Republican Hand Wringing: Here's My Theory

It’s been a few days since the election and it appears the Republican Party is still trying to figure out how it happened. There is a report from CBS News that Governor Romney and his advisers had no idea he was going to lose. According to the article it wasn’t until the polls closed and the states began to report that the Romney camp finally understood that they might lose. This article came as a surprise to me because I had spent the previous week reading Nat Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times website. Nate dug down into the numbers and by election eve he predicted President Obama had a 90% chance of winning the election. Turns out Nate’s electoral map was 100% correct.

So how did it happen? I have a few theories:

  • The Chaotic Republican Primary: When any party challenges an incumbent, all sorts of people think themselves the Messiah. Combine this with the visceral hate they all have for President Obama, everyone running for the Republican nomination was convinced of his (or her) inevitable coronation. Some (Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Chris Christie) knew better than to run, others (Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum) threw their hat into the ring, had a brief skyrocketing showing in the polls, followed by a freefall. At the end of the day Mitt Romney got the nomination, but lots of Republicans couldn’t hold their nose and vote for him.
  • The search for his own beliefs: Mitt spent the primary season convincing the Tea Party that he was a true believer. He wasn’t; he just wanted to be President. After getting the nomination he spent the rest of the race convincing us that he wasn’t an opportunist. He didn’t. Much to his despair we were listening all along.
  • The disconnect between money and votes: this is probably the heart of the reason for the Republican defeat. The source of their money and the source of their votes were mutually exclusive. We saw staggering amounts raised by the campaign and Super Pacs like American Crossroads, Restore Our Future, Winning Our Future and others. These Super Pacs were funded almost exclusively by angry white men, and Mitt was successful in winning their votes. But angry white men is a shrinking demographic. Latinos are now 16% of the population and 10% of the voting population. Only 27% voted for Mitt (according to CNN).
  • The economy: they kept hammering that President Obama had four years to give us a healthy economy and didn’t. But there were two problems here: in the last few months of the election the economy was showing signs of real growth, and the Republicans had positioned themselves as obstructionists. In 2010 Mitch McConnell said this: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Note that he said nothing about improving the economy.

So where do they go from here? On one level I’m loathe to give advice to the Republican party, but I also believe they aren’t listening to anyone, and my contribution will be ignored with everyone else’s.

The first thing they need to do is broaden their appeal. Doing outreach to the Latino population needs to be more than claiming to care about them. They (along with all of us) need to start talking about immigration reform that provides a path not only for the engineer from India, but also the agricultural worker from Mexico.

They also need to move beyond the politics of fear. They were able to raise so much money because they were able to tell their base that “those people” (Latinos, the 47%, etc.) are after what you’ve earned. Now they need to articulate a message that includes everyone.

Finally, they need to move away from the Tea Party belief that taxes are somehow a malignant cancer on the country. Nobody argues the need to be vigilant against waste and corruption, but we can be the great country we all want only when everyone pays his fair share. Telling people that we can balance the budget by cutting income doesn’t work on a family budget or a national budget.

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