Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Can Republicans ever win the presidency?

Karl Rove is an almost favorite son of our state (Olympus High School graduate and political intern at the U. of U.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics). The longtime political operative created a stir recently with a Wall Street Journal column punching holes in the conservative theory that a GOP presidential candidate can win simply by turning out the Republican base. The winning strategy, he said, is to perform better among Catholics, political moderates, young people, Hispanics, Asian Americans and women. This raises important questions:

Is Rove right? Can Republicans ever win the presidency?

Pignanelli: "The 2016 election dynamic has two forces, unelectable Republicans — with high unfavorable ratings — versus Hillary Clintonburdened with Obama's high unfavorable ratings ... but somebody has to win." — Matthew Todd ABC News

At last, the Dark Lord of electioneering is using his powers for a righteous cause — the promotion of diversity in the GOP. Perhaps Rove is now channeling the kinder influence of his high school teacher, Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss (D-Holladay).

Democrats do not enjoy a great genius at winning national elections. Rather, Republicans excel at losing them. Rove, in his article, destroyed the myth that Mitt Romney lost because too many Republicans failed to vote. They showed up, but too many other Americans disgruntled with President Barack Obama also believed Romney "did not care about people like them." Rove documents the GOP will never win the White House with its current approach.

Rove, and many other pundits with similar conclusions, emphasize the GOP can garner victory only by reformatting (but not abandoning) core conservative principles for a broader appeal. Further, the messenger has to be a presidential candidate that is likable and in touch (a stretch for the current list of contenders).

Therefore, national Republicans need to practice what they preach. Only the application of free-market business fundamentals to their political strategy will expand the consumer base for a White House win.

Webb: Republicans did exceptionally well across the nation in the 2010 and 2014 non-presidential elections when turnout, admittedly, was lower. Republicans now control Congress, three-fifths of governorships and 70 percent of legislative chambers. Republicans essentially run the country — except for the presidency.

The country remains center-right. Most voters are not far-right or far-left. They are mainstream and lean a bit conservative. So a Republican can win, but not an anti-government conservative who vows to rip out the government safety net. A successful GOP nominee must be able to articulate conservative solutions to the nation’s domestic and international problems without being scary. On a personal level, he or she must be charismatic, articulate, forward-thinking, genuine and empathetic — with a good sense of humor.

Rove is absolutely correct that Republicans must broaden the coalition to win the presidency. The right candidate can do it.

Is it inevitable that Hillary Clinton is the next president?

Pignanelli: Clinton was a “lock” in 2008. Yet she lost the nomination to Obama — who did not have enough influence as a state senator to wrangle a floor pass to the 2000 Democratic National Convention. (Yes, her campaign was that bad.) Because most Americans have an opinion of Clinton that is unlikely to change, her political future is a function of competition in the primaries and general election. If the Republican presidential ticket is two white guys with evangelical leanings, Bill becomes the “First Spouse.”

Webb: Clinton is obviously the favorite at this point because Democrats are united behind her while Republicans aren’t close to having a front-runner. But Clinton is old, represents the past, comes across as grumpy, and doesn’t have nearly as much charm and charisma as her husband.

Still, she has the ability to appeal to a broader constituency than most of the Republican candidates. She won’t be as liberal as Obama but will have the support of every liberal group out there, and she’ll raise enormous amounts of money. It will take an extraordinary Republican candidate to defeat her.

Does the situation described by Rove create long-term problems for the Utah GOP?

Pignanelli: Republicans control the majority of the nation’s state legislatures and governorships. But a determination by the party to only appeal to a shrinking political base in future national elections will create a perception of irrelevancy. This could create a vulnerability — at least among independent voters — for some Utah Republicans seeking higher office.

Webb: Utah is a very reliable conservative/Republican state and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Certainly, given the right circumstances, a conservative Democrat like Jim Matheson or Ben McAdamscould win a major race, but only if Republicans nominate a weak candidate. Utah has a plethora of excellent young GOP prospects waiting for a chance at a major office.

If Utah leaders continue down a reasonable, mainstream path, as showcased by results of the last legislative session, and by Gov. Gary Herbert, Democrats are going to have a very difficult time winning major races. Utah’s congressional delegation could help by supporting common-sense solutions at the national level.