The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.
US Senator Jon Kyl speaks during a Republican Party election night event in Phoenix, Arizona, November 6, 2012. Reuters/Joshua Lott
Republicans took some of their first tentative steps towards reinventing their party on Tuesday, when Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced an alternative to the DREAM Act. The bill, called the Achieve Act, would allow immigrants brought to the United States as children without documentation to stay in the country, but it would not provide a path to citizenship. Instead, recipients could apply for a series of visas, first to attend college or serve in the military, then to work.
Unfortunately for Republicans, this measure—even if it became law—falls short of what the GOP needs to do if it is to win over growing electoral demographic groups.
It won’t pass anyway. Hutchison and Kyl are both retiring and the bill is unlikely to be passed in the lame-duck Congress’s few remaining weeks. Kyl says that the bill will be moved forward by sympathizers in the GOP such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-TX), even though neither Rubio nor McCain has signed on as a cosponsor.
It’s easy to see the political imperative that is weighing upon Republicans. In the wake of their electoral defeat, many have determined that they must do better among Latinos. According to exit polls, Latinos made up 10 percent of the electorate this year, and only 29 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney. “The trajectory of the gains in the total numbers of Latino voters is only matched by the remarkable tin-ear the Republican Party has for this community,” write pollster John Zogby and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz in the Huffington Post. “If conservatism keeps its demonization of immigrants and immigration reform as one of its pillars, look for the GOP to put itself out of business.”
This opinion is shared by political strategists on the right. Glenn Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican political research firm, notes:
Romney won many of the groups that are generally considered to be the ones to decide elections—Independents, white women (by double digits), middle income, and voters age 40+. Mitt Romney put together a coalition that just eight years ago would have won the presidential election….
So, if you win the swing groups but lose the election, that means the Democrats have a clear home field advantage. There are more Democrats. That underscores that we have to do better as a party with Hispanics. It will be hard to push white voter support for Democrats lower than 39% (which is all Obama got). Thus, to have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics.
It’s simple math, but it’s hard to do. We have to start today.
Supporting immigration reform could also help Republicans soften their image among young voters. Obama dominated among voters 18–29 years old, winning them 60 to 36. According to the Pew Research Center, “In four of the key battleground states, Obama may not have won without the youth vote.” Only 58 percent of voters under 30 years old are non-Hispanic whites. Eighteen percent are Latino.
But some conservatives question the inference that Republicans should try to woo Latinos. Last week Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute argued that Republicans are wrong to assume that Latinos are latent conservatives who will vote Republican as soon as the GOP embraces amnesty for undocumented immigrants. As Murray observes, the survey data does not show Latinos to be more conservative than the general public.
Then he throws in a rather startling digression that unintentionally illustrates a major part of the GOP’s problem:
I can understand why people think Latinos are natural conservatives. Just about every Latino with whom I come in contact is hard-working and competent. I don’t get into discussions with them about their families and religion, but they sure look like go-getting, family-values Americans to me. But note the caveat: “with whom I come in contact.” There’s a huge selection artifact embedded in that caveat—I always come in contact with Latinos because they are on a work crew that’s doing something at my house or office, or at my neighbors’ houses. That’s the way that almost all Anglos in the political chattering class come in contact with Latinos. Of course they look like model Americans.
A party that is controlled by out-of-touch old white men like Murray is doomed to seem, at best, condescending to the minorities it hopes to attract.
Murray went on to write a follow-up piece this week, engaging in exactly the same kind of broad, ignorant stereotyping that he warns conservatives to avoid when discussing Latinos. He argues that Asian-Americans—whom he refers to as “Asians,” even though he is talking about American citizens of Asian ancestry, not residents of Asia—would be Republicans were it not for social conservatives. “It’s not just that the income, occupations, and marital status of Asians should push them toward the right,” Murray writes. “Everyday observation of Asians around the world reveal them to be conspicuously entrepreneurial, industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant. If you’re looking for a natural Republican constituency, Asians should define ‘natural.’”
Like Charles Krauthammer, Murray throws around the term “family-oriented” without defining it, much less proving that it is true of the group in question. (Krauthammer was making the argument about Latinos that Murray finds unpersuasive.) Most irritatingly, Murray assumes, as Krauthammer does, that being “industrious, family-oriented, and self-reliant” should make one a conservative. Why is that? How does opposing health coverage for the unemployed encourage the industrious to leave her job and start a business? What exactly are the Republicans’ pro-family policies? Their opposition to federal funding for education and Head Start? Their desire to cut funding for children’s health insurance, housing and food? Those policies make it harder, not easier, to have children.
Is it perhaps that Republicans oppose family planning and legal equality for the families of gays and lesbians? No, Murray is actually arguing that it is precisely those views that have turned Asian-Americans against Republicans. He writes:
Something has happened to define conservatism in the minds of Asians as deeply unattractive, despite all the reasons that should naturally lead them to vote for a party that is identified with liberty, opportunity to get ahead, and economic growth. I propose that the explanation is simple. Those are not the themes that define the Republican Party in the public mind. Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality. [Emphasis in original]
Murray does not explain why it is “ludicrously inaccurate” to view Republicans that way. They are, in fact, overwhelmingly opposed to gay rights and abortion rights. This is not an ideological assertion, it is a mere statement of fact. The Republican platform calls for banning all abortions, and every Republican senator voted to block the Employment Non-discrimination Act. As for being “Bible-thumping” creationists, let’s look at this report from Gallup in 2007:
The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. This suggests that when three Republican presidential candidates at a May debate stated they did not believe in evolution, they were generally in sync with the bulk of the rank-and-file Republicans whose nomination they are seeking to obtain.…
The data from several recent Gallup studies suggest that Americans’ religious behavior is highly correlated with beliefs about evolution. Those who attend church frequently are much less likely to believe in evolution than are those who seldom or never attend. That Republicans tend to be frequent churchgoers helps explain their doubts about evolution.
What Murray presumably means to say is that he and his friends are not socially conservative. Republican elites often assert that their party is more cosmopolitan and tolerant than it actually is, because they and their cohort are. They’re in it for the tax cuts and the wars that poorer people’s children will fight. Well, good for them, but that has nothing to do with the views of most Republican voters or elected officials.
Murray does not raise this point, but adopting a more moderate stance on immigration might help Republicans among Asian-Americans as much as among Latinos. Pundits often note the anti-immigrant California Proposition 187 as a watershed moment in turning Latinos against the GOP. It was also crucial in turning Asian-Americans off from Republicans.
The problem, though, that Murray and other Republicans and conservatives are unwilling to address is that economic conservatism is as much to blame for their woes as immigration or social issues. Polls show that young people and non-white voters are more liberal on the role of government in the economy. But since economic royalism is the reason they are Republicans in the first place, conservative elites such as Murray cannot fathom actually moderating their stances on that. Until they do, though, they may find themselves unable to win over any of these demographics, stereotypes about entrepreneurialism and family-orientation notwithstanding.
A group of Tea Partiers have another explanation for Mitt Romney’s loss: voter fraud.
In the Republican crack up following their loss on November 6, conservative pundits have tossed out innumerable arguments about how to win next time. It was inevitable that someone would come up with the worst possible idea. And, sure enough, someone has. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, conservative pundit Charlotte Allen declares, “I’ve got a suggestion for cutting short the GOP angst: Sarah Palin for president in 2016.”
Reading Allen’s piece is interesting because of what it shows about the mindset of some conservatives: that pundits who think as Allen does have no respect for policy, no seriousness about governance and no respect for the American voter.
Allen hails from one of the more intellectually serious and respectable corners of the conservative media. Her author bio on Townhall.com, a conservative magazine website for which she has written, reads: “Charlotte Allen is a contributing editor for the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website. She writes regularly for the Weekly Standard and is a frequent contributor of opinion pieces to the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.” The Manhattan Institute is a think tank that served as the idea factory for Rudy Giuliani’s mayoralty. Allen contributes to its academia-focused blog. The Weekly Standard is one of the most influential magazines among the DC Republican elite. (Vice President Dick Cheney would send someone to personally fetch thirty copies of it upon publication every week.) It features some of the best writers in conservative journalism, such as Andrew Ferguson, Christopher Caldwell and Matt Labash. So it is not as if analyzing Allen’s is the same as, say, unfairly picking on some random person with his own blog.
Allen’s argument is purely electoral. She does not actually suggest that the former half-term governor of Alaska is actually qualified to run the country, much less that Palin would be good at doing so. Such questions do not seem to interest her at all. Allen does not directly confront the revelations of Palin’s startling ignorance of global affairs, either as a substantive or a political concern.
