Leader: A lesson for the Republicans

Viewed from Britain, often through the prism of scornful media, the US Republican Party can seem a paranoid, fanatical sect. That jaundiced representation makes it hard to understand how the presidential contest could have been even remotely competitive. To UK voters, the choice has been presented as one between an admirable incumbent and a zealot. That is a caricature. The race was not as close as many pundits declared but still nearly half of all Americans preferred the idea of President Romney to President Obama.

One reason Mr Romney was able to mount a competitive challenge was that his moderate demeanour in the televised debates belied the account that his opponents had previously painted of him as an extremist. That surprise earned the GOP candidate a second audition. Had he presented himself as a moderate candidate in his first audition – the primaries in which he was selected as the Republican nominee – he might have made it all the way to the White House.

That route was closed to him because the party, or rather, its most vocal fringe, would not permit it. To be selected, he had to appeal precisely to the demographic minority that gives Republicans a bad name in Europe and that, it transpires, has no idea what makes an electable presidential candidate in its own country.

The self-styled “severely conservative” Romney, a persona crafted to assuage Tea Party radicalism, alienated enough people to put his second, moderate incarnation at an irre­coverable disadvantage. The lesson for the Republicans is clear: they will win the presidency only when they aspire to represent all Americans and not just channel the rage of a fundamentalist minority. The pursuit of ideological purity ultimately caps support for any movement, however well organised, because most people do not inhabit a world where dogma is valued over jobs and wages. newstatesman.com/leader