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.




  • Blake

    I see, so, it is now the the fault of the conservative voter, rather than those who put up a candidate known for flip flopping and, in some ways, was worse than McCain.

    It’s never the fault of the GOP for running a crappy “centrist” candidate.

    Conservatives are always expected to compromise their values without getting anything in return. Here’s a hint: Maybe the GOP needs to learn that compromise works both ways.

    Right on time, the “blame the conservative base” crap is starting.

    Romney made the same mistake McCain made, in that he tried to win the middle of the road voters before he made sure he had the base. In some ways, Romney made sure he angered the base, obviously figuring he had the vote of the base, because of the importance of this election.

    Obviously, the base felt otherwise.

    Epic Fail.

    Even more fail: insulting the very people the GOP needs in order to stay in power.

  • SDN

    Pretty much spot on. I’ve heard this called a “base election”, which Barack won by NOT reaching out, but by throwing his base red meat by the cattle carload.

    Well, if that’s the case, then the GOP will never win one, because the GOP HATES its’ base. And that’s why we’re likely to see Hubbard’s option 1.

  • SDN

    Oh, and remind me again who makes a point of NOT supporting the people who won the primary? Lugar ring a bell?

  • robertstacymccain

    Did you even read the article, Blake? This isn’t about ideology. It’s not about conservatives vs. centrists. I’m as pro-life as Todd Akin and as pro-freedom as Ron Paul. But failure is failure, and trying to evade responsibility for failure by scapegoating Romney — to claim that there are no problems with the Republican Party in general, and that everything that went wrong in 2012 could be explained by Romney’s campaign — is not going to fix what’s wrong. Excuses are not solutions.

  • SDN

    Romney was a symptom, not the disease. The disease is exactly the Establican Party.

  • mare

    Blake, it’s the fault of the conservative (or any other description) non voter.

  • Blake

    Robert, I did read the article. “Blame the base” came through loud and clear.

  • Blake

    Robert, you know history better than most journalists.

    Take a long hard look at this last election. It looked different than McCain’s election (I did not recognize it either) but, in the end, the same structural problems existed.

    Romney did a couple of things to stick his thumb in the eye of the base (remember the rule change fiasco at the convention?) and it angered the base.

    Romney and the GOP ran to get the “mushy middle” before making sure they had the base wrapped up.

  • JeffWeimer

    This election was 2004 in reverse, including a patrician politician from Massachusetts. Did the Democrats start crying and saying they had to change their positions? No. It was “swiftboating”, and “Those dastardly Republicans will stoop to nothing to win”. This time, nothing was going to stop the Democrats, including the Constitution.

    We need to get our house in order, but that means in the future that all Republicans pull in the same direction, not take their balls and go home (I’m talking to you, Lugar). All that garbage we hear that Conservatives have to get in line is NEVER practiced by those who preach it, and they would rather let it burn than not get their way.

  • Blake

    Spot on, thank you.

  • keyboard jockey

    Wow, the establishment GOP, blames the conservative base for their losing – who could have seen that coming/

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  • keyboard jockey

    Scapegoat Romney? Why does the GOP hump the personal responsibility message unless it applies to them? It was Mitt Romney’s campaign, he lost of course it had to do with him and the way his campaign was run. He alienated a lot of the base.

    They took one of the favorite charismatic popular talents of the party and marginalized her “Sarah Palin”. Who was out stumping for republicans in 2010, and helped get a record number of republicans elected to office?

    Romney didn’t avail himself of many media outlets to saturate the media with his message. Did you see him go on the Factor? Imus was constantly inviting him to appear on his program to humanize him in the eyes of the American electorate. Remember Imus, who had Governor Chris Christie on, and was credited with dragging his fat butt over the finish line in New Jersey?

    Yeah there were all kinds of problems with the way Mitt Romney was advised to run his campaign.

  • Blake

    So, it is not the fault of the GOP and Romney for not giving the base a reason to vote?

  • richard mcenroe

    Well, Blake, you taught us all a valuable lesson. And as Barack Obama continues to champion your rock solid conservative values, know you have our thanks.

  • Quartermaster

    Discipline is a problem of the GOP, but that has to cut both ways. Look how the establishment types take losses. Lugar took his marbles and petulantly went home. That has been typical of the establishment. If it hadn’t been for the mass of evangelical Christians having come into the party in the late 70s, Reagan would have lost against Carter. The Establishment hated Reagan. They got their guy in Bush I in 1988, who then proceeded to betray the base and lost as a result.

    There is indeed a discipline problem. some is with candidates like Mourdock and Akin, but most of it is with the Establishment.

    I will say that I disagreed with you on Mittens last spring, and I disagree with you now. Mittens was never a good candidate, but he was the best of a very sorry lot in the primaries. He was a better candidate than Zer0, but the left has an agenda for giving away free stuff, and that will always attract a good following. Add in rampant voter fraud, something teh establishment does not want to deal with, and you get elections like this last one.

