The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Republican Clown Car Campaign

Posted on | November 12, 2012 | 115 Comments

Susannah Fleetwood has a long critique of the 2012 campaign today at Right Wing News that makes an important point early:

Mitt Romney out-performed eleven out fifteen of the Republican Senatorial candidates, and the four that he didn’t out-perform were from very blue states that Republicans never win. . . .
In other words, if the problem was that Romney was a weak candidate (and the Republican brand was in good shape), then those numbers would be flipped the other way around. What the numbers tell us is that Mitt Romney performed well in those states in spite of the Republican brand–not because of it (people who came out to vote against Akin still voted for Romney).

This fact must be explained by anyone who wants to scapegoat Mitt Romney, to say that mistakes by the campaign or weaknesses of the candidate entirely explain what went wrong in 2012. If the Republican Party were generally in good shape, it would not be attracting to its ranks and nominating to high office such catastrophic disasters as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who lost Senate races in states that Romney won.

Nor can we blame this debacle on the “GOP Establishment.” Susannah quotes me (from a long phone conversation we had while I was driving home from Ohio) about the problems of “selfishness masquerading as populism” and people who weren’t “task-oriented or mission-focused.” You saw this, for example, in the case of Akin, who refused to resign the GOP nomination even after such eminent conservatives as Mark Levin urged him to quit for the good of the country. Akin selfishly clung to the nomination (which he’d won with just 36% of the primary vote) as if he owned it, as if he were the living embodiment of the Republican Party grassroots and anyone who criticized him was part of the “Beltway elite.”

When I say that people weren’t “task-oriented or mission-focused,” I refer among other things to people who let their leftover disgruntlement from the GOP primary campaign distract them from the key task of 2012: Defeat Barack Obama at all hazards.

Look: Mitt Romney wasn’t my dream candidate. I went all-in for Herman Cain and, when that campaign ended, I went all-in for Rick Santorum, because I saw them as best positioned to stop Mitt from becoming the “It’s His Turn” nominee. But once the alternatives were eliminated, I put aside my dissatisfaction and got in step. (See my May 7 column, “Mitt’s Men Don’t Plan to Fail,” which includes a few sharp hindsight ironies.) Meanwhile, however, there were devotees of various failed Republican primary challengers who couldn’t turn loose of the anti-Romney arguments they had parroted for months, and who continued bitch, bitch, bitching all the way to November.

If selfishness and stupidity are “True Conservative” principles — if an unwillingness to engage in broad-based coalition politics is celebrated as a virtue — then we are truly doomed. Puerile gestures and egocentric bullying are incompatible with effective teamwork. To borrow a phrase from Elbert Hubbard, “Get Out or Get In Line.”

OK, so much for my lecture. Now go read Susannah Fleetwood’s article, “Romney Lost Because Republicans Behaved Like Undisciplined Clowns.”

UPDATE: In the comments, I found myself accused of being part of the “Establishment,” engaged in “blame the base” messaging. Whatever. Some people will not listen to arguments that are not personally flattering to them, that do not elevate to a pedestal their particular beliefs. Evidence that does not confirm their beliefs must be ignored or rationalized, and the bearers of bad news must be demonized. Psychological defense mechanisms are not a political philosophy. People who are incapable of self-criticism are incapable of self-improvement. If you cannot learn from failure, you are doomed to repeat your failures. Attempting to externalize blame, to abdicate responsibility for failure by reference to convenient scapegoats, is not conservatism, it is narcissism.

UPDATE II: I’m grateful to Mark Steyn for this analysis:

Regardless of what kind of Republican you are, the electorate was antipathetic to you.
In other words, whatever the weaknesses of a supposedly weak candidate, the party was weaker. With hindsight, that first debate performance appears to have made Mitt sufficiently likeable for a narrow slice of voters to overlook the R after his name. The candidate was less of a problem than the Republican brand.

Dead on target: The Bush-era “brand damage” problem, which conservatives hoped had been vanquished by the Tea Party uprising and the “Republican Mandate” of 2010, came back with a vengeance. The problem is not conservatism, nor is it “centrism,” but rather the success of the Democrat-Media Complex in making the Republican label a negative symbol. To the extent that various GOP candidates or spokesmen cooperated in that project — e.g., “legitimate rape” — then they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

To put it another way, the problem is political and cultural, rather than ideological, and we need to learn to distinguish these categories. Constant invocations of ideology — the claim that any Republican we disagree with is guilty of insufficient fidelity to conservative principle — tend to sow suspicion within our ranks and undermine effective cooperation. This is not to say that there are no RINO sellouts, or that the Charlie Crist/Richard Lugar types don’t do damage to the GOP, but rather to say that ideological deviation cannot be blamed for every problem in the Republican Party.




