Posted on | November 17, 2012 | 36 Comments
The evolving demographics of the country, combined with the profound changes to both the culture and the economy, demanded that the GOP change both its sales pitch and its governing philosophy.
Compassionate conservatism increasingly faded from view after 9/11. Bush ran as a war president first and a compassionate conservative second (at best) in 2004. Still, it’s worth remembering that Bush won a staggering (for a Republican) 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Romney got 27 percent.
Moreover, according to exit polls, Romney decisively beat Obama on the questions of leadership, values, and economic expertise, but he was crushed by more than 60 points on the question of which candidate “cares about people like me.”
I still don’t like compassionate conservatism or its conception of the role of government. But given the election results, I have to acknowledge that Bush was more prescient than I appreciated at the time.
Exit polls, Jonah? You’re going to surrender to the Entitlement Culture on the basis of exit polls? If we have to start making arguments for limited government en Espanol, so be it, but first things first: Why did Romney lose the election?
Did Romney lose because of his policy positions? Or did Romney lose because the Obama campaign, with the eager assistance of what Andrew Breitbart called the Democrat-Media Complex, succeeded in portraying Romney as a stereotypical Clueless Republican?
That the Clueless Republican does not “care about people like me” is not really a matter of policy, but of perception, and a big part of that perception is about narrative arc.
People want many things in a presidential candidate, but one thing they pretty much require is that the candidate be able to tell a story about his life and career — who he is — in the context of how he intends to govern. The up-by-the-bootstraps biography of Ronald Reagan stood him in good stead throughout his political career which, in case you’ve forgotten, didn’t really begin until 1964 when Reagan was past 50.
Romney’s narrative arc didn’t work so well. Among the candidates for GOP nomination this year, only Herman Cain had the up-by-the-bootstraps Reaganesque biography. Of course, Rick Perry also came from humble origins, and Rick Santorum’s tales of his Italian immigrant father were inspirational, but both Perry and Santorum entered politics early in life which, generally, is a liability for a presidential candidate.
The “cares about me” question is a matter of perception, not policy, and is in large measure a proxy for “likeability,” which is a very superficial, instinctive reaction. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” barely enabled him to defeat the unlikeable Al Gore and the equally unlikeable John Kerry. In 2012, in addition to having the Allstate Insurance man as their candidate, Democrats also trotted out the unctuously faux-empathetic Bill Clinton. The Republicans, by contrast, gave primetime convention spots to egotistical blubberbutt Chris Christie and the disgruntled ramblings of Clint Eastwood.
Given the manifold advantages of the Democrats in the past campaign — and incumbency is an advantage not to be underestimated — and the various specific shortcomings and failures of the Republicans, the GOP defeat is not really difficult to explain.
Furthermore, and quite importantly, the election was actually quite close: A margin of 3 percentage points (about 3 million out of 110 million cast) in the popular vote, with Romney competitive in all the key swing states. Romney lost Florida by only 70,000 votes out of 8.3 million and lost Ohio by about 100,000 out of 5.1 million. These are not landslide margins. This was not a “mandate” election for Obama, no matter what anybody tells you, and for Republicans to let themselves be spooked by exit polls or to propose a wholesale reorganization of their party because of a panic about “demographics” is absurd.
Like I said, Jonah, I blame your endorsement of “compassionate conservatism” on intellectual fatigue. You wrote that when you were tired and discouraged. So are we all tired and discouraged. So let’s rest up, recover our morale, and try to think calmly about the future.
Also, Jonah, you should adopt my rule: Never talk strategy in public.
It has become entirely too common, in the “Smartest Guy in the Room” competition among pundits (and would-be pundits) to proclaim strategic insights to the public, and it’s just stupid. This is comparable to an NFL coach putting up a message on the Jumbotron screen: “We’re going to run a play-action pass.” Democrats can read the Internet, you know. Hell, they invented the Internet.
Finally, Jonah, I think Rush Limbaugh is closer to the mark in analyzing the root causes of the GOP’s problem:
The things that [younger people] just assume are true, like there is no doubt whatsoever that we are destroying the planet with global warming, no doubt. They can’t even conceive of what you and I both know to be the truth, and that is, the whole global warming thing is a hoax. They do not even think it’s a political issue. They do not realize that everything they believe in has been totally corrupted by politics. What they think is science is nothing more than corruption by the left, but they don’t know any better.
Global warming? Democrats invented that, too. Like “homophobia” and the “War on Women,” Republicans are losing young “skulls full of mush” because of phony issues manufactured by the Democrats, issues skillfully marketed by the Democrats’ leftist allies in academia, the news media and the entertainment industry.