

None of this will convince the far-right, I'm sure. And that's just fine. I'd prefer to see them come back to reality, but I'm also happy to watch them continue their rapid descent into the fever swamps. Regardless of whether the Republicans return to reality or lurch so far to the right that they make themselves unelectable, the result will be the same -- we won't have crazies in positions of power for much longer.

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