Most remarkable is the condescending view Allen holds of voters whom the GOP must win over. Allen seems to fall into the camp of pundits who realize Republicans must do better among certain demographics, such as single women. But her reasons for thinking Palin is the candidate best equipped to do so presume that voters care about nothing but shallow identity politics. Allen writes:
A Palin “war against women”? Hah! Not only is she a woman, she’s got a single-mom daughter, Bristol, to help with the swelling single-mom demographic….
If she were smart, Palin would recruit a member of her impressive gay fanboy base — yes, she has one — to help run her campaign…. Palin’s son Track is an Iraq war veteran, so she can be proudly patriotic without being labeled another George W. Bush, looking to do aggressive nation-building.
Allen finds it risible that Palin could be accused of opposing women’s rights because Palin is a woman and she has a daughter who is a single mother. Therefore, Allen asserts, Palin will do better among single women. It appears not to have even occurred to Allen that single women might have chosen Obama, a man, over Romney because of his positions. Under a Republican president, single women have reasons to worry about their reproductive freedom, their access to contraception, funding for their children’s schools, Medicaid eligibility and benefits, pay discrimination and discrimination by health insurers. This is as true of Palin as it is of Romney. Hiring a gay staffer would not change the fact that the Republican Party opposes protecting gays from discrimination in the workplace and from marrying their partners.
Palin’s son’s service should not inoculate Palin from charges that she shares Bush’s foreign policy views. Of course, when she was asked if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine, Palin made it clear she had no idea what it was. But her close advisers have included neoconservative hawks such as Michael Goldfarb and Randy Scheunemann.
Allen believes voters will assume that Palin can be trusted not to send our troops into harm’s way unnecessarily just because her son served in the military. It would be stupid of voters to think that, instead of looking at Palin’s policies.
So Allen thinks voters are stupid. Don’t take my word for it. This is her argument:
Romney failed to take into account the fact that large segments of the electorate neither know nor care much about serious economic and political issues. What they—a group sometimes euphemistically called “uninformed voters”—do know and care about are the tugs on their emotions, fears, revulsions and heart strings provided by hours and hours of uninterrupted television watching .
The Democrats understood how to reach that constituency….
Palin can more than keep up with the Democrats in appealing to voters’ emotions…. Palin is “View”-ready, she’s “Ellen”-ready, she’s Kelly-and-Michael-ready.
Likewise, when it comes to winning over less wealthy voters, Allen seems to think they are all suckers. Allen enthuses, “Hardly anyone could be more blue collar than Palin, out on the fishing boat with her hunky blue-collar husband, Todd.” Hardly anyone, that is, except for someone who is actually blue collar. “Blue collar” workers are those who perform manual labor that does not require a bachelor’s degree: janitors, firefighters, auto workers, plumbers. Palin is a college educated multimillionaire. Before going into politics she was a local TV sportscaster. Palin was not even raised in a blue collar family. Her father was also a college educated professional, a school teacher. Palin is upper class and white collar.
Allen’s false assertion about Palin is revealing. For many conservatives, class is not determined by objective measurements such as income, occupation or education. Rather it is a set of cultural affectations. If you fish and can’t name a single newspaper you read, you’re blue collar, since “blue collar” is, in this usage, just a shorthand for what conservatives deem to be a typical white American.
But this usage is bogus. It is arbitrary and loaded with its own kind of cultural snobbery. Many working class people don’t live in rural areas and don’t go fishing. If I wrote, “Hardly anyone could be more blue collar than Barack Obama, out on the basketball court,” no one would take that seriously, least of all Charlotte Allen. Nor should they. Where I am from, far more blue-collar people play basketball than fish. But that doesn’t make every basketball player blue collar.
More importantly, it does not say anything about how Obama’s, or Palin’s, policies affect blue-collar workers and their families. Allen thinks blue-collar voters care more about whether a politician shares their hobbies than his or her policies. If Palin runs on the Romney-Ryan platform of turning Medicare into a voucher system to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy will blue-collar voters support her? Allen, from her contemptuous and haughty perch, thinks they will, because all they care about is whether a candidate looks good in a fishing boat. Whether or not conservatives who think this way are destined to lose is debatable, but they undoubtedly deserve to.
For more right-wing delusions about what really lost them the election, check out Eric Alterman’s latest column.
While many conservative pundits are coming up with explanations for the election results that excuse them from having to make any ideological adjustments to win future elections, some are claiming that they can easily solve their problems. According to the most partisan members of Republican establishment, the GOP has a racial demographic problem, but all they need to do to solve it is to moderate their stance on immigration. Sharper conservative minds, however, recognize that women, young people and minorities have economic and ideological reasons for voting Democratic.
The most egregious and condescending example of the former line of thinking comes from Charles Krauthammer. In his Washington Post column last Thursday, Krauthammer wrote, “They lose and immediately the chorus begins. Republicans must change or die. A rump party of white America, it must adapt to evolving demographics or forever be the minority. The only part of this that is even partially true regards Hispanics.”
Implicit in Krauthammer’s column is the assumption that African-Americans cannot be persuaded to vote Republican, but that Republicans can win without them. That may be so, although he offers no statistical data to prove it. Nor does Krauthammer prove that Latinos are a much more persuadable group for the GOP.
Instead, Krauthammer simply relies upon some broad, ignorant stereotyping of Latinos. “They should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example),” he writes. “The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.”
Krauthammer does not offer survey data to prove that Latinos are more “family-oriented” than anyone else. Nor does he explain what “family-oriented” means. That they are more likely to live with extended family? More likely to wait until marriage to have children? The former is true and the latter is not. And what does any of this have to do with political preferences? In fact, African-Americans and Asian-Americans are also more likely to live in a multigenerational household, and they are all more likely to vote Democratic than are whites. In light of that, it is difficult to even ascertain what Krauthammer thinks he is talking about, other than that he apparently assumes Democrats are so evil that surely they must hate their mothers. He should try to interviewing actual Democrats and Latinos sometime, as it might make his analysis a lot better-informed.
If by “family-oriented” Krauthammer means to imply that Latinos are especially hostile to gay marriage, he is wrong. Exit polls now show a majority of Latinos support gay marriage. It’s not even clear why Krauthammer thinks being Catholic would make Latinos vote Republican, since white and Latino Catholics are less likely to vote Republican than white or Latino Protestants. “Striving immigrant community,” could describe plenty of Democratic-leaning voting blocs, from Jews or Asian-Americans to Caribbean-Americans.
The rest of Krauthammer’s argument flows from his initial misperception. He writes:
For the [Republican] party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe—full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.
I’ve always been of the “enforcement first” school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it’s the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle.
Imagine Marco Rubio advancing such a policy on the road to 2016. It would transform the landscape. He’d win the Hispanic vote. Yes, win it. A problem fixable with a single policy initiative is not structural. It is solvable.
Although he does not say it in so many words, Krauthammer clearly believes that Latinos are suckers for any candidate with a Spanish surname. Displaying no apparent understanding of the fact that Mexican-Americans in Colorado may not even feel they have much in common with a Cuban-American from Florida, Krauthammer issues a wild, foolish, patronizing prediction. Apparently he did not learn his lesson from wrongly predicting that Mitt Romney would win the election.
Just as Krauthammer presents no evidence that Latinos lean conservative, he does not prove that immigration is actually their biggest concern. He just makes these pronouncements as if he were omniscient. But, in fact, the evidence shows that Latinos are concerned about more than immigration, and that they are liberal on economic issues. Matthew Yglesias writes in Slate:
The best evidence available on Hispanic public opinion, a big election even poll from Latino Decisions and ImpreMedia, makes it clear that this is just a fairly liberal voting block. Just 12 percent of Latinos support a cuts-only approach to deficit reduction, and only 25 percent want to repeal Obamacare. Only 31 percent of Hispanics say they’d be more likely to vote for a Republican who supports the DREAM Act. This isn’t to say Latinos aren’t eager to see immigration reform, it’s just that the lion’s share have bigger reasons for rejecting the GOP.
This apparently has not occurred to Republican congressional leaders, or Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who have suggested since the election that the party should embrace comprehensive immigration reform, but have offered no other policy shifts.
Some conservatives, who are not as blinded by partisanship, understand that Republicans must offer an economic opportunity agenda if they are to appeal to Latinos.
“Hispanics are disproportionately poor and uninsured,” observes Ramesh Ponnuru in his Tuesday Bloomberg column. “And like people of other races in similar situations, they tend to have views on economic policy that align with the Democrats. In California, for example, Hispanics helped get Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s tax increases approved on Election Day. A Republican Party that is associated with repealing Obama’s health-care legislation—and not with any alternative plan to get people health insurance—is going to get trounced among these voters.”
