Primaries are good for the GOP

Mitt Romney greeting supporters at a campaign stop in Mobile, Alabama, on March 12.

Story highlights

  • Mary Matalin: With each contest, Americans become more engaged with the GOP
  • In 2008, Barack Obama won the general election after a long primary battle
  • Gallup says that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting in this election
  • Matalin: A competitive primary can strengthen a party and lead to victories

The primary process is good for the Republican Party—and our country.

With each contest, more Americans have the chance to cast a vote against President Obama. More voters become engaged with the Republican Party. And the media can continue to focus on the Republican candidates and their solutions to the problems created by President Obama, rather than the empty promises of the Obama re-election campaign. In short, the primaries add momentum and enthusiasm for the GOP as we draw closer to the general election.

Some may argue otherwise, but remember 2008? Sen. John McCain quickly wrapped up the Republican nomination by early March. But the Democrats continued fighting it out well into June, which had the effect of engaging Democrats and first time voters. The country's attention was on the Democrats, and that propelled them to victory in November. Not only did Barack Obama win the White House, but Democrats rode his coattails to larger majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

At that time, many thought that a long primary would be a drag. A New York Times headline declared it "a present for McCain." Sen. Christopher Dodd said it was "undermining (Democrats') ability to win an election." The Boston Globe reported, "McCain media adviser says Democrats hurting themselves."

But the lesson from 2008 turned out to be this: a competitive primary can strengthen a party.

Mary Matalin

The same was true in 1980 -- the last time Republicans defeated a sitting president. Ronald Reagan did not win the nomination until May 20, but in November he won 489 electoral votes to President Carter's 49. In 2004, by comparison, Democrats were challenging an incumbent president, and Sen. John Kerry was effectively the nominee by March 2. President George W. Bush went on to defeat him in the general election by a margin larger than his 2000 victory.

Every primary process is unique. There are different candidates, different issues and different circumstances. But if history is any guide, then it appears that while competitive primaries can be good, quick primaries are not always as advantageous as they seem.

Jeff Foxworthy endorses Mitt Romney
Jeff Foxworthy endorses Mitt Romney

    JUST WATCHED

    Jeff Foxworthy endorses Mitt Romney

MUST WATCH

Jeff Foxworthy endorses Mitt Romney 02:22
Santorum wishes Romney 'happy birthday'
Santorum wishes Romney 'happy birthday'

    JUST WATCHED

    Santorum wishes Romney 'happy birthday'

MUST WATCH

Santorum wishes Romney 'happy birthday' 00:51
Gingrich vs. Romney over grits
Gingrich vs. Romney over grits

    JUST WATCHED

    Gingrich vs. Romney over grits

MUST WATCH

Gingrich vs. Romney over grits 02:18
Paul: We will win future primaries
Paul: We will win future primaries

    JUST WATCHED

    Paul: We will win future primaries

MUST WATCH

Paul: We will win future primaries 03:06

In 2010, analysts thought that the spirited and competitive primaries in important swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida would undermine the Republicans' general election prospects. Today, there are Republican governors in each of those states, leading the way with far reaching reforms and economic progress for their citizens. The rigors of those primaries made them stronger competitors in the general election of 2010 and better public servants.

Likewise, Republicans have undoubtedly benefited from the primary over the last two months. According to Gallup, Republican and Republican-leaning voters are more enthusiastic about voting in this election. That's critical. Enthusiasm translates into voter turnout. The Republican enthusiasm, it seems, results from a higher level of engagement in the primary process. According to Gallup, "more Republicans than Democrats—70% vs. 58%—say they have given quite a lot of thought to the election."

There is, of course, one other factor galvanizing support for Republicans: President Obama. As his policies continue to disappoint Americans, they are turning increasingly to Republicans.

America cannot afford four more years of high unemployment, large deficits, rising gas prices, increased poverty and bloated government. President Obama has put us on an unsustainable trajectory, with no plan to change course.

Republicans, though, stand ready to lead. One of our four candidates will emerge from the primary ready to take on President Obama directly and contrast Republicans' vision for a more prosperous future with the failed policies of the past three years.

Until then, our party will continue to build momentum, generate enthusiasm and offer Americans a new direction that we so desperately need.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      Obama makes history, again

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      Five things we learned

      The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
    • Demanding more from second term

      Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      Victorious Obama faces challenges

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • GOP retains grip on House

      Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.