    It’s time for operation Whig, because the establishment will never allow a conservative takeover and we need a good conservative party. The GOP will always be run by RINOs.

  • richard mcenroe

    You had a reason to vote and its name was Barack Hussein Obama. I have precisely zero sympathy for anything that happens to nonvoters in the next four years, except insofar as it happens to me as well. And nothing but contempt for people who refuse to act at all and then criticize the people who did show up.

  • lions

    Oh it’s Limbaugh fault, suuuure. Both parties have clowns Limbaugh not being one, how about the lady who lies about her ancestry and where she practices law. That didn’t seem to hurt Obama, or the guy who ran against Corker who the Dem. wouldn’t even talk to. Please Romney got clocked in the Hispanic market, why because he never went there. Never had a conversation, the Republican party has been defined as the party of old white men and they are. 2010 happened because of the Tea Party in spite of the Republican party. The candidates Palin backed seemed to do well wonder why?

    These guys in the establishment don’t believe in educating the voter, we get defined and they do nothing. Ugg i hate this it’s Bush strategy all over again, Rove didn’t lift a finger to fight back on the perception the media had about Bush. See where that got us. You can get away with a lot more on Spanish tele. you should have seen the commercials they ran against Romney just brutal. Not a peep on our side, so what do you expect people to believe. I call you a liar and you never fight back well then you are a liar in peoples minds.

    So now what do we have the weaker kneed establishment wants to open the borders? Oh and higher taxes, of course never mind the people who voted you in. As far as I am concerned these establishment types are the enemy of this Republic they are the like the French collaborators in WWII and should be defined as such.

  • Blake

    Again, right on time, someone presumes to know who I voted for and whether or not my vote would have made a difference. You must have mental telepathy or something, because I sure did not mention who I voted for.

    Here’s a hint: I live in a deep blue State and whether or not I voted for Romney would not have made a difference.


  • Blake

    Dick, you’re working from a very shaky premise.

    And, all you’re doing is attacking me, rather than arguing any points I have made.

    Which means you got nothing and you’re part of the problem.

  • Dai Alanye

    There’s no sense in scapegoating Romney, and even less sense in scapegoating Akin. Let’s get to the big picture. What is it that determines presidential elections in the USA? After many years of observation–since 1948, in fact–I say it is mainly this:
    Who appears to be the stronger leader, and what is the general narrative of the campaign?
    This will be the shorter version, so I won’t go into numerous examples.

    First, we need to recognize that the typical voter engages only superficially with policies and platforms, and that he (and especially she) votes according to emotional more often than practical reasons. Also, the typical voter’s memory is short, and his knowledge of history is slight and often distorted.

    1. In this election the main narrative was that Dubya destroyed the economy so thoroughly that not even four years of intense striving by Obama could wholly correct the problem.
    2. Although Romney went far in the debates toward giving an impression of himself as the stronger leader, the difference between public perceptions of himself and Obama wasn’t sufficient to overcome the all-important economic narrative.

    With benefit of hindsight, the one sure thing that Republicans could have done to reverse the result was to have aggressively defended Dubya from the charge of economy-wrecker, preferably starting in ’08. Instead Republicans, conservatives, and especially libertarians joined in the condemnation of him.

    (Ditto, by the way, with the friendly fire directed at Akin. Regardless of whether Akin was right or wrong. his candidacy was destroyed by Republicans joining with Dems in their attacks)

    The next best thing Republicans could have done was to pick a stronger-appearing candidate. In the end only Santorum fitted that role, and we can’t be sure he could have accomplished the job. He would have done well with men, but women evaluate “strength” in a candidate with the role of protector, and the ideal protector in the eyes of most of them is a man who is sensitive to their concerns. It’s possible that Santorum would have come across as too harsh to gain sufficient of the women’s vote. Note that even his wife wanted him to present a kinder, gentler Rick to the world, mistaken though this attempt proved to be.

    So we ought not to look for scapegoats, but prepare to control the narrative this time around. Let’s be sure to aggressively counter-attack the dishonest exaggerations and interpretations of the left, and never agree with them simply for purposes of going along to get along.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    The clown car is funny, but not when it represents your candidates.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Especially when it means that evil clown is still running the Senate.

  • richard mcenroe

    What are you going to do about it, vote against me? I’ve marched, I’ve knocked on doors, I’ve phone banked I’ve maintained a public counterprotest to the left in Studio City for going over ten years years now.

    YOU sat on your fat ass and whined. And I’M the problem?

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    I do not blame the base, I blame weak Senate candidates who do not know how to run for election. Mourdock and Akin in particular, but Thompson and Allen also.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady
  • Dai Alanye

    And by the way, Susannah Fleetwood’s “analysis” is nothing by mindless scapegoating–a superficial look at minor issues. Her claim that the actions of Romney’s primary opponents led to Republican defeats is beneath serious consideration. To the extent that Romney was successful it is in large part due to the coming-together of Republican opposition to his candidacy, especially by conservatives.