Ponnuru also explains that other demographic groups among whom Romney performed poorly, such as women and young voters, have generally liberal economic views. While many conservatives have simply blamed poor Republican performance among women and young people on anti-abortion extremism and hostility to gay rights, respectively, Ponnuru cautions that moving into the twentieth century on those issues won’t, by itself, make them appealing to many of those voters:
Men and women, whites and Hispanics, the young and the middle-aged: All of them want politicians to offer a practical agenda to create jobs, raise wages, and make health care and higher education more affordable. Most of them aren’t wedded to liberal answers on those issues. They will take them over nothing, and that’s what Republicans have been giving them.
Writing in The New York Times this week, Ross Douthat made a similar argument:
The problems that middle-class Americans faced in the late 1970s are not the problems of today. Health care now takes a bigger bite than income taxes out of many paychecks. Wage stagnation is a bigger threat to blue-collar workers than inflation. Middle-income parents worry more about the cost of college than the crime rate. Americans are more likely to fret about Washington’s coziness with big business than about big government alone.
Both shifts, demographic and economic, must be addressed if Republicans are to find a way back to the majority. But the temptation for the party’s elites will be to fasten on the demographic explanation, because playing identity politics seems far less painful than overhauling the Republican economic message….
Hispanics are not single-issue voters: they can be alienated by nativism, but they can’t just be won by the promise of green cards and open borders. (After Reagan signed an amnesty bill in 1986, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell in the next presidential election.) Latino voters are not, as conservative strategists often claim, “natural” Republican voters—notwithstanding their (moderate) social conservatism, they tend to lean leftward on economic issues, and to see government more as an ally than a foe. They can be wooed, gradually, if Republicans address their aspirations and anxieties, but they aren’t going to be claimed in one legislative pander.
Even National Review, in its post-election editorial, sounded similar notes. “Republicans from the top to the bottom of the ticket did little to make the case that conservative policies would make the broad mass of the public better off,” the editors complained. They went on to call for more sophisticated thinking about these challenges than that which is being displayed Krauthammer:
Most of the post-election discussion, we can predict, will dwell on the predictable demographic divides of sex, race, and age. Most of this conversation will be unproductive. Until conservatives devise a domestic agenda, and a way to sell it, that links small-government principles to attractive results, they are going to have a hard time improving their standing with women, Latinos, white men, or young people. And conservatives would be deeply unwise to count on the mere availability of charismatic young conservative officials to make up for that problem.
Surely it is comforting to Republicans to think that nominating Rubio—who they love and who is a doctrinaire conservative on everything but immigration—will magically solve their problems. But just as Democrats learned that they needed to adjust their policies to an ideologically shifting electorate, Republicans will too, or else they may find themselves in the wilderness for years to come.
Even if the GOP "evolved" on their anti-marriage equality stance, would it win them more votes? Check out Emily Douglas’s take here.
The reality that America has re-elected Barack Obama has caused some conservative writers to ponder where they went wrong, and to debate if it is their candidates or their stance on immigration. But many of the more extreme conservative activists and pundits are unwilling to consider the possibility that it is the fault of the conservative movement. After all, conservatives can do no wrong. Therefore, it may be that Romney was not conservative enough, or it may be that the country has lost its mind. Most comforting of all for them is to think that they were not actually repudiated at all. Here is a handy guide with examples of who is making each of these arguments, or variations on them, and how.
Romney was too moderate.
Proponents: American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, Robert Walsh of National Review, Erick Erickson of Red State
Movement conservatives remain convinced that cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security to cut taxes for the wealthy would be popular among a majority of Americans, if only everyone knew that was their position. The obvious contradiction—that their policies would actually harm the many to help the few—seems simply not to occur to them. But whereas the intellectual elite of the conservative movement is capable of considering the possibility that their stances on social issues or illegal immigration may not serve their political interests, they are mostly unable to conceive such a possibility in economic matters. Fischer, an evangelical pastor, argues that a lack of conservative enthusiasm for Romney caused their turnout to fall short. But Fischer simultaneously says conservatives, especially social conservatives, have loyally accepted ideologically impure candidates such as Romney in order to win, and if they cannot even win, then they will turn their backs on the GOP.
When conservative principles are the focal point of the election, they win; when “electability” and “reaching across the aisle” are personified in a middling candidate at the presidential level, they lose.
Erickson, on November 12:
As I wrote would happen, Mitt Romney tried to blur lines with Barack Obama. He did not defend social conservatism, but let those attacks go unanswered. He did not articulate strong fiscal conservatism and he never repudiated Romneycare, thereby failing to make any credible attacks on Obamacare.
And on November 7:
Compare Romney to Scott Walker. Scott Walker took on the unions in Wisconsin and won big. Romney barely took on Barack Obama. He drew few lines in the sand, made those fungible, and did not stand on many principles. Americans wanted to assess a contrast between the candidates and got blurred lines instead. They went with the politician they knew instead of the one who was different depending on the election season, constituency, and time of day.
“I said this to some reporters at the Values Voters Summit: that if Mitt Romney loses this election there is going to be a third party because conservatives that make up the heart and soul of the Republican Party, that actually believe in the values that are enshrined in the Republican Party platform, those voters—they’re the ones that knock on doors, they give the small donations, they make the phone calls, they get out the vote—and they’re tired of being ignored by the Republican Party elites and dissed and having their values trampled into the ground. And there’s only so much that they’re going to be able to take.”
The American people are a bunch of lazy, stupid mooching jerks. (Also, too many of them are not white.)
Proponents: Robert Laurie, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Judge of the Daily Caller, Walsh again
Laurie, a columnist for Herman Cain’s website, writes that Democrats have built a majority of people who have no interest in assimilating or any desire to be independent. Also, he refers to President Obama, who is 51 years old, using the racist epithet “boy.”
Give a man a free phone, promise him a cradle-to-grave nanny state, and he’s a Democrat for life….
It’s easy to see that our society is degenerating. An off shoot [sic] of class warfare, the cultural entropy that the United States has undergone cannot be overstated. Previously, many feared that immigrants were unwilling to assimilate into the American mosaic, but the truth is far worse.
Roughly half of our citizens—immigrant or otherwise—have no interest in doing so either. Instead, the fabric of the country is being shredded, divided into easily categorized segments, mostly along racial lines. An out of control federal government then corrals these groups with the promise of handouts, or the threat of penalty. Last night, we watched it in action and it was frighteningly effective.
The boy king didn’t just win because he achieved a second term. Certainly, he’s happy that he gets to stay in office, but that’s not really his crowning glory. In fact, that may be the least of his victories.
Obama’s real achievement is that the death of the melting pot, the expansion of class warfare, an end to individualism, and widespread dependence were his goals from day one. Not only has he managed to implement policy that would affect these changes, he’s sold his most ardent supporters on the outcome.
On election night, on Fox News, O’Reilly made the same argument much more concisely:
The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things? The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.
The truth is that America is now a leftist country. It’s Rachel Maddow and Jeremiah Wright’s country. You know that divorced fortysomething female neighbor of yours? The one who’s not half as bright as she thinks she is, and doesn’t know much about Libya or the national debt, but watches Katie Couric’s new show and just kind of didn’t like Romney because she, well, just kind of didn’t like him? America is now her country. It’s Dingbatville.
America has chosen not to tolerate death and taxes, but to embrace them.
We need to stop confusing our country with our God, even as we stop denying that our fellow citizens can invite the devil into their souls….
The truth is, we may have to watch while our country becomes Greece, because a majority of Americans have decided that that is what they want. They care more about their racial identity and getting free stuff than they do about Benghazi—although if there is one bright spot in the election, it’s that race hustlers and professional victims have at last and forevermore lost the ability to blame their problems on “racist America.”
And here’s Walsh, contradicting his other argument:
Mitt lost because he and his team were incapable of grasping one simple, terrible fact: Far too many Americans today don’t want a job, they want—again, to use Obama’s term—revenge.
It was the media’s fault.
Proponents: Rick Noyes of the Media Research Center, Walsh again, Herman Cain
Conservatives are constitutionally incapable of not blaming the mainstream for reality’s liberal bias, so it comes as no surprise that they are doing so. There are two remarkable elements to Walsh’s screed, though. First, he asserts without any evidence that mainstream media bias accounts for 15 to 20 points of the Democrats’ vote share. It is totally unclear where he came up with that number. Second, he blathers on about the need to create an alternative conservative media universe as if one did not already exist.
