Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012 Retrospective (Where Does the GOP Go from Here?)

As of some time last night, the GOP lost its second presidential election to Barack Obama. The first time, it was perhaps more inevitable, but this time seems much less so. This time, the GOP was facing an incumbent president, who had the usual lot of issues facing an incumbent -- promises not kept and mistakes made – and not a candidate who promised great things and had no failures to weigh him down. Candidate Obama ran on new ideas, new direction, and change. He didn't have a record to point to, promises he'd made and not been able to keep, and mistakes he'd made. He had inspiring rhetoric, and the promise to break from financial decisions that had not done us any good. His opponent, to many people, symbolized all those things that had not worked. This time, though, the shoe was on the other foot. All the optimism in the world can't undo high unemployment, or bring down the ever increasing costs of fuel, or erase the deficit. So now, disappointed and perhaps embittered by yet another politician proving to be so much less than he promised, voters would head to the voting booths again. With that much working against the incumbent, it would seem like an excellent time to be the challenger.
Factor into that the 2010 midterm elections, and the GOP victories picked up then, to say nothing of Scott Walker and his recall victory in WI, and it seemed a seismic shift was under way, from “hope and change” to fiscal responsibility and “tea party austerity.” It's hard to imagine a better scenario for the challenger.
And yet, rather than winning, the Republican candidate, and the ticket, was pretty thoroughly trounced. Tea partiers and social conservatives around the nation lost; the folks who were meant to grab critical senate seats lost; and the party's presidential nominee lost. So how did the GOP go from poised to win, to another defeat?

Appealing to the hardcore base, and paying for the sins of his party
After John McCain's defeat, the party seems to have come to the conclusion that moderation is bad, and that moderates are a losing ticket. Thus the primaries saw an array of whackadoodles, a veritable freak show lineup, soak up the spotlight for their fifteen minutes, until, at last, they each proved too ridiculous, and the next one was brought forward. At last Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts moderate, was welcomed most begrudgingly, and only after every one else either dropped out right away or proved too volatile, stupid, insane, or some combination of the previous, to lead the ticket. But by that time, moderate Mitt had morphed into “severely conservative” Mitt to prove that he had what it took to lead the new party. Thus pro-choice Mitt Romney became anti-choice, anti-Planned Parenthood Romney; pro-Obamacare type health care Mitt Romney became anti-Obamacare type health care Mitt Romney; fiscally moderate Romney became “let's cut taxes without a way to pay for it” Romney. In short, most positions that Mitt Romney had ever held were reversed, and the principled moderate became a shape shifting “severe conservative” – that neither his base nor the rest of the electorate could respect.
This process was only furthered by the degrees of crazy that preceded him. Let's not forget that prior to Romney heading the ticket, “no minimum wage” Bachmann, “it's the president's job to preach the 'evil' of birth control” Santorum, “there's a snake in my boot” Perry, “moon colonies” Gingrich and “let me put my hand up your skirt” Cain all had a turn at the top. With each new wave of bonkers, Romney had to (or felt he had to, at least) morph into some new version of severely conservative. And, in the process, he alienated, well, lots and lots of people.
More importantly than the people Romney himself alienated (if only because of the mass of those affected), however, were the overwhelming numbers his party alienated – women, Hispanics, students, people with pre-existing conditions, the poor, etc., etc. Remember that (at one point) viable candidates were running around the country telling gay mothers that their kids would be better off with a dad in jail than a lesbian mom, university education being accessible to everyone is snobbish, that birth control and gays are evil, and that a kid who can't afford extremely expensive medication has no right to life, unlike a rape fetus (Santorum); that there should be no minimum wage (Bachmann & Gingrich); that poor kids should work as school janitors (Gingrich); that we should eliminate the department of education, and two others (Perry); that abortion should be illegal regardless of anything (all of the above); etc., etc., etc. More than Romney's morphing positions, the positions of his fellow Republican contestants, to say nothing of the Republican legislators who made a point of going after women, gays, etc., tarnished Romney.

Lack of minority support
As part of the above, Romney lost and lost bad amongst minorities. Hispanics preferred Obama by 44 points. Women by 18. These wins proved crucial to Obama, and extremely detrimental to Romney.

