This is how we end up with the famous Figure 4-1 from Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller’s book The Party Decides. As the plot below shows, the longer a party is deprived control of the White House, the more moderate its presidential nominees become. One term out of office may be a fluke, but two terms is serious, and three is catastrophic. Parties take this seriously and tend to nominate considerably more centrist people, sacrificing a significant chunk of their governing agenda for a chance of actually governing.
But just how does this “learning” occur? Sometimes it’s pretty brutal, and right now we’re at the beginning stages of what is likely to be a difficult struggle within the GOP. The Tea Party groups and other conservative activists are quite strong in primary nominations right now, helping to drive the party sharply right in recent years. They are not going to relinquish power easily. But they are being challenged by some significant people, and not just at the national level.
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