Walsh in National Review:
The Republicans should never again agree to any debate moderated by any member of the MSM [mainstream media], most especially including former Democratic apparatchiks like [George] Stephanopoulos. What used to be the American journalistic establishment—and I spent 25 years in it—is now out and proud and fully committed to the Obama Way. For them, this was the moment they’d been waiting for since the 1960s, their chance to (as they see it) change the course of American history, to be participants instead of just observers and stenographers, and if they had to first compromise, and then abandon, their stated principles of objectivity and neutrality, so what? The game was worth the candle. They will go to their graves feeling good about themselves.
So whoever emerges as the party’s new leaders in the wake of this disaster must be adamant about this. Four years from now the attenuation of the MSM will be even farther advanced than it is today, which means that the Republicans should immediately begin constructing their own media operation, one that exists independently of the series of the teetering black monoliths that line Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue near Rockefeller Center. And that means that the big GOP money should henceforth divert at least a tiny fraction of the dough it poured into Karl Rove’s useless American Crossroads super PAC and its ilk and establish its own, alternative media (not Fox News) that functions both as a sword and shield against the decaying, corrupt journalistic establishment. After all, the Republicans lost with the super PACS, and they can just as easily lose without them, and at a fraction of the cost. But they can’t win without a media operation that can neutralize the 15 to 20 points that MSM advocacy regularly contributes to the Democrats. The only way to beat the media is to replace the media—and if you don’t think the media won this election for Obama, you’re delusional.
I don’t believe the Republican Party has the ability to rebrand itself against the mainstream media machine that blatantly works to support this president and other liberals as well as the Democrats and works blatantly to try and tarnish the brand of what the Republican Party stands for.
Noyes, writing on FoxNews.com:
If, in celebrating his victory Obama wanted to give credit where credit is due, he might want to think about calling some of America’s top journalists, since their favorable approach almost certainly made the difference between victory and defeat.
We didn’t really lose.
Proponents: Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, Karl Rove
This argument has three components: Obama did not win by that much, House Republicans kept their majority and Obama won by demonizing Romney so Obama’s agenda was never ratified. There is actually a grain of truth to the last point, but the first two are just silly. The Republican talking point that Obama’s margin of victory is smaller than in 2008 has nothing to do with anything. Obama won in a landslide last time. If Obama had won in a squeaker in 2008 and won by the same amount this time, would that mean his policies are more popular, or Republicans’ less so, than under the current circumstances? As for the House of Representatives, Democratic House candidates actually won more votes than Republican House candidates. Only extreme and often racially discriminatory gerrymandering allowed Republicans to retain their House majority.
As for Obama’s negative campaigning: it’s true, but Rove has no standing to complain about it. In 2004 Rove perfected the template of an incumbent holding office by making his opponent seem unacceptable. And whereas Obama’s negativity consisted of truths about Romney’s record and proposals, Rove and his allies smeared a war hero as unpatriotic in their effort to re-elect a draft dodger.
Norquist wrote in National Review on election night:
Obama won a smaller percentage of American votes in his reelection than in his win in 2008.
America gave him less support after watching him govern for four years than when he ran promising hope and change. Normally a reelected president expands his margin of support.
The Republican majority in the House was reelected after spending two years opposing Obamacare, Obama’s taxes, and Obama’s spending. This president spent his campaign attacking Mitt Romney as a person.
On CBS on Monday morning Norquist put it even more eloquently:
The House of Representatives was elected committed to keeping taxes low and the President was elected on the basis that he was not Romney and that Romney was a poopyhead and you should vote against Romney. And he won by two points. But he didn’t make the case that we should have higher taxes and higher spending.
He ran a campaign utterly devoid of a governing vision because he offered little in the way of a prospective agenda. And because his campaign was unprecedented in its negativity and ugliness, it will be doubly hard for him to reach across the aisle.
We only lost because of Hurricane Sandy.
Proponents: former RNC Chair and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Rove again
This is essentially a variation on the claim that the public didn’t really choose Obama’s agenda over Romney’s. If a freak occurrence caused the American people to suddenly vote for their incumbent, then it does not prove they prefer his policies. But how would Pat Robertson, who says that hurricanes and other natural disasters are divine retribution for social and political acceptance of homosexuality, interpret that? If hurricanes are an act of God, and Hurricane Sandy helped Obama, does that mean God is a Democrat?
Hurricane Sandy saved Barack Obama’s presidency. It broke the momentum that Romney had coming in to the end of October.
The president was also lucky. This time, the October surprise was not a dirty trick but an act of God. Hurricane Sandy interrupted Mr. Romney’s momentum and allowed Mr. Obama to look presidential and bipartisan.
Barbour and Rove are sharp political operators, and their theory is the most plausible of the ones presented. But even they are being churlish and lack self-awareness. Obama looked presidential in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy because he behaved like a president. His competence, maturity, humanity and seriousness were quite a contrast from President Bush’s callous behavior under similar circumstances. It would be nice if Republicans recognized that competent execution of widely shared national priorities—disaster relief, killing Osama bin Laden, preventing global economic meltdown—leads to electoral success. Perhaps then they would take effective governance seriously when they are in office.
A real reason for Romney's loss was his complete alienation of minority voters. Check out Chris Hayes's take here.
In the wake of President Obama’s decisive re-election victory on Tuesday, the more intellectually serious members of the conservative commentariat are in post-mortem mode. They are asking what went wrong and how they can avoid a third consecutive loss in 2016. Unfortunately for them, they display only a limited understanding of the Republican Party’s problem, and virtually no understanding of its underlying cause or its solution.
On Fox News Tuesday night former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, showed that he understands why they lost. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color, something we’ve gotta work on.” But, as is the case with all his co-partisans, Huckabee assumes it’s purely question of outreach, rather than those voters making a perfectly well-informed decision based on the GOP’s platform. “It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservativism [sic]. But Republicans have acted as if they can’t get the vote, so they don’t try. And the result is they don’t get the vote.”
The primary impulse among conservative pundits seems to be blaming the poor quality of their candidates. For those who are on the insurgent right, such as Red State’s Erick Erickson, that means complaining about Mitt Romney but not the extremist ideologues who lost winnable Senate races, such as Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. For Beltway insiders, such as The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes and the Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson, that means complaining about Senate candidates and Romney’s clownish opponents in the Republican primaries.
“What’s [Republicans’] problem?” asks Barnes. “In Senate races, it’s bad candidates: old hacks (Wisconsin), young hacks (Florida), youngsters (Ohio), Tea Party types who can’t talk about abortion sensibly (Missouri, Indiana), retreads (Virginia), lousy campaigners (North Dakota) and Washington veterans (Michigan). Losers all.”
Erickson is similarly hard on Romney, writing: “If Republicans are honest, they’ll have to concede that the Romney campaign ran a bad campaign and only almost won because the President had a bad debate.”
Carlson and Neil Patel issue a similar complaint, but admit that their alternatives were even worse:
Romney’s caution and ever-shifting policy positions made him seem fearful, which is to say weak. His biography hurt him. During a cycle when voters remained angry at Wall Street, Romney bore the weight of a finance background. And because of his own history in Massachusetts, he could never effectively go after President Obama on Obamacare, the president’s biggest political weakness.
None of this was ever a secret, but the Republicans nominated Romney anyway. They had no choice. The alternatives were unacceptable.
They then move on, as if the weakness of their presidential field was merely bad luck. In fact, it is what a party that rejects modern science and enlightenment reasoning produces. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are not an aberration in the Republican Party. They are its apotheosis.
Barnes is dismissive of any serious soul-searching, suggesting they just need younger, more conservative salesmen. "There was [a] huge hole in the GOP field,” Barnes whines. “The entire younger generation of smart, attractive Republicans didn’t run: Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey. They were missed. Several of them might have been stronger presidential candidates than Romney. No doubt some or all of them will run in 2016. They represent the Republican future in the best possible way. They are the heirs of Ronald Reagan and advocates of a reform conservatism that is more relevant than ever, given the country’s fiscal mess and foreign policy troubles.”
Barnes and Erickson also agree that Republicans would be more likely to win if they went even further to the right. “No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world,” Barnes snorts. “All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem.” All Barnes offers is assertion. He gives no evidence that their commitment to stealing from the poor to give to the rich might have something to do with exit polls showing that Romney’s biggest weakness was among voters who chose the candidate who they thought cared most about people like themselves.
Strangely Barnes comprehends some of the math of this problem, just not its clear implications. “But there is also a hole in the Republican electorate,” he writes. “There aren’t enough Hispanics. As long as two-thirds of the growing Hispanic voting bloc lines up with Democrats, it will be increasingly difficult (though hardly impossible) for Republicans to win national elections.” But Barnes appears totally uninterested in examining why Republicans are so unpopular among Hispanics. To his mind their right-wing views on immigration and economic issues pose no political problem, and yet their unpopularity among Latinos does. Barnes is so ideologically blinkered that he cannot process the obvious implication of his own observation.