War on Women, and an 18 point gender gap
Again, women preferred Obama to Romney by 18 points. Why? Because, aside from alienating women over abortion access (which Romney said he would allow in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, although much of the party opposes it even in those cases), Republicans were hard at work these last few years proving that their ideas about women were antiquated at best. Republicans opposed equal pay measures, with some Republicans, like Glenn Grotham of Wisconsin, suggesting that there is no problem – simply a preference amongst men for money. Others suggested that, while pay is disproportionate, this is right and fair, as this is simply the market at work; and others chose to deny the issue altogether. Those who supported it in principle opposed it in practice, while offering no solution of their own. Birth control became a focal point – from Santorum's insistence that the president should be tasked with illuminating its “evils” to the Blunt amendment and numerous other state-wide movements to prevent access, allow employers to fire employees on the pill, etc., etc. Then, of course, there were the infamous “rape” statements. Paul Ryan – who Romney, in a horribly misguided move, chose as his VP nominee – declared that rape was just “another means of conception”; Todd Akin insisted that “legitimate rape” doesn't result in pregnancies, and Steve King informed us that he had never heard of anyone getting pregnant through incest. Tom Smith thought that his daughter conceiving a baby through consensual sex while not being married was the same thing as her being forcibly impregnated by rape. Joe Walsh told us that there is no possible way that a woman's life can be endangered by pregnancy, so he is pro-life in all cases. Richard Mourdock declared that God intended rape pregnancies, and John Koster didn't think “the rape thing” was sufficient reason for a woman to get an abortion. Mitt Romney declared multiple times that one of his first acts would be to completely defund Planned Parenthood.
If you think that women deserve equal pay for equal work; should be able to decide when and if they'll be pregnant without government interference; shouldn't die because saving their lives will be damaging to a fetus; can get pregnant through rape, and should not be disdained or regarded as liars when it happens; this can only serve to dampen your enthusiasm for the Republican ticket. It dampened women's enthusiasm to the tune of an 18 point gender gap in Obama's favor. And while Chris Christie seemed content to dismiss women's concerns about GOP policies regarding them with “we won't pander to women”, it seems that when the GOP stopped listening to women, women stopped listening to the GOP.

Raiding the cuckoo farm
Remember what I was saying about the rape crew? Them, Santorum, Bachmann, the Man on the Moon, and all the state-level GOP crazies helped sink the party. I'm talking about the people who put forth all manner of bizarre propositions throughout the nation – from no lunch breaks and removal of domestic violence protections (the removal was strongly protested by law enforcement, btw) in New Hampshire, to a move to let doctors lie to patients even if they would incur severe bodily harm if they thought it would prevent an abortion in Kansas, to the multitude of anti-Hispanic moves in Arizona, to proposals to classify single motherhood as a factor in child abuse in WI, the crazies were making their voices heard. The problem? They were Republicans. And such a deluge of anti-woman, anti-Hispanic, and pro-business at the cost of everyone else proposals helped only to solidify the image that Republicans were anti-woman, anti-minority and anti-middle class. Not a winning strategy.

Paul Ryan
Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan, the economic Darwinist and arch-Randian of our day, as his VP candidate is baffling. Yes, he received a boost of popularity amongst the hardcore base. But that same base so overwhelmingly loathed Obama that he already had their support! By choosing a guy whose solution to economic difficulty is to eliminate all capital gains taxes (look it up – it's part of his “roadmap to recovery”) while selling off national parks to private entities for commercial development, cutting Pell Grants, and giving big credits and breaks to Big Oil, Romney shot himself in the foot. That might appeal to the wealthy within his party, but it doesn't appeal to the middle class; and you can't buy votes. Plus, Ryan brought some more hardcore anti-women crazy to the party. Amongst other things, he cosponsored a bill that would grant “personhood” to a fertilized human egg – meaning that even a measure to save a woman's life, such as neutralizing an ectopic pregnancy, would be illegal, because in saving the woman's life, you would have to kill a “person” (nevermind that both the embryo and the woman are going to die anyway if you don't intervene). Ryan has also made his objection to “life of the mother” exceptions well known. Again, he would prefer women die rather than end a pregnancy that will kill them (and the embryo/fetus). And while he might justify his actions by blaming those beliefs on God, it's a hard sell to convince people that withholding life saving medical care from a loved one is a good thing to do because your God tells you so.

Lack of specifics
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan gave us very little in the way of specifics. They were going to cut taxes and close loopholes and eliminate deductions, for instance; which ones, though? No answer. Will the mortgage deduction be preserved? No answer. We're most likely going to bring our troops back home; but what could keep us there? No answer.
In the end, much of the message came down to, “The other guy screwed up, and we're not going to! We'll fix it all. We won't tell you how, exactly, so trust us.” The problem? The numbers didn't add up, and people tend to like when numbers do that.

