Let’s leave aside the specious Cleveland/Obama comparison and consider the strategy. OK, so following the analogy, if the primary challenge “works” according to plan we would get upwards of four decades of Rick Perrys, interrupted in the middle by a Democrat who makes Obama look like Olof Palme, and maybe one Republican warmonger who’s slightly less awful on domestic issues. And then in 36 years we’ll finally win with a president whose campaign has strikingly little in common with the candidate who won the primary challenge. I’d sure hate to see the downside of that self-refuting plan.All that said: primary elections are in fact incredibly important, and important to contest. There's no question but that conservatives, or at least one type of conservatives, have successfully moved the Republican Party in their direction by among other things challenging incumbent moderates. The problem with Stoller's argument is just that Obama's the wrong target for disgruntled liberals for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's hardly a wise strategy to go after a target you can't come close to touching.
Liberals certainly should look around and see whether there are incumbent Members of Congress worth taking on in primaries, and certainly should be investing heavily in primaries for open House and Senate seats (along with state and local races -- they matter, too). They should go about it sensibly, keeping in mind the electoral situation in the district and the actual voting record or policy positions held by the various candidates. So should, by the way, the moderates who are talking about third party campaigns for the presidency, and anyone else who wants to effect change. Of course, that kind of political action is not only a lot less glamorous, but it also raises little hope of a golden age if only this next election goes the right way. Which is hard, but sensible. After all, golden ages never look great when you're in the midst of one, anyway. Or (and see Andrew Sprung for the latest reminder) even if you look back at them a bit more carefully.