Other conservatives understand the demographic problem with a good deal more nuance. Ross Douthat of The New York Times writes:
The coalition that Barack Obama put together to win the presidency handily in 2008 looked a lot like the emerging Democratic majority that optimistic liberals had been discerning on the political horizon since the 1990s. It was the late George McGovern’s losing coalition from 1972 finally come of age: young voters, the unmarried, African-Americans, Hispanics, the liberal professional class—and then more than enough of the party’s old blue collar base to hold the Rust Belt for the Democrats….
But the lesson of the election is that the Obama coalition was truly vulnerable only to a Republican Party that took Obama seriously as an opponent—that understood how his majority had been built, why voters had joined it and why the conservative majority of the Reagan and Bush eras had unraveled….
You could see this belief at work in the confidence with which many conservatives insisted that the Obama presidency was not only embattled but self-evidently disastrous, in the way so many voices on the right sought to raise the ideological stakes at every opportunity, in the widespread conviction that the starker conservatives made the choice between left and right, the more votes they would win.
The base still wants to raise the ideological stakes and make the choice starker. In Erickson’s mind, the GOP has no larger electoral handicap, other than timidity. “The question we are going to have to assess is whether Barack Obama’s coalition is a Democratic coalition or a Barack Obama coalition,” writes Erickson. “My personal opinion is that Barack Obama built a winning coalition for Barack Obama and it may not translate to a long-term Democratic coalition. Just ask Minority Leader Pelosi and that now endangered creature known as the Democratic Governor.” It is certainly possible that Obama appealed slightly more to young people and minorities, or brought them to the polls more, than Hillary Clinton would have. But Erickson’s example of congressional and gubernatorial elections is misleading. Republicans performed better in those races in 2009 and 2010 because the electorate in off-year elections is older and whiter than in presidential years. Those races do not prove that Republicans will not be at a disadvantage every four years.
Ironically, while Barnes and Douthat offer no substantive policy response to the GOP’s demographic challenge, Erickson does. Republicans, he writes, “will be forced to deal rationally and charitably with the issue of immigration.” It is striking that—other than a few Republican strategists such as Mike Murphy—Erickson’s admission is an unusual one. The general preference is to just blame it on the candidates and hope for better ones next time.
There is no question Republicans drew some lousy candidates. But that does not mean they do not also face structural problems. Some even acknowledge, broadly, that they are out of step with the country ideologically and not just doomed by identity politics. “America isn’t getting any more conservative,” write Carlson and Patel. “It’s no longer sufficient to recite bumper stickers about American exceptionalism and bow to Reagan’s memory, if it ever was. You have to make the case to the unconvinced.” But they punt on the question of what that means in terms of specific issues and what to do about it. “In order to remain competitive outside Utah, the GOP will have to win new voters, and soon,” they conclude. “That’s the Republican reformation plan, Stage B. They may get there. First they’ll have to tackle the basics, like finding fresh leadership and candidates who aren’t embarrassing.”
What Carlson and Patel ignore is that their candidates are embarrassing because of the party’s far-right conservatism. It is not some mere coincidence that they had multiple candidates who made unpopular remarks about how women should carry every fetus to term, even if they were raped. The GOP platform calls for banning abortion in all cases, with no exception for rape. If your policies are extremist, intolerant or grounded in ignorance, then your candidates will be ignorant, intolerant extremists. And they will say stupid things in defense of those same policies.
If Republicans are going to win over growing constituencies, they will have to moderate their stances on social issues. But if they do that they will face backlash and possible defection to third parties from social conservatives. “There is not a path Republicans can take that does not jeopardize a crucial voting bloc for Republicans,” says Republican strategist Jon Henke.
Perhaps, by fretting over single women and Latinos, they are looking in the wrong place. If you size up Obama’s coalition, it is clear that he still relies upon a respectable showing among white working class voters in the Upper Midwest to put him over the top in that crucial region. States such as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio are whiter and less educated than the country as a whole. Unlike their counterparts in the South, working class whites in the Midwest do not heavily favor Republicans.
So Romney’s best hope of winning would have been to convert enough of those voters to swing a few of those states. The problem for Romney is that his campaign utterly failed to do this. Several reporters on both the right (Kevin Williamson and Katrina Trinko in National Review) and left (Alec MacGillis and Noam Scheiber in The New Republic) explain why. In essence, Romney allowed himself to be depicted as an out of touch plutocrat who didn’t understand or care about the “47 percent.”
Scheiber, MacGillis and Trinko argue that Romney’s perception problem was his fault. Scheiber and MacGillis focus on policy questions, such as Romney’s insistence upon campaigning on generous tax breaks for himself and reducing social spending on the needy. Trinko thinks the problem is more one of how Romney’s biography and persona was perceived, arguing that he could have corrected it through talking about his personal acts of charity and compassion.
“Romney shouldn’t have needed the uproar over the 47 percent remark to cause him to say I care about 100 percent of Americans,” writes Trinko. “He should have said it before then.” That’s true. But if his policies demonstrated only concern for the 1 percent, would falsely claiming to care about the rest of the country have convinced them that he actually does?
Williamson complains that Romney was perceived as uncaring because “most voters do not have anything like the economic sophistication even to understand what Romney did at Bain Capital, much less how such private-equity firms provide real economic benefits.” Williamson also bemoans the fact that, “Class warfare works.” He concludes: “offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives.”
What Williamson fails to recognize is that Obama’s policies do offer Americans the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives. For example, Obama offers Americans who want to better their career prospects through education assistance in paying for it. Romney suggested that young people borrow money from their parents, as if everyone’s parents have money to lend. Obama offers Americans who want to buy health insurance, rather than mooching off free emergency room care as Romney recommended, but may have pre-existing conditions the opportunity and responsibility to do so.
Back in 2005, Douthat and Reihan Salam saw how important working-class voters had become to the Republicans’ electoral prospects and recommended in their book Grand New Party that the GOP adopt a platform that actually offers them something besides pandering to their presumed xenophobia, homophobia and Islamophobia. Douthat and Salam understand, as Williamson fails to, that conservatives can support a government that empowers average Americans to build economic stability, strong families and strong communities. The problem is that Republicans have become disdainful of policies—from healthcare reform to the Earned Income Tax Credit—that actually achieve that.
Republicans—even a rich, spoiled brat like George W. Bush—have more successfully than Romney suckered some of the working class into believing he cares about them. Folksy mannerisms help. But so do policies. By embracing education reform instead of calling for the Department of Education’s abolition, Bush made at least a minor concession to the notion of offering poor children a bootstrap with which to pull themselves upward. And even Bush lost the popular vote in 2000. Democrats have won the plurality in five of the last six presidential elections. Right now, it seems that Republicans and conservative pundits have no idea how to address that other than nominating cleverer candidates.
If people of color weren’t going to vote Republican, Republicans wanted to keep them from voting at all. Check out Ari Berman on “How the GOP’s War on Voting Backfired.”
Washington, DC—With the early returns showing Democrats winning key Senate races in Missouri, Indiana and Massachusetts, and the momentum tilting towards President Obama, the atmosphere at the Republican National Committee party in Washington, DC, started off low-key. It quickly spiraled into downtrodden immediately after the election was called for President Obama.
When the polls closed in a number of states at 11 pm, and Fox News on the giant screen behind the stage showed North Carolina going for Mitt Romney, the crowd breathed an audible sigh of relief. “Thank God,” said one middle-aged blond woman. “It’s about time,” added a male friend of hers, ruefully. They broke into broad smiles, but only momentarily. As Obama racked up a series of Western states, the reality slowly dawned on them that Obama had reached 244 Electoral College votes and was only one big state short of victory.
The RNC party was held in the grandiose atrium of the aptly named Ronald Reagan building, a hulk of federal offices on Pennsylvania Avenue just two blocks from the White House. Upon arrival, the vibe was more that of an oversized office Christmas party than a political event. Swank bars with ice blocks and tables filled with party food—fresh roasted turkey and strange-shaped pieces of focaccia—were sprinkled throughout.
There was a constant thrum of cheesy country pop music from the stage. None of it was terribly celebratory. Shortly before 11 pm, country star Ronnie Milsap belted out a slow, maudlin rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Throughout the night the emphasis was on loud, nearly deafening, music rather than watching the results. The music was turned off to watch Fox News only for a few minutes at each hour as polls closed and a fresh batch of states came in. At first it struck me as odd. Later, I realized it was a protective maneuver. Who wants to watch bad news?
