After achieving remarkable political success in the 2010 midterm elections, why did the Tea Party movement fail so miserably in the critical Election of 2012?
Like many other Americans, I was taken by surprise and deeply disappointed when Barack Obama was re-elected President of the United States. For several months prior to the election, I had been seriously expecting Republican challenger Mitt Romney to unseat President Obama. I envisioned the latter as the Jimmy Carter of 2012, a sitting duck just waiting to be blown out of the water by the Ronald Reagan of 2012. And I wasn’t the only one: other, more seasoned political observers than I such as noted libertarian Wayne Allyn Root were also predicting a landslide Romney victory, and for the same reasons I was. We noted that Barack Obama has presided over the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and history shows that no incumbent president wins re-election amidst an economic crisis (take Herbert Hoover, for example). Furthermore, President Obama has utterly failed to deliver on his 2008 campaign promise to help the average struggling American in these difficult economic times. Rather, under his administration the middle class has continued shrinking; unemployment rates have been double to triple what they were during the Bush administration; the gap between rich and poor has grown to unseemly proportions; and the number of Americans in poverty has climbed from 12 to 14 percent.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s rampant fiscal irresponsibility, with massive spending contributing to an out-of-control national debt, has contributed further to his negative image in the minds of many Americans. In 2010 he and his Democratic cohorts in the U.S. House and Senate forced on our country the infamous $1.2 trillion health care reform law known as Obamacare, the most expensive and controversial reform legislation in American history, which sent President Obama’s approval ratings plunging into the 40s and resulted in a spectacular Tea Party victory in the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, increased their strength in the Senate, and swept governorships across the nation.
The Tea Party movement succeeded in focusing public attention on President Obama as the most radically pro-abortion president in American history at a time when a majority of Americans identified themselves as pro-life; it also raised the suspicions that Obamacare would mandate “abortion coverage” and fail to sufficiently protect the conscience rights of health care workers, employers and insurance carriers who refused to be involved in abortion or contraception. In January of 2012, our worst fears were realized with the advent of the HHS mandate, which forces all businesses and charitable organizations that serve the general public to cover or dole out immoral “preventive services for women” in violation of the First Amendment. At the time, I felt that this flagrant attack on the religious liberties and conscience rights of the American people would seal Obama’s fate as a one-term president and carry the Tea Party to a Republican landslide in November of 2012. Judging by its remarkable performance in 2010 and the outrageous behavior of the Obama administration since then, I reasonably expected the Republican Party to take full control of Washington in this election. That didn’t happen. Why not?
A combination of related factors are to blame for the results of this election. The most significant (and unfortunate) factor is that the Catholic vote went the wrong way: by a margin of 50 to 48 percent—the same margin as the general electorate—Catholic voters chose four more years of President Obama in open violation of clear and consistent teaching from their own bishops against voting for a pro-abortion candidate. It would appear that half of Catholic voters don’t even listen to their Church leaders or practice their faith in the voting booth when it comes to the extremely serious matter of the murder of millions upon millions of the innocent unborn. Shame on those so-called “Catholics” who voted for Obama. They will have a lot to answer for come Judgment Day. The bishops have been very clear that the right to life of the innocent unborn human being is the most fundamental voting issue at stake in our country today and that voting for a pro-abortion candidate is a gravely immoral act that makes one complicit in the evil of abortion. For the second presidential election in a row, the better part of the Catholic electorate has ignored the voice of its religious leaders and deliberately chosen to collaborate with Barack Obama’s radically pro-abortion agenda.
