In the universe of Star Trek, the Kobayashi Maru is a test taken by cadets at Starfleet command. It is presented as a “no win” scenario in which there are only two possible courses of action:
1. Rescue the crew of a damaged ship, but violate a treaty to do so and provoke a battle (in which you are outgunned and cannot win) with an alien race.
2. Leave the ship alone, thus avoiding the battle but guaranteeing the certain deaths of everyone on board.
This campaign season, the GOP ended up in their own Kobayashi Maru scenario, stemming purely from the nature of the beast as it were.
They never found a good answer. There may not have been a good answer. In order to win the Republican primaries and thus become the Presidential nominee, a candidate was going to have to get the Tea Party contingent of the party on their side. This was not optional. The Tea Party became a large part of the GOP base following the 2008 elections and therefore a large segment of Republican primary voters for the 2012 election came from that group (“Tea Party” here refers to not only groups specifically identified by that name, but also other groups with similar beliefs).
In order to get that Tea Party vote and the GOP nomination, a candidate would have to promote and support viewpoints and policies favored by these groups. We saw what happened when Jon Hunstman tried to go against the grain. He failed miserably.
The eventual GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, took note of this and shifted to the right on all of his positions so he would gain some acceptance among Tea Party voters and not ruin his chances of winning the nomination.
It worked and after winning the primaries he now had to focus on the general election, which meant he’d have to find a way to appeal to wider base of voters if he wanted to win the White House.
Here we find the “Kobayashi Maru” problem.
In order to appeal to a wider range of voters, he’d have to by design support policy positions that were more moderate than what the Tea Party groups were in favor of, but if he did so he’d lose Tea Party support which would damage his chances of beating Obama.
It truly was a no-win scenario.
If he expressed a strong, direct preference for prayer in public schools, he’d hit big with the Tea Party types, but he’d also alienate moderates. If he endorsed religious freedom in schools, he’d gain moderate support but lose backers on the Tea Party side.
For the Romney campaign it became a question of “how do we successfully toe this line so as to not alienate voters on either side?”
They never found a good answer. There may not have been a good answer.
You can talk at length about the myriad of reasons Mitt Romney didn’t win in 2012, but his inability to solve the problem outlined above has to be near the top of that list.
Of course, the public comments by a variety of GOP state and federal candidates didn’t help him much either, nor did the weak response of his campaign to them.
The Romney campaign should have developed a comprehensive public relations plan and done their best to get all GOP candidates on board with it. If someone did make damaging comments, they should have acted quickly and decisively to deal with it.
But this is not just a Mitt Romney problem. It is not just a 2012 problem. It’s a Republican problem and it’s one that needs a solution sooner rather than later. With Obama re-elected the Tea Party will maintain its strength so it seems clear that whoever runs for the 2016 GOP nomination will face the same minefields as Mitt Romney did this time around.
Though there will be a new Democratic nominee next time around, the only chance the GOP has to take back the White House hinges on the answer to this one question:
“How do you win a no-win scenario?”
It’s actually not impossible.
One of the most famous parts of Star Trek canon is that James T. Kirk was one of the few cadets to actually win the Kobayashi Maru scenario and successfully save the damaged ship. He did so by reprogramming the scenario, which, while unethical to a degree, was not against the rules. In fact, he received a commendation as a result because of his “creative thinking”.
What the Republicans really need is a James T. Kirk. Someone who can open them up to a new way of looking at things that could ultimately bring some unity and cohesion to the party.