The crowd was almost a caricature of Republicans: the majority of the women were wearing red dresses and/or had platinum blond hair coiffed in careful waves. (I asked one member of a large claque of the red-clad if this was merely coincidental. She told me she and her friends decided to all wear red to “as a show of Republicanism.”) Attendees were overwhelmingly young. But save for a few Asian-Americans, I did not spot a single racial or ethnic minority in the crowd of hundreds. The young DC resident were mostly staffers on Capitol Hill. As is always the case with Hill staffers, they did not want to be quoted by name and, if they said anything at all, spoke in diplomatic banalities.
They mostly professed to be “optimistic” or “hopeful” about Romney’s chances. But none proclaimed confidence that he would win. Many left before the final result even came in, although all denied it was because they thought he would lose. Some went to drink elsewhere—one young woman told me she will party no matter what, but harder if Romney wins—and some went to watch the results at home, believing they would go on until the wee hours. It seemed as if “it’s going to be too close to call,” or “I don’t know who will win,” was the refrain of people who subconsciously knew they were in for a hard night, but had not yet admitted it to themselves.
The most honest attendees acknowledged they were beginning to feel queasy. “I don’t know if I’m confident,” said Claire Anderson, a congressional staffer who did not look at all confident. “I’m holding out hope. I was confident until today, but I’m getting nervous and bracing for the worst.” If Obama wins, said Anderson, the GOP’s lesson will be that “it needs to do better at get out the vote and appealing to young Americans.” How should they appeal to young Americans? “Good question,” she says.
According one another Hill staffer, Republicans will now face the strategic question of whether to blame President Obama or the Democratic Congress for what she predicts will be a very rough few years head. When asked around 9:30 pm if Romney would win, she paused for a long moment, and smiled sheepishly. She did not say “no,” but it was legible in her expression. “We’re doing better locally [in congressional races],” she said, giving her best spin. Pointing to the crowd, she said, “Most of these people, if they’re smart, will leave soon.”
Sure enough, by the time Fox came on to call Ohio and the presidency for Obama, the room was mostly empty. The few who remained looked forlorn, although not despondent. Since the news was hardly a shock, there were no dramatic screams of agony. It is worth remembering that before the first presidential debate it looked as if Obama was almost certain to win. Republicans have been preparing for this moment since the time they realized, sometime last summer, that they did not have any good presidential candidates vying for their nomination.
Most of the crowd who remained did not have much to say about how they felt. “Sad, very sad,” said Margaret Wilcott, a young Republican who lives in DC. “Good luck, America,” she added, shaking her head.
Since this is a crowd of political professionals, there was none of the reactionary delusion of some grassroots Republicans. No one claimed the election was stolen or otherwise challenged Obama’s legitimacy. Common themes were that “Republicans always respect the office of the president,” and that the people have spoken. “Fool us twice, shame on us,” said Elizabeth Bender, a young woman on her way out.
If the Republican Party is going to engage in any deep soul-searching in the wake of two consecutive decisive presidential losses, it was not apparent from the RNC event. Asked what lesson Republicans should take, most had little to say. One recurring theme, though, was acknowledgment of a demographic reality: the GOP must reach out more to voters who are not old white men.
“We just need more thoughtful approach to young people and women,” said Meredith Beatrice, 24, who works in public affairs and volunteers for the RNC. “The next candidate needs to speak on a more personal level to how our policies will empower young people and women.”
No one suggested any actual policy moderation, however. The simple fact is that cutting funding for education and reproductive health, opposing equal pay legislation and denying reproductive freedom does not empower young people or women. And Romney was, for a Republican, a relative moderate on those issues. Until Republicans realize that they need to change their policies, not just the way they sell them, they will be in for a lot more nights like this in the years to come.
Washington, DC—The mood at the office of FreedomWorks—a cavern of white walls and working stations across the street from Union Station—is optimistic but nervous rather than ebullient. Preppy young white staffers and their friends mill around sipping expensive beers, switching between chatting about politics and refreshing web pages with the latest update from Florida. Cheers occasionally erupt, but it is misleading: a show for live TV broadcasts from the conference room, not reactions to actual results.
FreedomWorks is a fiscally conservative advocacy organization that rode the Tea Party wave to prominence in 2010. Its chairman is former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, but it is actually run day to day by President and CEO Matt Kibbe.
Although they have an affiliated Super PAC, they do not raise massive sums from eccentric billionaires to buy television advertisements. Rather, they deploy their staffers to states and districts where their favored candidates a handful of the most conservative House and Senate candidates are running.
“What we do in all these states is get out the vote on the ground,” says Kibbe. “It’s a different approach for a Super PAC: we ask activists who live in the district what they need, from phone banking to yard signs.”
In some ways, election night is anticlimactic for Tea Party activists. Their real fight is in the Republican primaries, and they have already won every battle in it. For example, they played a key role in helping Indiana Tea Partiers knock Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) off this spring. Unfortunately, the man they replaced him with, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, blew his lead over Representative Joe Donnelly (D-IN), by sayingthat a pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended.”
Right after the Indiana primary I met with some Indiana Tea Party activists in the FreedomWorks office. I asked how they would feel if Mourdock lost the general election. They said there was no way that would happen. Now, it looks quite likely.
But FreedomWorks is in no mood to concede a possible miscalculation. Kibbe says he is still confident Mourdock will win. And if he loses? Well, that of course will still prove the appeal of fiscal conservatism. “The only lesson is pretty clear: candidates who stay focused on fiscal issues and stay from abortion do better when the economy is bad,” says Kibbe. “Mourdock ran in the primary on economic issues and won by twenty points.”
Everyone here is undoubtedly rooting for Romney tonight, but the real passion is for conservative firebrands they have endorsed and worked for in the Senate, such as Jeff Flake in Arizona and Tom Smith in Ohio. Many of those candidates could lose tonight, although Kibbe says Flake regained his lead after FreedomWorks started to spend heavily on his race.
The power of right-wing activists to whip Republicans into line comes as much from their perceived strength as actual events. And so Kibbe has to be ready to spin the results whatever happens. If Romney wins, says Kibbe, it will not prove that his pivot back to the center worked but rather that he won “because of swing voters that are focused on reining in government.” And if he loses, Kibbe notes, it is not because he embraced Paul Ryan’s plans to slash entitlement spending. At least, not according to polls of what voters say are their biggest issues.
And the day after the election won’t be a vacation day for issue activists in Washington, especially the ones who are here to cut government spending. During the lame-duck Congress, FreedomWorks will pressure Republicans not to go wobbly in negotiations over the debt ceiling increase and avoiding the fiscal cliff. In a refreshing display of the intellectual integrity so lacking among actual Republicans in elected office, Kibbe says he thinks Congress should allow the sequestration cuts to take effect rather than repealing the military portion as Romney and Ryan propose. “Especially,” he notes, “since they voted for it.”
Kibbe is from the libertarian fringe of the conservative establishment. He has dramatic sideburns, square hipster glasses and not much affection for Mitt Romney. The average partygoer in his office tonight is a more typical young Republican in the dweeb/bro mold. A bunch of indistinguishable young men in with short hair that spikes in front are shouting to each other in a language indecipherable to the uninitiated. “We’re down by 2,500!” “We gotta win that one!” “We don’t have any votes yet.” “South Dakota is zero percent reporting.” “We’re coming back in Ohio, it’s 55-45.” “Ohio’s gonna close up.” “If he had better movies, Timothy Dalton would have been the best Bond.”
An affable intern for Senator John Thune (R-SD) jokes that hopefully the only New Yorkers with power were “the super-rich, the Upper East Siders,” and so maybe even New York will go Republican. It’s not likely. If Mitt Romney loses, there will be some long faces here tonight. But tomorrow they should all cheer up. In the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, they have already won.
Washington, DC—Virginia Democrats are worried that long lines at polling places in key Virginia counties may discourage voters and cause them to go home without voting. Since this morning, there have been reports of long lines and waits of up to two hours in large Democratic-leaning counties immediately outside DC, such as Arlington, and key swing counties to Arlington’s south such as Prince William. Virginia election officials say there are long lines throughout the state due to high turnout.
In response, the state Democratic Party sent a letter at 3:30 pm
to the Virginia state board of elections requesting that voters be allowed to vote by paper ballot. Those ballots could then be handed out to people on line, rather than requiring everyone to wait to go individually into a polling booth, thus speeding up the process. Democrats worry that voters will give up on voting after waiting for over an hour. And voters who do so—anyone who has to go to work, for example—are more likely to be Democrats. (Retirees vote mostly Republican, whereas low-wage hourly workers vote mostly Democratic.)