The 47%; the moochers; the producers vs. parasites
Romney's assertion that 47% of the country are a bunch of worthless dependents, unsurprisingly, did him no favors. Nor did Republican endorsement of this Randian sentiment. It might sit well with wealthy donors to think of “the little people” as parasites and moochers, but I think I speak for most people when I say the rest of us don't think of our soldiers, the elderly, the disabled, etc., in these terms. And when your candidate and talking heads express those sentiments, it doesn't go over well. Additionally, these comments aligned so well with Ayn Rand's viewpoints that the attraction between Romney and Ryan (who is a long time Rand devotee, as he has stated many times) becomes clearer; but not more comforting.

Hurricane Sandy (& Chris Christie)
Hurricane Sandy gave President Obama a chance to show that he has what it takes to lead in a time of crisis. Chris Christie went out of his way to show his gratitude toward the president, and, perhaps unsurprisingly when one considers his propensity to hijack moments for his own glorification, his own ability to put aside partisan politics and lead in time of crisis. He was dismissive of Romney and eloquent in his praise of Obama. The result? Obama and Chris Christie both show that they have what it takes to reach across the aisle and put politics aside, and Romney is nowhere to be seen.
Obviously, Romney had no part *to* play in this scene – and so his absence is entirely appropriate. But it painted a very good picture of his opponent, and made him seem irrelevant. This was beyond his or the GOP's control, but it was the final nail in his coffin.

The above explains, I think, why Romney lost. But it wasn't just Mitt Romney who lost. Sure, he was the top of the ticket, but it's worthy of note that the “rape guys” (most of whom were previously poised to win) lost too. Akin, Smith, Mourdock, etc. – they're all toast. Gay marriage was approved in several states, and a measure to oppose it overturned in one. Even tea party firebrand Allen West lost re-election, while Michelle Bachmann barely held onto her seat. “Severely conservative” Mitt Romney, hardcore social conservatism and anti-woman, pro-rape politics took a sound beating yesterday.

The midterm election victories left the Republican party with the mistaken sense that far-right wing politics were the way to go. America wants fiscally responsible leaders, and the Tea Party was elected when it preached those principles. It, and the GOP, was defeated when it beat the rape drum, and marched to the hard-core social conservative, “producers versus parasites” tune. My hope, as an American and a Republican, is that the GOP will get its act together, and leave the antiquated ideas about the role and right-to-life, dignity and equality of women, the Randian economic principles, the obsession with fetuses over sentient human beings, the anti-gay fervor, etc., in the dust heap, and focus on things that will truly help America and Americans. My fear is that from the ashes of this campaign will rise the Santorums of the party, trying to drag us further right yet.

We can't afford that. Not as a party, and not as a country. We will not benefit from having a party of hardcore religionists, economic Darwinists, and crazies as the only alternative to the Democratic party. The two parties together should function to balance each other, but if the GOP continues to pull to the right it will leave moderates with no choice but to gravitate leftward if they dare not venture into crazyville. There will be no balancing, no moderation left. This is not, I think, in anyone's interest – not even the Democratic party, because competition makes us all better.

So, please, GOP, get it together. Take a lesson from yesterday, before it's too late.


2 comments:

  1. Good analysis... I think you pretty well covered the most salient points.

    Out of curiosity, can you name one or two Republicans active today whom you would support? If not, can you name one from the recent past whom you would support?

    I am unclear as to what positions you would like to see adopted by the Republican party that are not already on offer by the Democrats.

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  2. Hi Adam,

    Thanks.

    Jon Huntsman & Scott Walker, although their policies are in many ways very different, are two Republican politicians I respect. I don't mean that I agree with them on everything. But Huntsman has shown that he operates in the realm of reality even when it's detrimental to his career (a low bar, I know, but given the rest of the field ... ) and is willing to reach out to others, and Walker is not afraid to jeopardize his political career to try to solve problems that previous administrations left. Both have good ideas. Walker is more partisan than I would like, but an equal share at least of that rests with the legislative opposition. For the most part, Walker's focus has been solving real problems, rather than chasing gays and women on the pill. It doesn't mean that his solutions were always good ones or even, when they were good, the best ones. But he has also done things that show he has a commitment not just to business, but to the people of WI...like allowing real life experience to replace degree requirements, where applicable. Even his idea to split the UW (which I heartily disagreed with) was crafted with the blessing of UW.

    As for what I'd like to see Republicans do ... 1) drop social conservatism 2) drop Randian fiscal policy 3) become the fiscally responsible politicians they claim to be, rather than the soulless vampires they've become.
    Or, Democrats should become more fiscally conservative. Which, honestly, seems more likely at this point.

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