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The argument says that because candidates must prove themselves as the most potent standard bearer for their respective parties in the primary election (to even get a shot at the general election), it becomes impossible for moderate candidates from either major party to survive to the general election. Is this an innate feature of the party primary system that exists throughout the democratic world in party primaries, or something specific to the United States and its electorate?

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    Counterexample: Mitt Romney. Not well liked on the conservative side of the party, but nominated because (presumably) he had the best chance of all the Republican candidates. Didn't work, though.
    – mmyers
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 16:30
  • I thought it would be the opposite...
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:08
  • @mmyers I think the Romney example speaks more to the general weakness of the field in 2012, and the significant financial advantage he had over his opponents. I still wonder how this dynamic stacks up worldwide though... Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:25
  • Do party primaries exist anywhere else in the world?
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 17:33
  • @gerrit - ask :)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 18:51

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This is impossible to answer in general objectively (you didn't provide any metrics for what constitutes moderation), but anecdotally, the answer is a clear "not necessarily".

Two last presidential candidates from Republican Party (McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012) were the most moderate of the field when you discount people who genuinely don't represent the party at all (e.g. Huntsman's positions are more Democrat than Republican; and Gary Johnson is a libertarian odd-duck who as a libertarian doesn't have support from ANY parry :) :(

Having said that, there is a definite possibility of more extreme candidates to win in primaries, which is exactly why DNC went to the pain of introducing super-delegates in their convention after McGovern debacle.

Rationale For Super-Delegates (from about.com)

The Democratic Party established this system in part in response to the nomination of George McGovern in 1972. McGovern took only one state and had only 37.5 percent of the popular vote.

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    Romney is a pretty poor example since he actually abandoned a lot of his moderate positions in order to win the primary and then was bitten by that in the general election when he had to keep changing positions. Examples include immigration policy, tax policy, foreign policy, social programs and healthcare - He took a HARD left turn after the primaries on most of these topics, because he was pushed right during the primaries.
    – JNK
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 19:16

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