In addition to the pure logistical problem, there is the possibility that lines are being deliberately exacerbated by Republican poll watchers.
Terry McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and gubernatorial candidate in the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary, says that he is hearing from sources on the ground that the lines are being slowed down by Republican poll watchers who are demanding excessive proof, such as extra forms of identification, for many voters. This can damage turnout in two ways, says McAuliffe: lengthening the wait to vote and by making some voters fear their IDs will not pass muster. “It’s a deliberate attempt to slow the process,” says McAuliffe. “A lot of first-time voters don’t want to be intimidated.”
McAuliffe promises that Democrats will be aggressive about combatting voter disenfranchisement today. “I’m still sore over [the election of] 2000, but shame on us for letting it happen,” he says. McAuliffe also adds that local election officials should take more measures to prevent long lines in the first place. “Why not put more voting machines out? Why should people have to wait two hours to vote in America, the greatest democracy in the world?”
In Virginia many election procedures are unduly burdensome, according to McAuliffe. For example, a voter must sign an affidavit swearing that he or she will be out of the state on Election Day in order to get an absentee ballot. (Voting rights advocates favor allowing voters to vote by absentee ballot without giving a reason, and more vote by mail options in general.)
The Virginia state Democratic Party, however, is putting a positive spin on the long lines, saying they are a sign of strong turnout, particularly in important Democratic regions. “It’s a sign that people are excited,” says Brian Coy, a spokesman for the party.
For more swing state dispatches and voting rights updates, check out our Election Day live blog.
Fairfax, Virginia—Mitt Romney had a busy day on Monday. He started with an event in Florida, flew up to Virginia for several campaign stops around the state, then out to Ohio and up to New Hampshire to finish off the evening with a campaign rally featuring a performance by Kid Rock. At least he had some enthusiastic crowds to keep his energy high. Romney’s final Virginia campaign stop was held in George Mason University’s basketball arena in this far suburb of Washington, DC. The venue, according a Romney campaign official, took in 7,000 boisterous Romney supporters, while an estimated 10,000 more were left out in the cold. Many of them stayed outside to listen to Romney’s speech over loudspeakers, and to create a horrific traffic jam for journalists departing in cabs with rapidly rising meters.
Romney’s campaign strategy—which has managed to make a deeply uncharismatic candidate roughly tied with President Obama in the national polls on eve of Election Day—was perfectly encapsulated in this event and its crowd. It brought together the angry Republican base, with red meat subtly fed to them by surrogates, while Romney played the aspiring healer-in-chief to reach out to the proverbial soccer moms.
Among the cars on the way out was a pick-up truck with a handmade sign that read, “I vote USA born person 4 president. Nobama.” For such a nativist, the author’s command of English leaves much to be desired. The car in front of that truck had a sign in the window urging passersby, with relative subtlety, to “Vote for America.”
The speakers inside did not sink to quite that level of nationalism. But appeals to white Christian chauvinism were not entirely absent either. Governor Bob McDonnell described Romney as “a man of faith… he believes in God.” Why this is a relevant qualification—or how it distinguishes him from Obama—was not explained. But for many in the audience it presumably does not need to be. McDonnell also claimed that Romney “has lived the American dream.” Only in America could the son of a business executive and governor become a business executive and governor. That’s living the American dream, whereas, say, the half-black son of a single mother becoming president is some dystopian nightmare. McDonnell was preceded on stage by Republican senatorial candidate George Allen. Allen, who long harbored affection for the Confederacy, narrowly lost his last race after he called an Indian-American Democratic operative “Macaca.” He looks likely to lose narrowly lose again on Tuesday.
Before Allen, the crowd heard from a string of Republican congressional candidates. Their pitch suggested that voting Republican is as important to American security and greatness as flying a fighter jet in Afghanistan. “We want our country back, because we built it,” said Patrick Murray, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s 8th District. Chris Perkins, the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 11th district framed his entire pitch around his status as a retired Army colonel. “Good afternoon freedom fighters,” he began, to the crowd’s delight, as if going to a Romney rally were the equivalent of facing down Hosni Mubarak’s thugs in Tahrir Square. And, by implication, that would make President Obama a freedom-quashing autocrat. To all the veterans in the audience, he said, “I’m putting you on active duty for one more day.” The veterans loved it. But how would a veteran who does not vote Republican feel about being told that electing Mitt Romney is the same as going to war to defend the United States? Wouldn’t that mean those who vote Democratic are attacking the country?
Other speakers echoed the implication that true patriots vote Republican. McDonnell said, “Only Mitt Romney believes in a red, white and blue, all-of-the-above energy policy,” as if favoring more coal mining is a way of saluting the American flag. (Nearly every candidate, including Romney, touted Romney’s commitment to natural resource extraction. The devastation wreaked by tropical storm Sandy just 100 miles to the north apparently does not concern them.)
Romney, as part of his recent flip-flop back towards the middle, struck a less partisan tone. He repeatedly attacked Obama for his supposed failures to work with the implacably hostile Republicans in Congress, and pledged to govern in a more bipartisan manner. In a quotation that his campaign pulled out for a press release, Romney said, “We’ll reach across the aisle here in Washington to people of good faith in the other party.”
In a move as sneaky as it is politically adept, Romney blames Obama for the results of Republican obstructionism and obstinacy. “I won’t waste any time complaining about my predecessor,” said Romney. In point of fact, Obama never refers to Bush by name. He does point out that the country was suffering a catastrophic meltdown when he took office. But he only has to do that because Republicans constantly attack him with dishonest statistical claims that blame Obama for job losses on the very day he took office. So Romney and his party have cleverly boxed Obama in: blame him for Bush’s failings, and then present his response as whining. “I’m not just going to take office on January 20, I’m going to take responsibility for the office as well,” Romney vowed. The crowd loved that. Apparently, they have never seen the video of Romney defending his job creation record in Massachusetts by explaining that the state was losing jobs when he took office.
Most preposterously, Romney presents himself as the solution to the gridlock caused by his own party. “If the president were re-elected he’d still be unable to work with Congress,” said Romney. “The debt ceiling will keep up coming up, and the threat of a government shutdown will slow the economy and cost us jobs.” That should be a case for replacing the Republicans in Congress, but Romney presents it as a case for replacing Obama.
In a line Romney repeated at his final campaign rally Monday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, Romney complained that Obama has not met with the Republican congressional leadership to discuss jobs or the budget deficit since July. The crowd booed lustily, as if they were unaware that Obama and congressional Republicans are both waiting for the election results to hammer out deals, as is always the case.
“[Obama] didn’t bring the country together,” said Romney, “I will. When I’m elected, I’m going to work with Republicans and Democrats. [I’ll] find good people on either side of aisle who care more about their country than politics.”
The Romney campaign seems particularly excited by Obama’s recent offhand remark that, ““Voting is the best revenge.” In a line that video screens also thrice showed Romney saying on the trail as the crowd trickled in, Romney said, “I ask the American people to [instead] vote for love of country. I ask for you to vote for one nation.” The crowd went wild. It was weirdly reminiscent of Obama’s message in 2008: that the partisan divisions of the last term are mostly the fault of the incumbent, a small-minded politician, but a pragmatic statesman will heal the country.
In the parking lot outside the rally, a truck had painted on a sign, saying, “Lord God!! Free us from Obama’s CHAINS of change!” Romney’s serial dishonesty has allowed him to appeal to this sort of reactionary on the one hand, and relative moderates on the other. Attendees at the rally seemed younger and more diverse than the typical Romney crowd. Among them was Jessica Denson, who noted, “I’m a vegan, hispanic, single woman. I’m the anti-Republican stereotype.” Denson says she does not have strong views on social issues. But even some women in the crowd who do, such a Susan Warren, a middle aged teacher from Fairfax, who is pro-choice and a self-described moderate, were there to enthusiastically cheer for Romney. Romney staffers handed out placards that read, “Women for Mitt” on one side and “Moms for Mitt” on the other to the women in attendance. Warren told me that while Romney says he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, she is confident the Supreme Court will never do so. This is a foolish prediction for her to make, but she has probably picked up on the whispers by Romney surrogates such as former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), making this just this bogus promise when speaking to socially moderate audiences.
The run-up to Romney’s appearance was punctuated by exuberant chants of “one more day!” It is not every day one attends a Romney rally with palpable excitement. His standing ovation was unusually loud and long and it grew positively shrill with excitement for Ann Romney. “That’s the momentum; that’s what leads me to believe I’m standing next to the next president of the United States,” declared Ann.