What’s even more unfathomable is that Catholics voted to re-elect an administration that has declared open war on their Church and the Constitution by passing a law that forces Catholic institutions to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in violation of Catholic moral teaching and the First Amendment. As with the issue of abortion, our Catholic bishops have spoken out clearly, forcefully and consistently on the issue of religious liberty, but it appears that many Catholics have been listening more to the propaganda dished out by the Obama administration than to the message of their own Church hierarchy. A poll taken in mid-2012 showed that a majority of Catholics—mainly those who don’t fulfill their obligation to attend Sunday Mass each week—were actually oblivious to the clash between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over the HHS mandate, and had heard little or nothing about the bishops’ nationwide religious liberty campaign. Even if these non-churchgoing Catholics knew about this particular issue, polls suggest that they probably would not be too concerned about it because for years these same Catholics have been using artificial contraception in violation of Church teaching. A profound crisis of faith has infected the American Catholic Church, and it is now showing up in the direction our nation is moving. As the great Catholic preacher Father John Corapi used to remind us, immorality is un-American and a threat to national security. The only thing worse than immorality is when a Catholic supports or participates in it. Catholics must stop betraying their religion and indulging in such scandalous behavior. They need to get their act together and start forming their consciences properly and start voting their faith in unison—not only for the salvation of their own souls, but for the wellbeing of their Church and the good of their country. Catholics who don’t want to vote pro-life or stop using artificial contraception should either repent and change their ways or leave the Church and quit pretending to be Catholic.
On a related note, I think it was smart of the devil to take Father Corapi out of action well ahead of this presidential election. His defection to the Evil One has been a tremendous loss for the Church in America and for our country in general. As a popular and effective Catholic preacher who reached millions through the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), he would have been at his best during the 2012 presidential campaign season, loudly decrying the HHS contraceptive and abortifacient mandate and the direct attack on the Catholic Church which it represents, and rallying the Catholic faithful to defend the rights to life and religious liberty on which their nation was founded. He would have considerably amplified the voice of the bishops on the fundamental issues of abortion and religious liberty and made more Catholics fully aware of the choice they were facing in this election. Had he remained faithful to God and to his calling, I think the election result would have been quite different.
I can also point an accusing finger at myself in one respect. As a Catholic author, I could have—and should have—written more about abortion, religious liberty, and President Obama’s radically secularist agenda in order to help shape public opinion in the months prior to the election. I was busy working on a book and other projects, but I should have made more time to write about these current issues of such momentous importance to our Church and our nation.
Moving on to another factor that influenced the election, it seems that Americans in general actually like President Obama and are not as dissatisfied with his performance as we imagined, judging by fairly steady approval ratings of around 50 percent over the last four years. Despite his radically secularist agenda and grossly irresponsible behavior, President Obama manages to convey a respectable image of a president who is doing his best in spite of everything. With the mainstream media firmly on his side, the propaganda power and communication skills of the Obama administration have proven effective. People believe what President Obama tells them on TV, whether it is true or not, because they like him personally. As the old saying goes, “If you tell a lie long enough, people will believe it.” So when Obama and Biden kept lying that the HHS mandate does not force religious institutions to violate their moral convictions or that Obamacare does not really raise taxes by a trillion dollars, people started to believe those lies because they liked and trusted their elected officials who were telling them.
Another factor in this election that we just hinted at was the incumbent advantage. When people like and trust their familiar elected officials, they tend to re-elect them, which is what they did last month. When a new and unfamiliar candidate breaks onto the scene, be it Bob Dole in 1996 or John Kerry in 2004 or Mitt Romney in 2012, people are a bit suspicious. They know that they like and trust their current president, but they’re not sure about this challenger guy who claims he can do a better job. Why elect a new president when you’re happy with the one you have now? Furthermore, Barack Obama significantly augmented his incumbent advantage by spending a record-breaking one billion dollars on advertising for his reelection campaign. Romney spent nearly as much on advertising but Obama had the incumbent advantage.
Another factor in the election outcome was that the economy is not as bad as we sometimes make it out to be. We need to keep things in perspective. Even with the serious economic issues noted above as well as underemployment and the precipitous drop in median household income over the last four years, the average American in 2012 is still much wealthier than the average American during the 1930s, and 8 to 12 percent unemployment pales in comparison to the 30 percent unemployment that America suffered during the Great Depression. Nine out of ten Americans currently have a job; furthermore, most Americans eat three meals a day, have plenty of clothes to wear, live in heated and air conditioned homes with running hot water and electricity, and have a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, a TV (with Obama on it), a stereo, a computer, an Internet connection, a cell phone, and a car or two in the garage. Life is pretty good for most of us, and when we’re comfortable, we don’t want change. As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable.” Most Americans apparently feel that the current economic crisis is not insufferable, so they have opted to maintain the status quo. The American middle class is “doing fine,” says President Obama on the TV tube, and many people seem to agree.
