Purists vs. pragmatists

Republican primary voters will obviously have quite a few choices when nominating a presidential candidate next year, and have plenty of factors to evaluate before voting. As is nearly always the case, GOP activists will have to balance ideological purity against a perceived “electability” standard.

There’s a school of thought that says Republicans have no choice but to be pragmatic. This is especially true of those in the media who talk up Jon Huntsman’s chances — sure, they say, he’s from the evaporating center-left wing of the GOP, but when he tells voters, “I can defeat President Obama,” the message will resonate with the Republican base.

There’s some preliminary evidence to suggest this tack has it backwards.

Reader B.B. alerted me to the penultimate question in the new national McClatchy-Marist poll (pdf), which asked Republican respondents, “Which one of the following qualities is most important to you in deciding who to support for the Republican presidential nomination, a candidate who shares your values, is closest to you on the issues, can beat President Obama in 2012, or has the experience to govern?”

The results:

Shares your values: 38%

Is closest to you on the issues: 21%

Can beat President Obama in 2012: 15%

Has the experience to govern: 20%

Unsure: 4%

Among self-identified Tea Partiers, the results were nearly identical.

This are clearly not the kind of results the Huntsman campaign wants to see, but the numbers don’t do Romney any favors, either. It shouldn’t be too terribly tough to convince the Republican base not to trust the values and issue positions of the former pro-choice, one-term moderate who supported gay rights, gun control, and a center-left health care reform plan.

And if he’s left clinging to “electability,” this poll suggests it won’t be enough.