There are no ways to get around the facts. For Republicans and conservatives and independents who wanted a new direction for our country, the victory of President Obama is sad — and for many of us, unexpected. Those conservatives who assured us with statistics, theories, and arguments about Romney winning the White House, even in a landslide, should be eating their hats.
In the past week, conservatives who usually disagree with each other about many things, including Fred Barnes, Peggy Noonan, Dick Morris, my PJM colleague Roger Kimball, George F. Will, Karl Rove, and Michael Barone, among others, provided analysis and arguments, all of which led to predictions of an inevitable Romney victory. Instead of the outcome they all looked forward to and assumed would be inevitable given Obama’s failures and the state of the economy, they found that their theories collapsed as the returns poured in. Instead of a long night, by 11:30 p.m. even Fox News had called the election for the president. Yes, Karl Rove thought their statistics desk called it too early, but 15 minutes later he too agreed that Ohio had gone for the president.
So what happened? I had been trying to warn my optimistic friends in recent days that I thought Obama would win, and was regularly greeted with a slew of polls meant to prove I was wrong. So here are some of my thoughts and reactions, written before I can be influenced by the pundits who will be writing in tomorrow morning’s newspapers and appearing on TV talk shows.
First, the Obama campaign’s decision to frighten women worked. Republicans did not wage a campaign on social issues, but the Obama team ran commercials in all the major swing states emphasizing how Romney would try to outlaw contraception and prohibit their right to choose abortion if they felt there was no alternative, and that half the population would be threatened were a Republican elected.
Republicans lost the Senate with the two candidates who made outrageous statements that Romney simply dealt with by saying he did not agree; he refused to take away his endorsements, which would have indicated he meant business. No one expected the unpopular Claire McCaskill to win, but Todd Akin’s ridiculous statements led even her to win, and Richard Murdock’s outrageous views on rape as something God intended resulted in victory for his Democratic opponent. Without the Republican Party sticking to support for both these candidates, the Republicans might have been able to gain the Senate. With friends like these, conservatives became their own worst enemies, providing the ammunition for the Democratic charge that Republicans were waging a war on women.
Second, there is the hurricane factor. The nation saw Obama in his bomber jacket, accompanied by Republican keynoter Gov. Chris Christie as he visited the devastated areas of New Jersey hit by Hurricane Sandy. For the Democrats, it became the perfect storm that allowed the nation to believe what it wanted desperately to think — that Barack Obama had become a leader whom even the conservative governor of New Jersey worked with and praised for his leadership. The news coverage of Obama and Christie, and the governor’s effusive over-the-top praise of the president, hurt Romney in a significant fashion. Christie’s stance even led Bruce Springsteen to talk on the phone with the governor on Election Day, and to praise him for his working relationship with the president. Christie finally got the call from his hero that he had been yearning for. Gone, I think, are his chances to run for the White House as the Republican candidate four years from now.
Third: the Latino vote. The percentage of Latinos voting increased significantly, and although many are Catholic and socially conservative, the tough stance on immigration reform taken by Romney in the primary campaign hurt his chances of gaining enough of their votes. Republicans like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both of Florida, were serious about conservatives developing a position more flexible and less dogmatic than the anti-immigration position of many conservatives. Their views, supported by the Wall Street Journal and most of the business community, were not that of most conservatives. When the voting statistics are tallied, I think we will find that with more Latinos voting for Republicans, Romney might have been able to do much better, if not win. As it is, he will have won far less than George W. Bush, who tried to develop a different policy but lost his fight to gain conservative support on the issue.
Fourth: The Republicans, who indeed may have obtained many of the white working-class vote (the so-called Reagan Democrats of past campaigns), cannot count on winning national elections and to be a national majority party if they count only on the votes of a diminishing white working-class and on the votes of Southern states alone. In this sense, the theory of John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira of an “emerging Democratic majority,” which is based on their demographic picture of the electorate, is apparently beginning to prove fairly persuasive. That means that to win, Republicans have to change their strategy and the nature of the appeals they make to the country at large. It is not enough to say simply that “if we strongly advance conservative principles, we will win.”
Five: Romney did not convince voters, as Florida and Ohio voters said to the press who asked, that he cared for people like them. Obama, they said, showed that he cared and understood their problems. In other words, Obama was successful in his portrayal of Romney as a spoiled man of wealth who cared only for the profit of vulture capitalists, such as those at Bain Capital as it was portrayed by the Democrats.
Six: What does the future portend? Already, the centrist Democrat Lanny Davis penned an op-ed on Fox News’ website, arguing that he should make three phone calls to “three conservative Republican senators who care about the country and who want to solve problems more than winning ideological wars.” They are, he writes, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch. Together, he argues, Obama can create a “broad center-left and center-right bipartisan majority congress and actually start to solve problems facing our country.”
Good luck, Lanny. My own belief is that the president will argue that the nation has given him a mandate and endorsed the policies he sought to pursue, and that he will do all he can to move the United States to the “fundamental transformation” he said was his goal in the 2008 election campaign. That means the opposite of any attempt for serious compromise, and a hunkering down to try to move ahead with Obama Care and other politically leftist programs. He will try to mobilize the nation against the Republicans, who managed to hold control of the House of Representatives.
Seven: So what should conservatives do, now that the nation has elected Barack Obama to a second term? The popular vote is fairly split evenly, and we are still a divided nation. Politically, there is nothing ahead but continued stalemate in Congress. The president will attempt to move ahead via executive branch fiat, thereby bypassing Congress.
In this atmosphere, it is foolhardy to give the nation evidence that failure to try and solve problems that are confronting us is the fault of Republicans and conservatives. Those opposed to the direction Obama favors should provide serious and meaningful alternatives of their own, and present them to the nation. They should do everything possible to reveal to the nation that it is the White House, and not the defeated Republicans, that is failing to deal with the coming crisis of a growing entitlement state.
In foreign policy, which is the most dangerous of the coming crises that will face the Obama administration, conservatives should relentlessly forge ahead on issues like the failure of the White House in the murders of our diplomats at Benghazi, which candidate Romney foolishly failed to deal with in the last days of the campaign, and to see to it that there is a change in direction from the failed policies of the past four years. It also means a continuing effort to raise the issue of the danger to the world of the growing radical Islamic movements abroad, to attack their ideology, and to make it clear that although Bin Laden is dead, his death did not put an end to a regrouped al-Qaeda.
Finally, it is essential that conservative intellectuals do not abandon the effort to change the culture, and to, in Gramscian terms (as the late Gene Genovese often put it), wage a war of position on the cultural front and to do all possible to challenge the ascension of a failed intellectual liberal ideology, whether it be in the form of Progressivism, liberalism or socialism. Whether it is called “the blue model” as Walter Russell Mead calls is, or something else, the intellectual fight against its assertions must begin with all the strength we can muster.
So we all have our work cut out for us. Let us hope our nation gets through the next four years, and that the president takes Lanny Davis’ call to heed, and does not act as I fear he will.