How far does the Republican soul-searching have to go after loss to Obama?

Traditionalist conservatives will say the ideology will survive and thrive.

It’s the “we didn’t have the right guy” argument. Mitt Romney wasn’t a strong voice for conservative values and that’s why the GOP lost.

The 2012 election defeat at the hands of Barack Obama amidst the worst economy since the Great Depression, persistent unemployment, skyrocketing debts and deficits, and historic unrest has the left pouring dirt on this permutation of the the Republican party.

Establishment Republicans like Chris Wallace are wondering if the GOP has a “Tea Party problem.”

I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that is the case, considering the Tea Party wave brought the Republicans the House majority in 2010.

It wasn’t “the Tea Party” that lost the GOP Senate seats this election cycle, it was just a few Tea Party candidates couldn’t seem to remove their feet from their mouths.

Some of the reformers in Congress, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Jim DeMint and others have been the strongest supporters of fiscal restraint and economic growth and have been vehemently opposed to tax increases.

The question has been brought up even before the outcome of this election, but Romney’s loss forces the question to be brought front and center to the Republican party: Is it time to rethink the GOP’s position on certain social issues.

An article in The Economist argues that young voters, who weren’t supposed to turn out in 2012 the way they did in 2008 (they did) are more socially liberal and had Mitt Romney been even mildly competitive among young voters, it would have been enough to flip key states.

Politico reports that President Obama won the youth vote 67-30 and won at least 61% of the youth vote in the swing states of Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Kevin Robillard, the author of the Politico piece, asserts that had Romney just gotten a 50-50 split of young voters, he has the votes to flip those states and thus, the election.

First, I don’t think the prescriptions the Economist argues in favor of make much sense. Softening on gay marriage seems like an inevitability, but the premise that the GOP must somehow run to the left of the Democrats on it is a ridiculous joke.

What young and even older moderate voters want to see from the Republican party is a movement that is less personified by Sarah Palin’s redneck ignorance and ‘aw shucks’ mentality, and more with a man like Paul Ryan who exemplifies the intellectual conservative argument.

There are still Reagan Democrats out there, but the Republican party has moved so far right on social issues that the thought of voting for the GOP is repulsive.

Mainstream media helps the Democratic cause because, particularly in this election, Barack Obama was the “cool” choice. It’s not cool to vote Republican because George Clooney and LeBron James are voting for Obama, so is Eva Longoria and Beyonce.

But for the politically engaged – and mostly likely to vote – the issues do matter, and while the economy plods along, people will have to fight their conscience.

To some degree Mitt Romney was the wrong candidate to bring this fight to Barack Obama, but part of the reason was he personified the big businesses, country club Republican stereotype. The class warfare Obama waged worked to perfection because Romney was everything Obama needed him to be.

It was easy to hate Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he really was a moderate, although he ran as an ultra-conservative.

In order to win in 2014 and beyond, the GOP doesn’t need to change, but rather choose better an ideological leader to lead the party. Karl Rove won George W. Bush two elections by appealing to evangelical voters and his effort to get those people to the polls with messaging won.

Barack Obama won this election because his get out the vote effort was better than Romney’s. His campaign was more effective in mobilizing his base. You can draw no ideological lines in the sand over this election because this election wasn’t about ideology for the winning side, it was about Big Bird and binders of women.

There are winning candidates out there, I’ve mentioned a few in recent days. Where the Republicans really have to change is in its approach to winning elections.

Republican party leaders believe ideology should be enough to get voters to the polls, but Democrats make sure they show up. They mobilize volunteers better and more effectively. They get millions of people to the polls who may otherwise have simply stayed home. Their GOTV effort was indisputably better than Mitt Romney’s and the Republican’s.

The left uses social media better, online tools more effectively. They market their product better than the Republicans market theirs and for the the party of free market economics, that’s sad.

If Mitt Romney had the infrastructure Obama had in terms of his ground game and overall organization, he wins going away. But he didn’t, so he didn’t.

That’s where Republicans have to be better moving forward. The ideologies on both sides haven’t changed and on the issues the Republicans wanted to win in this cycle, they did so pretty handily. They simply failed to convince enough voters that those issues were the issues and get the people who agreed with them to the polls.


As a post-script, however, I do believe that the Republican party doesn’t have to move center to win votes, but it ought to consider a purer form of conservatism – a non-hypocritical form.

If you support limited government, you can’t support invasive procedures from mothers considering abortion – that doesn’t impede one’s ability to be pro-life.

Second, marriage being between a man and a woman is an institution of God and the church, not government. Conservatives ought to say that they believe the first step toward equality is to encourage every state to hold a referendum on gay marriage and that you believe in the will of the people. This way you avoid alienating your base and you at least make a move toward appeasing moderates.

The marijuana issue can and should be a winner for Republicans who ought to be on board with legalizing recreational use, and taxing the hell out of it. Some states estimate they can generate billions in tax revenue, plus if cigarettes and alcohol are legal – both of which are more harmful to your body – there is no intellectually honest argument to keep marijuana illegal, nor does it necessitate we make all drugs legal.

Lastly, conservatives who believe in limited government and hard work have to reconsider the immigration stance because the current platform is incoherent and incongruous with conservative ideology. Those who work should be rewarded. In other words, undocumented workers should have a path to citizenship. It’s safer for them because they are protected by labor laws and it’s better for the government because they pay income tax.

None of these are counter-conservative positions, but they are counter-conservative culture positions. Unfortunately for those traditionalists, they’re falling behind the times.

Nothing about these proposed changes do anything to inherently alter what conservatism is or should be. In fact, in some important ways, it brings the American Conservative closer to what it should have been all along.

That move should come from within and ought to have nothing to do with this election.

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3 thoughts on “How far does the Republican soul-searching have to go after loss to Obama?

  1. rapsheetblog says:

    Some good thoughts here. I think it’s a little off to say that Obama was better at getting out the vote than Romney – I have an analysis in my blog today pointing out how much Romney gained over McCain and how much Obama lost over Obama of ’08 – but his campaign was just able to stop the bleeding in enough places – just enough – to win. I agree with you 100% that immigration reform is not counter-conservative but counter-conservative culture – perfectly stated.

  2. You raise some good points – I especially like the line about the need for a “non-hypocritical” Republican party. Every village has its idiot, but ours don’t need to be so prominent!

    Here’s where I’ll break with you. The Tea Party gave us a wide margin in the House in 2010, without a doubt. But they cost us several seats in the Senate. They did it again this time (I voted for Mourdock, so I’ll take the heat for that one), and they dragged Romney so far to the right in the primary (by propping up a clearly unelectable Santorum) that he was hopelessly tangled up by the time he reached the national campaign.

    So in sum I would say the Tea Party has done more harm than good, and that we *do* have a “Tea Party problem.”

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