Part of what did in Mitt Romney was his campaign strategy of focusing mainly on the economy. This was the same strategy employed by John McCain in 2008 and it didn’t work for him either. Romney’s plan to foster job creation and economic growth through free enterprise and opportunity instead of big-government bailouts, taxation and redistribution certainly did resonate with and appeal to many people. However, Romney failed to take into account the relatively contented nature of the American middle class or the fact that the economy was not a serious enough issue in enough people’s minds to sufficiently motivate them to replace President Obama. I think Romney should have focused primarily on the great moral issues of our time such as abortion, religious liberty, traditional marriage, and the radical secularist takeover of our country. His stances on these fundamental issues were clearly distinguished from those of Obama, but as a presidential candidate he should have articulated them more clearly and communicated them more effectively. Taking a strong stance on these moral issues and speaking out strongly about them makes good sense even from the strictly political point of view. Most Americans are pro-life, religious, Christian, and see marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman. Focusing on the right to life of the unborn helped sweep the Tea Party to victory in 2010. Despite raising much less money than Romney, Rick Santorum did well in the Republican presidential primary contest because he passionately defended the rights of the unborn while Romney was passionately defending his business career.
Americans know instinctively that abortion is morally wrong. It has been a uniformly negative experience for all those involved in it. It has hurt the lives of tens of millions of women, many of whom are now fervent pro-life advocates. The pro-life movement in America is now very strong and continues to grow stronger. Abortion rates are down to what they were in the 1970s and continue to decline while voters continue to enact additional state restrictions on abortion. Romney should have taken advantage of all these facts and tapped into the enormous reserve of political capital hidden in the pro-life movement and built his campaign on that, even more than President George W. Bush did. He should have spoken passionately about the horror and magnitude of the abortion holocaust, in which more than 55 million innocent Americans have been legally slaughtered over the past forty years since Roe v. Wade. He should have reminded Americans incessantly of Barack Obama’s criminal record on abortion as an Illinois state senator, as a U.S. senator and as president, and drawn attention to the unholy alliance between Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration. He should have reminded people of the draconian Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) that President Obama promised to sign upon taking office in 2009; FOCA would have done away with all state restrictions on abortion and compelled all physicians to perform abortions (among other things), and it was only defeated by a massive outcry from the American people. He could have also fostered discussion on the broader negative impact of abortion on American society and the economy, from single-parent families and low marriage rates among young people to economic stagnation, and how things might be different if those 55 million Americans murdered in their mother’s wombs were alive today. And he should have billed himself unapologetically as the pro-life candidate for president who would work aggressively to end the scourge of legalized abortion in America forever. To his credit, Romney did pledge to defund Planned Parenthood and declared his support for overturning Roe v. Wade—two things President Bush never ventured. But had Romney given the right to life of the innocent human being in the womb the center of attention it deserves as the most important issue facing America today, I think he would have won the election.
But perhaps this was not to be expected of Mitt Romney, a wealthy businessman and politician from Massachusetts with a somewhat weak record on the crucial moral and social issues. Here we come to another reason why President Obama was re-elected: his challenger was a somewhat liberal candidate from the American political establishment who failed to present a credible conservative alternative to Barack Obama. People didn’t trust Romney and weren’t quite sure about him because of his mixed record. Had the Republicans nominated a strong candidate like Rick Santorum with impeccable conservative credentials, he would have soundly defeated Barack Obama—no question about it.
Romney was not a genuine Tea Party candidate, although we wishfully tried to make him so and although he tried to be so for us. He might have partially defunded Planned Parenthood, repealed the HHS mandate, got the economy going again, and done a few other good things for our country. However, he would not have significantly changed the dynamics of the deeply entrenched and deeply corrupt Washington political establishment, comprised of movers and shakers from Planned Parenthood and homosexual rights activists to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and insurance industries to the big multinational corporations that run Wall Street.
