Part of why I’ve been holding back from the conversation about What The Republican Party Can Do Better Next Time is limited data. I mean, sure, we now have all the exit poll information, the voter data, and most of the results, but that can only be so helpful. I guess if Republicans want to beat Barack Obama again in 2012, they have all the information they need. But we don’t have a time machine, so we can’t change history. #Forward, or whatever.
Someone should tell that to Mitt Romney, whose comments on a donor call are at odds with the facts of the election. There are a lot of reasons the GOP lost big this cycle, but no, one of them is not the scale of Democratic handouts. But let’s take care of one thing before I go on.
The media is jumping all over Romney’s comment for the wrong reason: Not because it’s simply wrong and the data show that it’s wrong, but because it has that tinge of classic Republican racism and the war on the middle class. That’s a real shame, because it demonstrates how journalists can be a bunch of polyannas about the reality of patronage politics in our government. Why did Andy Stern, former head of the SEIU, visit the White House so frequently leading up to the passage of Obamacare? Why are we talking about returning to earmarks in Congress? Because interest groups exist. If you think Democrats pushed free contraception into a presidential race that was clearly about the economy because It Was The Right Thing To Do, maybe you’ll be interested in some cattle futures I’m selling. So long as journalists fail to recognize how Democrats (and Republicans) dole out goodies when in power, they will fail to properly restrain government excess.
Did women turn out for Obama because of free contraceptives? Of course not. Did they turn out because of Romney’s refusal to do more outreach with women than simply deploying his wife? Yeah.
In nearly every instance in which Democrats were out there, trying to make inroads of voters, the Romney campaign was intent on this really clever strategy that involved ignoring those voters. Republicans didn’t even bother putting together Spanish-language ballots (this factoid is courtesy of The Transom). Women who felt like Democrats were oversimplifying women’s issues couldn’t reasonably turn to Republicans who weren’t even bothering.
Romney’s calculus is that Democrats made a more compelling case to certain demographics by pandering with free stuff. No. Democrats made a more compelling case to all demographics by pandering with all the stuff. They went for 100 percent of the voters. That’s how you get voters in New Hampshire, Iowa, or Wisconsin. What handouts, exactly, had President Obama promised the voters there?
Part of the reason to attack Mitt Romney for his 47 percent comment is to show that, in fact, he’s not concerned with 100 percent of the country, just the part of the country he thinks he can win. This completely undermined Romney’s closing argument — that he is a proven uniter, someone willing to work across party lines to get something done.
What we see after the election is that Romney did worse in Ohio that John McCain. Was McCain offering anything more, uh, hand-outty in 2008? No!
The introspection that comes after an election should include context. For several months, many of us on the Right were critical of the Romney campaign for not fighting back against all the attacks. Heck, many of us were shocked when Romney couldn’t effectively fight back against Newt Gingrich’s attacks on Romney’s Bain experience. Let me repeat that: Newt Gingrich (he of the Washington-insider lobbying club) was credibly and successfully peeling away voters from Romney by critiquing the very private sector experience that would be the centerpiece of the nominee’s campaign.
Those attacks were contemptible and vile to everything a free market person thinks, but at least free market people understand why these attacks were wrong. The Romney campaign instead chose a strategy of sticking its head in the sand. The private-sector stuff was so self-evidently good, they never really had to explain it. And Paul Ryan! Come, ride our unicorn.
Jonathan Last thinks we might have been more willing to take a risk with some Door #2 candidate, given the outcome of this race. Really? It’s a weird counterfactual because it’s counter to facts that were clear before Romney had the nomination. If someone told you that Romney was going to underperform under McCain’s numbers, would that mean you’d vote for a candidate akin to Dr. Strangelove’s Major T.J. Kong, who’d just ride the bomb down for fun? (I think that describes Gingrich supporters, but is that really an important point to drive home?)
The other Kong candidate might have been Rick Perry, but his hastily assembled campaign, his health problems, and a number of hiccups demonstrated well enough why it didn’t work out. Does that mean you turn to Santorum, who would have turned the campaign into even more of a national discussion about “legitimate rape” and fractured turnout even more? Or do you champion Newt Gingrich, who might have done slightly better in a debate against Obama, but would have had no realistic shot? Trading magic underwear for crazy pants will get you nowhere.
So, let’s return to Romney’s analysis of his own defeat: Honestly? I think he’s saying what he thinks a conservative would say. I don’t even think he believes what he said, because he had the data in front of him. (Why should the criticism of his pandering suddenly stop after the election?)
While Mitt Romney knows he won that nomination because of his better organization, he knows that organization was built over six years. (And yet, Orca.)John McCain’s organization in 2008 was all duct-tape and bubble gum, since he had to fire nearly his entire staff during the primary, and he still got more votes, and yes, haters, with Sarah Palin on the ticket. Burn.
So here’s the simple lesson of 2012: If you don’t bother showing up to win all the votes, and if you don’t bother making a clear case for free markets that all voters can understand, you don’t win. The first step to winning is showing. up.
P.S. Maybe also don’t say that you wish you were Mexican so you could get that coveted Mexican vote. It’s not just offensive, it also conveys that you think that through the magic of ethnicity, you can corner a market. Just ask President Jesse Jackson about that.
P.P.S. On the other hand, let’s try handouts and see what happens. Maybe we’ll call it “Medicare Part D.”