Republicans’ Race to the Right Could Backfire in November ’24
Republicans are going to spend their campaign between now and the party convention in July 2024 testing one another’s commitment to conservatism.
A conservative activist, Vivek Ramaswamy, entered the 2024 Republican presidential field Tuesday with the express purpose of pushing the party to the right. After the recent Republican flops on Election Day, though, it’s worth asking whether this is a winning strategy.
On “Tucker Carlson Tonight” Mr. Ramaswamy pitched his candidacy as a crusade against “woke religion” and the “woke agenda.”
He said he was aiming to “to go after these sacred cows — from woke religion in the form of affirmative action to this new climate religion which is completely shackling the American economy and culture.
“We need to take the most sacred cows of these alternative secular religions and — I’m sorry to say this — take them to the slaughterhouse, because that’s what it’s going to take for this national revival,” Mr. Ramaswamy said.
Although he called for a “declaration of independence from China” and a push to “rediscover that national identity that we all share,” Mr. Ramaswamy made his practical motivation for entering the race clear toward the end of his announcement.
“That’s what I want to see the GOP do, answer the question of what it means to be an American today,” he said. “If we give an answer to that question we dilute this woke agenda and these secular religions to irrelevance.”
While Mr. Ramaswamy joins the primary as only the third official candidate in the Republican field, he joins at a time when Republicans appear to be looking to outflank each other in an attempt to be seen as the most conservative.
Governor DeSantis, who is expected to run for president, just launched another volley of attacks on companies that account for environmental, social, and governance metrics — an attack on the business community that has become a favorite issue for the GOP base.
On the same day, President Trump was railing against “radical marxist prosecutors,” calling for an expansion of the death penalty, and saying he would have Congress establish a right for victims of crimes to sue local officials for “massive damages.”
Although the former ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, began her presidential campaign with a call for new blood in the party and a concerted effort to bring in new voters, she also made sure to appease the GOP’s fringe. She did so by inviting an evangelical pastor, John Hagee, widely criticized for his views on everything from the Jewish faith to Catholicism to homosexuality, to deliver the invocation at her announcement ceremony.
Democrats have also wrangled with candidates running to the left during primary races, such as Senator Warren or Senator Sanders; this cycle, though, Democrats have the advantage of incumbency and President Biden is not expected to face any serious primary challenger should he decide to run.
The only current longshot primary challenger to Mr. Biden, activist Marianne Williamson, is running decidedly to Mr. Biden’s left and has expressed her support for financial reparations for slavery, a green new deal, and other left-leaning policies.
While polling done on the topic suggests that both parties are seen as extreme by a similar number of Americans, the race to the right in the Republican primary could present a hurdle, according to a professor of political science at John Jay College, Brian Arbour.
“One difference between a primary electorate and a general election electorate is that voters are Republicans or Republican-leaning people, so it’s a much more conservative electorate than what they’ll get in November,” Mr. Arbour said.
This means that Republicans will spend the next year and a half trying to appeal to a demographic significantly more conservative than the general electorate, and will need to differentiate themselves from other Republican candidates.
“One way to do that over time has been to be the most Republican or the most Democrat,” Mr. Arbour said. “Another component of that is getting endorsements from both party leaders and interest groups that are aligned with the parties.”
Republican challengers to Mr. Trump also have the added burden of needing to criticize the former president while dodging his inevitable attacks and “being called a RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” as Mr. Arbour puts it.
Both of these tasks, according to Mr. Arbour, normally include demonstrations of ideological purity that push the party to “select candidates who are closer to purist positions on issues.”
On the Republican side, the influence of the NRA and its endorsement is a good example of interest groups demanding specific and uncompromising ideological positions from candidates. On the Democratic side, an example would be the party’s position on abortion, with abortion rights advocates demanding all Democrats toe the line on that issue.
The net effect is that Republicans are going to spend their campaign between now and the party convention in July 2024 testing one another’s commitment to conservatism, while Democrats will spend the next two years attempting to appeal to the median voter.