A recent article in The Economist contains a quote that has become one of my all-time favorites, especially because of its relevance to the current Republican nomination contest.

According to the story – which might be apocryphal, but is too perfectly illustrative of ideological rigidity to insist on verification – when warned by a colleague focused to some extent on winning elections that a particular policy would alienate the voters, a British Labor Party leader high-mindedly declared that “there must be no compromise with the electorate.”

I was not surprised to read that the Hillary Clinton campaign reacted with glee when that sentiment was channeled by Marco Rubio and Scott Walker in the recent Republican presidential debate.

Asked by Fox News host and moderator Megyn Kelly if he still supported an exception to an abortion ban for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, Rubio indignantly replied that he did not and that, in fact, he never had.

Shortly afterward, to use what strikes me as a particularly appropriate verb, Walker trumped this appeal to the Republican base by declaring that abortion should be outlawed even in a case where it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

Since Rubio conspicuously failed to distance himself from Walker’s view, the position of two of the Republican candidates seems to be that if a woman becomes pregnant because of a rape, she must give birth even if that would result in her death.

And this commitment to an absolutism that conflicts sharply with overwhelming public opinion to the contrary came from two of the three candidates who are generally considered to have the best chance to be nominated, in part because they are in the non-extremist faction.

It would not have been newsworthy had this come from Rick Santorum, who has compared same-sex relations to bestiality. Or Mike Huckabee, who bizarrely explained that the Supreme Court decision on marriage is not binding and urged public officials who have sworn to uphold the Constitution to defy it. Or Ben Carson, who cited male-on-male prison rape as evidence that sexuality is a choice. No one, probably including themselves, thinks that Santorum, Huckabee or Carson has a chance to be nominated.

But along with Jeb Bush, Walker and Rubio are at this point the three men who are the “serious” candidates. Odds are very high that one of them will be on the November 2016 presidential ballot. (As the Republican candidate, possibly joined by Donald Trump as a non-party choice.)

Nothing better illustrates the Republicans’ dilemma. In the weeks before the debate, the media reported on the approach that was being developed by Republican strategists who understand that opposition to abortion can be presented in a way that avoids political damage.

It calls for stressing the joys of parenthood and eschewing harsh, condemnatory language – the latter in direct contrast to Rubio’s characterizing women who have made a difficult choice as having participated in the murder of millions.

But following this path requires “compromise with the electorate” – fashioning and explaining a policy that takes account the ambivalence many feel on the subject; that recognizes that many feel differently about it depending on the situations that lead women to choose it, and that it is intellectually possible to oppose the practice without demonizing women who believe it is an appropriate response to the circumstances of their lives.

And it is the apparent conviction of the Republican candidates that those voters whose support they need to become the nominee will have none of this.

There are two electorates in play here, and the right-wing base rejects compromise with either. They insist on complete obedience to their views in the nominating process, and no deference on any important matter to the broader public in the final election.

In the short term, this will be good for us Democrats. But over time, the prevalence of this mindset will be bad for the country.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: BarneyFrank