Governor Romney, I fear, made the same mistake I did – he believed it was about the economy, as did most of those in his camp, and in the process they missed the nuanced tones of culture, demographics and ground game politics that wound up shaping the results.
I am probably the reason Mitt Romney lost the election.
No, I am not Chris Christie.
But I am a conservative who made up my mind 18 months ago that Romney was the right guy to turn our nation in a better direction. As a result, I heard what I wanted to hear, listened to conventional wisdom, and concluded that no reasoning electorate would put back in office a president with Obama’s record and agenda.
Governor Romney, I fear, made the same mistake – he believed it was about the economy, as did most of those in his camp, and in the process they missed the nuanced tones of culture, demographics and ground game politics that wound up shaping the results.
Here are five explanations for the presidential election results making the rounds, four of which Romney could not control.
1. Romney was right, if somewhat self destructively, when he acknowledged that a culture of dependency is taking deep root in our nation. Whether it is a scientist trying to get government funding or a person hoping to obtain social security or food stamps, the world bequeathed to us by statism and liberalism is one in which all feel entitled – no matter the cost to others. Perhaps 47 percent was about right after all.
2. Remember these numbers – 1, 56, 142, 167. That is the percentage population growth respectively for whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics in this country by 2050. This would not be an issue except that two of these demographic groups are bloc Democratic voters. Republicans need to devise a strategy to attract these voters that is more nuanced than building walls and demonizing illegal immigrants.
3. There is a cultural shift taking place that has been cultivated by our media, our educational system and our popular culture for decades. The result is that increasingly the left has succeeded in dividing the nation across class, racial, gender and sexual preference lines. (The right plays into their hands when it overreacts to issues like gay marriages or characters like Ms. Fluke. )In this new normal world, the traditional family of a heterosexual couple with kids is uncool and the ultimate virtue is tolerance for fringe lifestyles, behavior and identities. In academia it is called post modernism – identity trumps character and qualifications.
4. Hence, historical guilt over racism that explains a good deal of Obama’s success. By that I don’t mean that he lacks political skills. I do mean that he gets a pass from the media and voters that few other presidents have gotten. Call that what you like – reverse racism or magnanimity taken to extremes, but the truth remains that many are moved by symbolism more than substance because of guilt over past sins on the issue of race.
5. Finally, there are those who argue that Romney failed to articulate conservative principles in a way that was ultimately convincing. Is the guy smart — yes. I think he would have been just what the doctor ordered for this nation. But he failed to capitalize on the first debate performance by staying on the offensive and engaging the issues in a compelling way (or so some pundits argue). Frank Luntz, the focus group guru, made a telling comment the day after the election – that during the second debate, Romney failed to ask a single question of the people in the audience who posed questions to him. This might not be quite as bad as looking at your watch, but it was a missed opportunity to connect and show empathy and, if you believe exit polls, that was a big issue for many swing voters who eventually went for Obama. Why is Obama perceived as empathetic? See numbers three and four above — he gets a pass simply because of his identity.
Other excuses include the partisan media (yes, but this is a given every election, though not quite to the extreme of the past two), Obama’s negative campaign, and the fact that George W. Bush caused Hurricane Sandy, or rather the bad economy…no, I mean global warming, not to mention world poverty, war and famine. He also rigged the 1919 World Series when he was not busy stealing elections from elected officials all over the world as documented by Jimmy Carter and Al Gore.
In any case, any Republican or conservative counter offensive must address the five areas cited above with thoughtful strategies. The old alignments and strategies are no longer going to work, though an economic meltdown could change the playing field.
So how do we go after the issues? By going back to basics but telling the story in a way that connects with average voters – not just decided types like me.
There is plenty to figure out, but here are two or three examples of where Romney might have done (though let’s be honest, he and Ryan might have hammered these themes all day long and nothing would get covered in the media except their occasional gaffe.
What is the problem with big government?
Waste. Corruption. Inefficiency. Debt. How’s that for starters. What is noble, by the way, of strapping your children and their children with huge debt or spending billions of dollars on failed programs and projects? In a normal world this is called grand larceny and people go to jail. But in leftist land it is called compassion. However, consistency helps. We can’t get lathered up about government waste or special favors and then wink when the beneficiaries are Republicans. We also can’t ignore facts about winners or losers in the economy. The middle class has to believe we are on their side and that means doing more than telling them they might be one of the 1 percent some day, if they are patient.
How do we reach out to minorities?
By talking to them authentically as part of the American fabric of good citizens. Did Romney routinely recite specific unemployment statistics specific to blacks, the young, Hispanics and women? Those statistics should have been pounded regularly, but I doubt they were — Romney went generic because he felt the nation was already convinced of Obama’s mismanagement of the economy. Maybe they were, but you have to make it personal and perhaps more could have been done there with key voting blocs.
More to the point, the language and tone of the conversation used by conservatives must be engaging, not alienating. It is one thing to talk about our need to protect our borders, which is fine and good, quite another to target Hispanics by offering daily features on conservative political talk shows highlighting Hispanic immigrants who have committed crimes. Talk about profiling and selective hostility. What purpose does this serve and what message did it send to decent Hispanics desperate for work who have come here in good faith?
We are outnumbered these days and that means we must play the game better than the other side. Too often conservatives are conducting monologues rather than a discourse and they start to believe their own rhetoric even when intellectual honesty would dictate a different message. Both sides play this game, but we already have the media and the demographics against us. Framing the issues with intellectual discipline and honesty will, over time, expose the dishonesty of the left. I believe this because we need look no further than Buckley, I. Kristol and Friedman for examples of how to do it and make it stick. A little more style and a little less dogmatism would go a long way.