115 Responses to “The Republican Clown Car Campaign”

  1. RichFader
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

    California, Stacy. The clowns might have been on the Democrat ticket (‘sup Barry, Joe, and a cast of thousands), they might have been on the Peace and Freedom ticket (‘sup, Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan), but the California Republican ticket was a bunch of disciplined, more or less moderate, reach-across-the-aisle-to-fix-the-problem candidates. And it made bugger-all difference. They pretty much all got clobbered. Just like Whitman and Fiorina in 2010. I’m all for soul-searching. I’m also all for reality. Going more outspokenly conservative might not work in California. Being more moderate, with all due respect really didn’t work here. And if it doesn’t here, where?

  2. K-Bob
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Jean-François Revel had much the same thing to say about ideology.

    …ideology… is an instrument of power; a defense mechanism against information; a pretext for eluding moral constraints in doing or approving evil with a clean conscience; and finally, a way of banning the criterion of experience, that is, of completely eliminating or indefinitely postponing the pragmatic criteria of success and failure.

  3. Wombat_socho
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

    This. I don’t have a link handy, but while I was still reading the Catholic press (Our Sunday Visitor, to be precise) there was a marked difference in political tendency between Catholics who regularly attended Mass and took the sacraments as opposed to people who were raised Catholic but don’t actually participate. Guess which bunch tends to be more conservative?

  4. K-Bob
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    It’s always easy when you don’t pay attention to reality.

  5. Wombat_socho
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    Not all the bishops fall into that category; quite a few of them have been rather outspoken on moral and religious issues all along.

  6. K-Bob
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

    The Madonna fan Catholics.

  7. Wombat_socho
    November 12th, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

    The Tea Party needs to take over the Indiana GOP and make horrible examples of Lugar and his supporters.

  8. Bob Belvedere
    November 12th, 2012 @ 9:33 pm


  9. Susannah Fleetwood
    November 13th, 2012 @ 1:40 am

    Stacy, thanks so much for the linkage–excellent column BTW! Oh, and we started a memorandum thread!

    Take care, and have a good night. 🙂

    X0X0, Suzi

  10. Bob Belvedere
    November 13th, 2012 @ 8:22 am

    I hope this means we’re going to get another one of your thought-provoking posts in the near future, Jimmie [hint].

  11. Bob Belvedere
    November 13th, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    My Italian side likes your thinking, paisan.

  12. Bob Belvedere
    November 13th, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    Thank you for that.

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago:

    Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.

  13. Bob Belvedere
    November 13th, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    Let me also quote Bruce Frohnan:

    Gerhart Niemeyer, following Eric Voegelin, referred to ideology as “the fallacious immanentization of divine salvation.” By this he meant that an ideology is a recipe for bringing heaven down to earth. Modern thinkers, from Rousseau to Hegel to Marx, have rejected Augustine’s understanding that the end of history will be the end of the world, at which time man will face his creator to answer for his actions, and at which time alone he may look for the beatific vision. Instead, ideologists seek to bring history to an end here and now. They construct theoretical systems they believe point to the one true and good human society and then seek great men, movements, or events to bring them to reality, thus ending history in a perfect life lived on earth.

    A common criticism of thinkers of the Enlightenment—from Descartes to Rousseau at least—is that they sought to make men into gods. Dispensing with spiritual matters, these thinkers reduced the world to data that can be manipulated by the human mind, thus giving man the impression that he can manipulate reality itself. This mistake regarding the nature
    of reality led to the belief that man also could save himself from the tragedies of life, be they sickness, war, or the drudgery of work. This
    is the means by which the utopian vision was born. Utopia is the goal of ideology because ideology is the drive to create a new society, based on the system of the ideologist, that will “save” us, bring us into a heaven that is full of abundance but lacking the tragedies of a real
    life. Yet one should note that few of the actual human beings involved actually would play the role of gods. Marx’s unalienated man may be free to shift aimlessly from occupation to occupation, but it is Marx, in combination with the god-like men who bring about the revolution, who has made his life possible. Contemporary ideologies, despite their
    egalitarian rhetoric, also rely on the god-like ideologist to “liberate” each of us from the ties that bind us to our old institutions, our old ways, and even our old beliefs. And, because anyone who fails to fully and enthusiastically work for the great vision is undermining utopia—denying paradise to everyone around him—that person must be dealt with harshly so that everyone will work all the harder to make paradise a reality. It is no wonder then, in the conservative view, that
    ideological politics, promising heaven on earth, has produced murderous, hellish police states wherever it has gained power.

  14. K-Bob
    November 14th, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    Good stuff!

  15. CalCon10
    November 15th, 2012 @ 10:15 pm

    The problem is BOTH Mitt Romney (plutocrat and conservative-basher) and the GOP (oligarchical and conservative-bashing).

    As for dumping on non-Romney supporters: yes, they should have voted. But: Romney should have reached out to all of his primary opponents and the Tea Party. Instead, he told all of them to shut up and get lost. This, following a scorched-earth Primary.

    Sorry, Romney helped do himself in. If he’d have been a fraction as aggressive against Obama as he was against Gingrich and Santorum, he’d have won easily. Instead, Newt (the REAL Republican architect, who led the GOP out of the legislative wilderness) was “unethical” and a “lobbyist”; Obama was “a nice guy.”

    I voted for Romney, but RSM: you’re rationalizing.