    I have relatively little familiarity with most of the Senate campaigns, but I wasn’t impressed by Scott Walker, who ran more as a challenger than an incumbent. In Ohio the previously-celebrated Josh Mandel put up a simply pathetic effort, signs of which showed up even in the primary.

  • Thomas L. Knapp

    “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”

    Todd Akin’s biggest primary supporter was his Democratic opponent, incumbent US Senator Claire McCaskill.

    No, I am not kidding. She actually spent significant money on advertising to pull him up from third place going into the Republican primary. The ads described Akin glowingly as “the true conservative candidate,” and the only indication they weren’t from his campaign was the “I’m Claire McCaskill and I approve this message” closer.

    Up to that point, Akin was an undistinguished US Representative who was only able to remain in Congress because his district was carefully gerrymandered to be irrevocably Republican (the other two districts in the gerrymander set were overwhelmingly Democrat).

    The only competitive election he ever had in his life was the GOP congressional primary when the equally lame Jim Talent left the seat to run for governor and then US Senate – and he only won that by 56 votes in a five-way race. Prior to that, he had been elected to the state legislature by running unopposed.

    I doubt McCaskill knew just how fast or hard he would implode, but she had good reason to believe she could make him unpalatable to the voters. As a congresscritter, he had been caught directing earmarks to the aid of family members (to improve roads around land they were developing), and voting at his old polling place years after moving.

    I saw no indication that Missouri’s GOP establishment was behind Akin in the primary, and I was fairly well-positioned to evaluate that (disclosure: I ran for Congress against Akin as a Libertarian in 2008).

  • Dai Alanye

    On the other hand, a young female relative of mine–just getting started in Republican activities, highly-intelligent and moderately sophisticated about politics–favored Akin whole-heartedly, even though she leans a bit toward pro-choice.

    Put that up against the libertarian opinion.

  • Blake

    So, you support the status quo with the GOP?

    Then yes, you’re part of the problem.


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  • rosalie

    We do not have politicians in Washington representing us. The Republicans and the Dems are the same. Further, when we get someone like Allen West, a breath of fresh air, he’s not supported by the Establishment and even thwarted by redistricting. Boehner is pathetic. All he seems to do is tell everyone that they have to fall in line, which means just do what the Dems tell us to do. I don’t blame the states that are petioning to secede. Our goose is almost cooked and they know it.

  • Thomas L. Knapp


    It’s not really about “libertarian opinion.” I’m just pointing out that Akin wasn’t, so far as I could tell, “the establishment GOP candidate” in the primary (that would have been Sarah Steelman).

  • Jimmie

    Sorry, Stacy, but I could not disagree more with your analysis.

  • Blake

    Robert, you specifically mention Akin and Levin.

    Levin initially may have called for Akin to step down, but, beyond a certain point, Levin, in no uncertain terms, told the GOP they needed to shut up and get behind Akin.

    Akin may have been guilty of an inarticulate remark, but that’s it. Unlike McCaskill, who is completely corrupt.

    So, tell me, was it better for the GOP to convict Akin for a remark or would it have been better for the GOP to go after a demonstrably corrupt Senator?

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady
  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Romney was hardly perfect and certainly not by first choice, but to be fair, we had an exceedingly weak field of candidates. Why is that? Why can’t Republicans recruit more substantive candidates?

  • PhilipJames

    For all the “intelligent” commentary by Susannah justifying this column and all the hand wringing about the Republican Party, there is not one word about the fact that 37,000 swing State Republican
    volunteers sat on their butts on election day when they were supposed to be using the fantastic get out the vote system “ORCA”. This was the get out the vote system the entire Republican Party was depending on and it
    CRASHED and there was not back up.
    This is MORE IMPORTANT than all the bull crap and soul searching going on because we now know that only 300,000 to 400,000 votes over a number of states… i.e.
    only 90,000 in Florida and 110,000 in Ohio…. would have won those States and the Presidency for Romney.

    So, stop the bull crap… it was a screw up in the basic get out the vote system run by the so-called geniuses in the Republican Party and Romney’s campaign that lost the election for President…. nothing else.

  • Fritz Katz

    But Democrats are bigger clowns — and they got elected. I don’t think the fact that we’re a bunch of clowns is the reason we lost.

  • richard mcenroe

    If you’ve been around here any length of time, you know I support pulling down the RNC. I also know which enemy to punch first.

    If you haven’t been around long enough to know that, well, that’s just one more thing you’ve been sitting out, isn’t it?

  • Blake


    You mention the Democrat Media Complex but fail to draw another conclusion.

