Romney wasn’t the problem.
To the extent Republicans have a problem with their candidates, it’s not that they’re not conservative enough. Where are today’s Nelson Rockefellers, Arlen Specters or George H.W. Bushes? Happily, they have gone the way of leprosy.
Having vanquished liberal Republicans, the party’s problem now runs more along the lines of moron showoffs, trying to impress tea partiers like Jenny Beth Martin by taking insane positions on rape exceptions for abortion — as 2 million babies are killed every year from pregnancies having nothing to do with rape.
Romney lost because he was running against an incumbent, was beaten up during a long and vicious primary fight, and ran in a year with a very different electorate from 1980. At least one of those won’t be true next time. But we’re not going to win any elections by telling ourselves fairy tales about a candidate who lost because he wasn’t conservative enough, articulate enough or mean enough.
The vast majority of those in the American middle class haven’t lost their jobs and probably don’t expect to lose them. Their economic concerns revolve around being and feeling poorer than they were and felt in 2007, being or feeling trapped in a house worth less than it was, and being or feeling trapped in a job that pays less than they thought it would by now—and in all these cases, prospects are for extraordinarily modest improvement at best.
To such people Romney had nothing to say; he stuck instead to those generalities about America being a nation of entrepreneurship that celebrates success and rewards hard work and dreaming. That’s all well and good, but many people work hard without dreaming; and it is a violation of the central conservative idea of the dignity of the individual to confuse the idea of “success” in life with purely financial success as a result of risk-taking.
Thus did the flight from content create a fatal problem for Romney. He may have thought his lack of specificity would lend him more appeal, but in the end, it made him less appealing because he offered nothing but words. The exit-poll question he lost most definitively to Obama was about which of them “cares about the problems of people like me.” Obama won it by a staggering 81–17. There was some moaning in conservative circles that this indicated a dreadful decline for America, its final Oprah-ization. That is a terrible misunderstanding. Of course politicians should “care about the problems of people like me.” The “problems of people like me” are the root of all policy. Otherwise being a politician is nothing but regulation and management.
You cannot beat something with nothing. Obama had a record that was less than nothing but a machine and an approach to victory that were more than enough to add up to something. Romney, in the end, had nothing but Obama’s nothing.
It is also worth noting that in states that were not considered battleground territory, Mr. Obama could still have won without a majority of the Hispanic vote. In California, Mr. Obama took the state’s 55 electoral votes with 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, but could have won with as little as 25 percent. And in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), where Mr. Obama received an estimated 80 percent of the Hispanic vote, he could have still carried the state with just over 37 percent.
With these five swing states, along with the safe Democratic states that Mr. Obama should have carried regardless of the Hispanic vote, the president would have reached 283 electoral votes, winning the Electoral College without needing to win a majority of the Hispanic vote in each state…
In New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Colorado, slightly higher shares (but still less than a majority) of the Hispanic vote could have swung them to Mr. Romney, and this may well put these states in play in the next election if the Republican candidate and platform have broader appeal among Hispanic voters.
Low-information voters trend younger and are more likely to be unmarried. They typically remain at least nominally ‘undecided’ until the bitter end, and generally do not read or watch extensive political or news coverage. They may care about economic issues in theory, but the tax rate doesn’t impact their day-to-day existence.
Democrats – Barack Obama in particular – go after these voters with gusto. The 2008 Obama campaign broke ground by advertising on Xbox video games, prompting thousands of stoners to get off the couch and out to the polls. In 2012, when young women visited a beauty blog, they were likely greeted with video ads of Eva Longoria or Scarlett Johansson telling them Obama was fabulous. And lest we forget the infamous ad where Girls star Lena Dunham invited her fellow young women to make their “first time” special with Barack Obama.
Yet aside from the folksy Reagan of humble beginnings, and these two isolated successes, no other Republican candidate has managed successfully to play the populist card, as someone who did not just pander to but actually liked the working classes. George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign of 1992 was sabotaged by the cranky, animated populist, Ross Perot. The latter far better appealed to the third-party antecedents of the Tea Party…
Romney should have waded into blue states, especially low-income and minority areas—not because he had a real chance of winning a California, New York, or Illinois, but because he could use such occasions to remind all Americans, especially independents and conservative Democrats in swing states, that his agenda was aimed at getting the underclass jobs, empowering the lower middle classes, and giving all Americans more freedom of choice. The Romney economic message should have been aimed not just at job creators but at job seekers: smaller government, he should have argued forcefully, ensures that more people will be hired in the private sector…
Romney might have agreed to higher income tax rates not, like Obama, on those who make over $250,000, but instead on the real millionaires who make over a $1 million—and who statistically are more likely to be Obama supporters. How odd to hear Romney damned for supporting lower taxes for the 1 percent—by the 1 percent of Hollywood film stars, attorneys, and media superstars. He also could have opposed tax breaks for the very wealthy, like elite politicized foundations, and ended government subsidies for large wealthy agribusiness concerns…
Republicans will fail if they allow Democrats to promote the myth that their present alliance of the very wealthy and the poor is somehow more populist than empowering the middle and upper-middle classes. To become the true populists in our media-driven, electronically wired culture and to counter the Democrats’ art of class warfare, Republicans must not just argue for free-market solutions that help the hard-pressed middle, but they should look and talk—if not live—like them too.
The politics of entitlement reform may be debatable, but the math is not. The aging of the population and rising health care costs are together triggering explosive growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If left unchecked, these programs will place a crushing burden on federal taxpayers, cripple states and stifle economic growth.
It isn’t moral to impose these problems on future generations. It isn’t right to cede ground to liberals and allow ever higher taxes to chase ever higher spending, while government takes on an increasingly intrusive role in people’s lives.
Conservatives cannot live in a bubble. We’re never going to realize a federal government with powers truly limited to those narrowly enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. But even if a reaffirmation of principles doesn’t entail advocating utopian political positions — such as scrapping the entire welfare state — conservatives shouldn’t allow their core beliefs be dictated by what may or may not improve the short-term prospects for Republicans. Conservatism is not a political strategy.