That establishment—allied with the mainstream media—is what promoted Romney’s candidacy and defeated the attempts of genuine conservative candidates like Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to win the Republican presidential nomination. Such candidates, although more favored by the American people, would have upset the D.C. status quo too much. Romney bagged the Republican nomination, not because he was the most qualified candidate for president, but because he spent the most money on advertising and because he was the least threatening candidate to the Washington establishment. Romney tried to solve his conservative problem while remaining friendly with the establishment by picking a true conservative running mate. But that strategy of compromise didn’t work for him, just as it didn’t work for John McCain. Romney was Obama’s saving grace—the opposition candidate whose nomination would help assure his own re-election. Deep down this past summer, I suspected that the establishment wanted Romney nominated, and that his nomination would probably lead to a close presidential contest in which Obama would just squeak by. But I refused to listen to my hunch because I was strongly biased against Obama and willfully blind to the realities of the American political landscape as suggested by the polling data.
Ultimately, the reality of the 2012 election came down to three things: communication, compromise, and corruption. President Obama won re-election because he is a great communicator and because he’s in bed with corrupt special interests in Washington. Romney lost the election because he failed to communicate himself as well as Obama did, but he won the Republican nomination over his conservative rivals because the corrupt establishment helped him to do so. And the Tea Party movement compromised its core values and became complicit in the very corruption it decries by abandoning true conservative presidential contenders and surrendering to Romney as the only alternative to Obama.
Communication problems and Washington corruption also conspired to prevent the Tea Party from taking over the federal government in this election. The party allowed the economy to distract it from vigorously defending the right to life, traditional marriage and our nation’s fundamental Christian identity and from effectively communicating to the American people the outrage of the Obama administration’s assault on religious liberty and the First Amendment represented by the HHS mandate.
Our nation’s Founding Fathers, especially George Washington, warned that a national political party system would become a tool of corrupt special interests. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened. We now have corrupt private interests ruling our country through the Senate and the White House for their own private benefit instead of honest public servants who govern responsibly for the sake of the common good. The Tea Party movement came into existence precisely as a result of this situation, but it must become much stronger and more courageous if it is to achieve its goal of restoring honest and responsible government to both houses of Congress and the White House.
The corrupt Washington establishment will certainly continue doing all in its power to keep the Tea Party from gaining full control of the federal government because this would spell its own death sentence. However, the 2010 elections demonstrated that this corruption is not an insuperable obstacle to a robust popular movement whose leaders communicate effectively on the moral issues affecting our country. The Tea Party can still achieve its goal—but its future depends on whether or not it learns from the mistakes it made in 2012. If it hopes to bounce back from this defeat to victory in future elections, the Tea Party must do the following:
1. It must give pride of place to the all-important moral issues by which our nation stands or falls—especially abortion, religious liberty, marriage, and radical secularism—and it must articulate and communicate its positions on them clearly, consistently, passionately, and effectively.
2. It must remain committed to its goals of ending legalized abortion, repealing the HHS mandate and all of Obamacare, protecting traditional marriage and the nuclear family, restoring our nation’s fundamental Christian identity, and returning honest and responsible leadership to the legislative and executive branches of the federal government based on the Ten Commandments, our Constitution, and the wisdom of our Founding Fathers.
3. It must remain committed to the traditional Republican ethos of limited government, low taxes, a balanced budget, a strong national defense, and promoting a favorable climate for small businesses.
4. It must remain seriously committed to the long-term goals of abolishing the Federal Reserve, the IRS and income taxes, and restoring the value of our currency through a return to the gold standard on which our nation thrived for more than 150 years.
5. It must return to the “city on a hill” concept of the Pilgrims and Founding Fathers, i.e., to spreading freedom and democracy by the power of our example at home rather than by the force of arms abroad. In line with this principle, it must reject costly foreign wars of national liberation (e.g. Afghanistan) and aggressive “preemptive” wars to eliminate nonexistent WMD programs (e.g. Iraq and Iran)—both of which are driven by corrupt special interests—and commit to bringing all of our troops home and keeping them home to defend our coastlines and borders.
6. It must remain faithful to the above stated core principles—above all to the moral ones in items 1 and 2—and firmly resist the temptation to compromise any of them for short-term political gain. This means it must not back establishment candidates or proposals that are at odds with any of its core principles. This also means that it must clearly distinguish itself from the corrupt Republican/Democratic political establishment currently in control of Washington.
This election has certainly taught us some painful lessons: Moral issues go in first place. Communication is critical. Corruption controls Washington. Compromise is the short road to ruin. And wishful thinking is no substitute for reality. We’d do well to keep these lessons in mind when the next election seasons roll around in 2014 and 2016.
Copyright © 2012 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.