    Romney won the first debate, but, for low information voters, lost the second and third debate.

    This is not because Romney didn’t do a good job, it was because Obama lied directly to the face of the electorate and no one called Obama on it.

    Most people expect candidates to engage in a certain amount of puffery to sell themselves. The electorate, however, had candidate Obama lie directly to their faces, something most people do not expect, so, the lie was taken as gospel.

    We’re political junkies and even we were caught off guard by the in your face lies of the current administration.

    Whereas the average voter is unaware of these blatant lies.

    The GOP and Romney, at every turn, gave the DNC home field advantage.

    Why is that? Why isn’t the GOP looking long and hard at how they do business? What is the GOP doing to counter the propaganda arm of the DNC known as MSM?

    I submit the GOP has a vested interest int the status quo. Either that, or the GOP is grossly incompetent. Either way it means the GOP is unfit to run the country.

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  • ThomasD

    This was a base turnout election. I said it back during the primaries, and repeated it often, right up until the convention. Yes I still bitched about Romney’s limitation, the long game never goes away. If there ever was a chance of him winning he needed to be on notice that he wasn’t there to be a Taxachussets technocratic statist.

    Still I dutifully trudged out and voted for the loser, knowing full well he was a loser, and being in TN that my vote was symbolic at best. Had I wanted to ‘make a statement’ I could have easily voted Libertarian Party or Constitution Party. But I did not.

    Election night was depressing, but not the least bit surprising. Romney spent the better part of the entire campaign running away from conservative principles. He’s more like Akin than you are willing to admit.

    Akin lacked the courage of his convictions and wasn’t willing to defend his ‘principles’ and state the obvious. Had he stated something like ‘believing life begins at conception I cannot sanction the killing of an innocent baby for being guilty of having the wrong father’ and left it at that he might have lost some supporters but the media would have shied away from spending to much time on a debate that can only be evaluated once one commits to the exact moment when life begins. Don ‘t want to remind them Catholic types where they’re supposed to stand on the unborn. That they avoid like the plague – but talking about rape? Boy, they’re all over that angle.

    So rather than laying it on the line instead he tried to hide behind some silly pseudo medical mumbo jumbo about ‘real rape.’ It was an absurd elision – one everyone recognized as the chicken shit dodge that it was – he showed himself as a coward. That lack of backbone, and the follow on display of self entitlement cost him, and rather than costing him ‘swing’ voters that he probably NEVER had to begin with, it cost him in his base. The very people he could not afford to lose.

    Willard T. Etch-a-Sketch had much the same flaws, he could never make an argument that displayed any conservative conviction because he doesn’t have any,/i> and so the base gave him much the same treatment, with equivalent results.

    Romney is an example of something endemic with the upper echelons of the party – they are not fighters, nor leaders, because they lack any real conviction.

  • John Doe

    Those who believe that Romney was not a flawed candidate are still in denial. To the average Joe on the street it was between a corrupt socialist and a flip-flopping rich dude with all his money tied up in secret off-shore bank accounts. And one wonders why many opted to ignore the entire fiasco and sit home on election day? What. Were. Republicans. Thinking?

  • ThomasD

    Not about ideology qua ideology, but about willingness, or lack thereof, to promote your ideology.

    Reagan had that willingness.

    He was also actually good at it.

    Romney was not even willing, so we cannot begin to evaluate whether he was at all able.

    I said it the day after the election, maybe we need to re-examine allowing the media so much control over our primary process? Control that allows them to actively turn people against our principles and ideology.

    And maybe then we can change that process into one that finds the person best able to actually sell the people on our principles and ideology.

  • JeffS

    I live in a Deep Blue state as well. My vote is — AT BEST– a “F**k You!” to the lefties in Olympia.

    And I agree with Stacy.

    He is NOT blaming the base. He is simply not agreeing with you and the others looking for a convenient target to vent their rage. Unlike McCain in 2008, Romney ran a decent campaign.

    Stacy points to the GOP as being the problem. As they are, as I’ve seen for years, which is why I haven’t given them dime one for years. Remember how they screwed up the 2008 campaign? Michael Steele ring a bell? Bob Dole, maybe?

    Best wake up and smell the coffee, lest we all suffer together.

  • JeffS

    Well said!

  • Leroy_Whitby

    The idea that we can take back the culture without fighting is ridiculous. The ridiculous weakness of Romney McRomneycare hurt the downticket races as well. I called and called in 2010. Not in 2012. Why? Romney was the “leader” and I didn’t like him one bit. I didn’t plan it that way. Times are hard and I had other things to do.

    Romney got fewer votes of Mormons than McCain.

  • Blake

    You support pulling down the RNC yet get the vapors because a lot of conservatives sat out this election? At what point do you get tired of “business as usual?” The last election? This election? Or is it always the next election?

    FAIL again.

    Go away, you’re too easy. Sheesh.