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.