Some Conservatives are blaming Mitt Romney for the GOP’s defeat last Tuesday. Yes he made some mistakes, especially not fighting back for three months. However the main culprit for Obama’s re-election was the Republican Party itself. The Party has a messaging problem and has not built any infrastructure. It takes a one size fits all view of the electorate instead of micro-targeting groups as the Democrats do. Mitt Romney outperformed the party as a whole and it was the GOP that actually dragged him down.
The first thing conservatives should understand about the electoral catastrophe that just befell us — and it was a catastrophe — is that any explanation of it that centers on Mitt Romney is mistaken.
Much of the discussion of the race among conservatives has made the opposite assumption. “Romney proved to be the kind of electoral drag many of us suspected he would always be,” wrote one conservative the morning after the election. “It was a flawed candidacy from the start,” wrote two others. “Romney’s caution and ever-shifting policy positions made him seem fearful, which is to say weak. His biography hurt him. . . . And because of his own history in Massachusetts, he could never effectively go after President Obama on Obamacare, the president’s biggest political weakness.” Another called Romney “the worst candidate to win his party’s nomination since WWII.” Still another wrote, “There will be a lot of blame to go around, but, if Republicans are honest, they’ll have to concede that the Romney campaign ran a bad campaign.”
Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him. Aaron Blake pointed out in the Washington Post that Romney ran ahead of most of the Republican Senate candidates: He did better than Connie Mack in Florida, George Allen in Virginia, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, Denny Rehberg in Montana, Jeff Flake in Arizona, Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, Deb Fischer in Nebraska, Rick Berg in North Dakota, Josh Mandel in Ohio, and of course Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. In some cases Romney did a lot better. (He also did slightly better than Ted Cruz in Texas, a race Blake for some reason ignored.)
Akin and Mourdock have received a lot of attention because they fit into the story of the Senate elections of 2010. Most observers believe that Republican-primary voters threw away three Senate seats that year by choosing unelectable extremists over candidates who could have won. This year, Akin and Mourdock each made comments about abortion and rape that doomed them. If not for these five mistakes in candidate selection, Republicans would have 50 seats. So goes the story.
All these candidates lost not because of the idiosyncrasies of this or that candidate or the flaws of this or that faction of the Republican party. They lost not because of the particular vices of the Tea Party, or of social conservatives, or of the party establishment. The most logical explanation for the pattern is that something common to all Republicans brought them down, and the simplest explanation is that their party is weak — and has been for a long time. Consider the evidence: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Since the Senate reached its current size, Democrats have had more than 55 seats 13 times; Republicans, never.
There is a structural pattern with the Republican Party. It doesn’t help that the last two Republican Presidents where failures, they have terrible message discipline and have people like Akin or Santorum to be the face of the Party. The media is clearly the enemy of the GOP, yet party leaders still treat it with respect.
The Republicans have been in bad shape before. In 1948, Thomas Dewey should have beaten Harry Truman. The economy was stagnant and Truman was unpopular, yet people still didn’t trust the GOP. Over the next 4 years, Dewey convinced Eisenhower to run and help reshape the party by purging the isolationist wing. Eisenhower with the support of Dewey also changed the GOP’s message to make it relevant in mid 20th Century America. The result was that from 1952 to 1988 the Republican Party went 7-3 in Presidential elections. Most of these victories where landslides.
After the defeat of 2012, The Republican Party has an opportunity to reshape itself and make its message relevant for the 21st Century. Mitt Romney unfortunately did not realize the extent of the bad image of the Republican Party. He ran the best he could, but the GOP dragged him down. The next 4 years should be spent on building infrastructure, tailoring the Republican message for diverse constituencies and practicing message discipline.
The Republican Party should engage in class warfare. The super rich vote and fund the Democratic Party and Progressive projects. It’s time for the GOP to tailor its economic message exclusively for the Middle Class. We should be the party of Main Street and not Wall Street. The Republicans should propose a tax hike on those earning 1 Million dollars, eliminate tax free trust funds and impose a tax on the entertainment industry. Turn the table on the Left.
There is much work to be done, but I feel Conservatives can win the future.
Tags: Ramesh Ponnuru