Willing to lose primary to win the White House?

The polarizing force of presidential primaries is a delicate dance for the candidates whose views, in many cases, are not that different, the former policy director for Mitt Romney's failed 2012 campaign said Monday.

"That's why primaries are difficult. You're fighting over such a narrow piece of turf," Lanhee Chen, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Likely 2016 GOP candidate Jeb Bush said in December that a Republican needs to be willing to "lose the primary to win the general election, without violating your principles."

This is not only a Republican issue. Robert Hormats, who had served as under secretary for economic growth in Hillary Clinton's State Department, also complained about how the parties nominate their candidates. "We'd have a much better general election if we didn't have primaries that pull people dramatically to one side or the other to pick up a few fringe votes on each end. I think it would be a better outcome for the country if we didn't have that process. It's just polarizing."

Hillary Clinton is seen as the front runner on the Democratic side, though Sen. Elizabeth Warren is also spoken of highly in liberal circles. The Boston Globe in an op-ed Sunday urged Warren to run.

But Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz became the first on either side of the aisle to officially enter the race—saying he's seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He made the announcement just after midnight on Twitter.

Cruz, a tea party favorite, beat fellow staunch conservative Rand Paul to the punch. The senator from Kentucky plans to formally announce his candidacy on April 7, according to a report in the Washington Times.

Read MoreWhat first mover Ted Cruz will mean for the race

Another current senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, is seen as a likely candidate along with former Florida Gov. Bush. Wisconsin's current governor, Scott Walker, is also expected to run.

Romney's ex-advisor Chen said, "I like Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. As one would expect, those are the ones performing well early on."

"They all have what I would call 'forward-looking messages' and that's what we're going to need in this election to win," he added.

While Chris Christie's name has not been mentioned as much lately, Chen said it's too early to count out the blunt New Jersey governor. "I think he's got a tremendous ability to connect with people at the end of the day. So he's going to be part of the mix."

Reflecting on Romney's failure to send President Barack Obama packing after one term, Chen said, "Republicans are going to have to do better to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016."

"That having been said," he continued, "I think she's very beatable."

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