How did this happen? One attendee, a young man who is studying national security at a graduate school in DC, told me that his more conservative friends used to rib him for supporting Romney in the primaries, but now they have fallen into line and gotten excited about him. By consolidating them with the moderates he has fooled with his false claims of bipartisanship, Romney may have assembled a winning coalition.
While Romney accused Obama of refusing to work with half of Congress, the president called out his opponent for turning his back on 47 percent of US citizens. Check out John Nichols's coverage of the final days of the Obama campaign.
Running for president must require an inexhaustible supply of optimism from anyone who does it, to put a on a smiling face through two years of fundraisers, speeches to rotary clubs, trekking through New Hampshire winters and North Carolina summers. But to run as a third-party candidate is to undergo all that unpleasantness with no actual hope of victory at the end of it. Perhaps the only people who are willing to do so have to be slightly delusional. At least, that was the sense one got from watching the Third Party Presidential Debate hosted by the Green Party in Washington, DC, on Sunday evening. Fittingly, the event was moderated by Ralph Nader, a man so unwilling to face the truth that he denies having cost Al Gore the election of 2000 and displays not even a hint of misgiving at his role in that campaign.
The event was held in the back room of Busboys and Poets, a minuscule venue that highlighted the laughability of the assembled candidates’ pretensions that they are seriously vying to be leader of the free world on Tuesday. The Green Party organizers were turning away journalists, even from The Nation, who had failed to RSVP sufficiently far in advance. The fact that I had called ahead and been told on by their own staffer that as a member of the press I would have no problem getting in did not seem to matter. Given their party’s and candidate’s constant whining about being shut out of media coverage, it was ironic to see how inhospitable the Greens are to some of the few reporters who do show interest in their little events. Luckily, a friend who works for Gary Johnson’s campaign helped me get in.
Nader posed a series of questions—often presenting his left-wing views as an objective premise—to the four candidates. For example, Nader demanded to know if the candidates support “corporate welfare.” Remarkably enough, they all said no. The candidates were bizarrely instructed to answer always in descending order, based on the number of states on which they have ballot access. That pecking order went as follows: former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), Jill Stein (Green Party), former Representative Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (Justice Party). Given that the candidates and Nader strongly agreed that third-party candidates are subject to unreasonable obstacles to get on state ballots, it is odd that they reified appearing on the most ballots as a measure of a candidate’s validity.
The most archetypal third party candidate was surely Gary Johnson. He is sort of the unrestrained id of all third-party candidates everywhere. He bellowed at the top of his lungs, creating an ear-piercing volume when amplified by his microphone in the small room. His opening statement launched immediately into a list of his policy positions with no introduction: “I’m against bombing Iran,” were the first words out of his mouth. “I would repeal the Patriot Act,” he continued. His style—totally lacking in narrative or “I feel your pain" anecdotes—was basically mimicked by all the candidates. They listed litanies of issue stances, rather than pulling them into a unitary case for why they should be elected. Anderson was the only one to even mention his record in public office in his opening statement. (Johnson and Goode did later illustrate points about issues by mentioning policy decisions they had made in office.) It was remarkable, watching the group, to think that any of them had ever actually won a significant elected office.
Most ridiculously, Johnson speculated repeatedly on how he could actually have won the presidency if only the powers that be gave him a fair shot. “If someone gave me $50,000, I think I’d be president,” Johnson asserted, in part of a rambling riff on campaign finance reform. Johnson also complained that the media generally reports the results of polls without including his vote share. “If it were reported that way, I might be the next president of the U.S. because of the “who the Hell is Gary Johnson? factor [of interest that would be generated].” It’s a long way from 6 percent, which is what the poll he mentioned had him at in Ohio, to a national Electoral College victory on that basis.
Perhaps the single biggest illusion to which all the candidates subscribe is that the American public actually agrees with them, despite the fact that it doesn’t vote that way. One issue on which they all agreed, for example, was to support Nader’s suggest to create a binding national popular vote referendum process. Presumably, that is because they think the public would vote their way if given the opportunity. But Stein and Anderson—who have virtually the same liberal-left views as each other—have many positions that are diametrically opposed to those of Johnson and Goode. Clearly, some of them are wrong about what the public would support. (The Constitution Party, or at least Goode, is a sort of far-right paleoconservative party. Goode outflanks Romney on social and economic issues, but has an isolationist agenda on foreign policy reminiscent of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul.)
In many cases, they are probably all wrong. That is because they all share the premise that when the two major parties offer stagnant governance or incoherent philosophies it is because they are stymying the will of the people. But sometimes they are adhering to it. For example, polls show the American people want to balance the budget without cutting spending on entitlements and without raising taxes on the non-wealthy. This cannot be done. Referenda, as California has proven, could lead to the American people taking simplistic, ignorant stances that make governance worse, rather than better. How would Ralph Nader like it if the American people passed a referendum to prevent Congress from raising taxes without a super-majority, similar to Proposition 13 in California?
Another fallacy to which they all subscribe is that the two major parties do not present a real choice between each other. Goode, in an echo of Nader’s 2000 rallying cry, asserted that there is not, “a dime’s worth of difference,” between the Democrats and Republicans. It is certainly true that there are many choices the two parties do not present, and should, such as drug policy reform. But on many issues, including many invoked by Goode, his assertion is just false. For example, Goode repeatedly claimed to be the “only truly pro-life candidate” running for president. His position on abortion may be to the right of Romney’s. But is simply untrue to suggest that there is not a vast gulf on abortion rights between Romney and President Obama.
Goode was not the only one to falsely present the two major candidates as indistinguishable from each other. Anderson’s campaign handed out a flyer listing his views and how they differ from Romney’s and Obama’s. Several of his examples were misleading. One box read, “signed or supports extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” Romney supports making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent and Obama does not. It is true that in 2010 Obama signed a compromise with Republicans that temporarily extended the Bush tax cuts in exchange for a bunch of temporary tax cuts, such as the payroll tax holiday, that are targeted at lower-income families and were intended to stimulate the economy. At the time, many liberals, such as Jonathan Chait argued that Obama had brilliantly exploited the Republicans’ obsession with cutting taxes for the rich to get the better half of the deal. When I asked Anderson after the debate about whether this does not render his claim so carefully worded as to be dishonest, he gave me an incoherent answer about how Republicans were unwilling to raise the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling deal was separate and had nothing to do with this issue.
That, though, was not the norm for the evening’s discussion. And of course it pales next to, say, Romney’s serial dishonesty. Anderson and the other candidates were generally forthright and wonky on matters of policy. (The occasional exception was Johnson, who not only holds radical right-wing views on economic policy—in favor of block granting Medicare as well as Medicaid—but engages in Ron Paul–style fear-mongering about financial calamity that will ensue if we engage in loose monetary and fiscal policy. He invoked “people burning their furniture to stay warm.” If anything will cause that, it would be his cuts to the social safety net.)
But when it comes to their view of politics the candidates become far less clear-headed. Stein claimed that Nader’s voters were equally Republicans and Democrats so therefore he did not cost Gore the election. In fact, exit polls showed they were twice as likely to have voted for Gore than Bush had Nader not been on the ballot. (Even Nader does not dispute this.) When I asked Stein why she does not mimic the Tea Party’s success and try to bring the Democrats to the left as they have brought the Republicans rightward, she painted a somewhat false picture of the Tea Party movement. “The reason the Tea Party has been effective in moving the Republican Party to the right is the power of deep pockets pouring in. It’s just a smokescreen for the hijack of the system by big money.” I’ve covered the Tea Party, and Stein is wrong. Yes, it attracts donations from the Koch brothers and others. It also includes genuine grassroots activism. It opposes corporate handouts, and is fighting a war for ideological purity against crony capitalism in the GOP. If you think “big money,” wanted Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell to be the Republican Senate nominees in Nevada and Delaware, respectively, then you don’t understand politics at all.
And that is the problem with all of these candidates. They may bring attention to important issues such as protecting civil liberties and shrinking the defense budget. (All of them support withdrawing from Afghanistan, repealing the Patriot Act, renegotiating NAFTA, cutting the Pentagon budget and ending ethanol subsidies.) But they confuse the public, rather than enlightening it, on the American political system. Winner-take-all elections will always lead to two parties. When it doesn’t, you see the results of the United Kingdom and Canada, where multiple left of center parties split the vote and conservative parties that could never win an outright majority get to govern. Is that what Stein and Anderson want to happen here? It is certainly Nader’s legacy. After eight years of George W. Bush, they should know better.
John Nichols has a different take on third-party candidates.
Correction: This article originally referred to California's Proposition 13 as Proposition 8.