Small minds always leap to the answers given the last time around, which is probably why Maxine Waters keeps getting re-elected. But the last time is not necessarily the same as this time. A terrorist attack is not the same as the Cold War, a war in Afghanistan is not the same as a war in Iraq, and Mitt Romney is not the same as John McCain or Bob Dole.
But since the election, many conservatives seem to be coalescing around the explanation for our defeat given by Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, who said: “What we got was a weak, moderate candidate handpicked by the Beltway elites and country club establishment wing of the Republican Party. The presidential loss is unequivocally on them.”
There was also the seven months of primaries, during which Romney got more votes than the rest of the field combined. So there’s that. Moreover, the idea that Mitt Romney was “a weak, moderate candidate” is preposterous.
As Trotsky said, in moments of crisis, people with no politics tend to develop the worst possible politics.
Even newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas complained that Romney failed to get across that there are “two viewpoints and directions for the country” and that he erred by trying to “be a nice guy.” As Cruz said, “I’m pretty certain Mitt Romney actually French-kissed Barack Obama” in the third debate – proving once again that comedy is harder than it looks.
The idea that Romney failed to present a clear contrast with Obama or was too “nice” is also nonsense. If Republicans continue to tell themselves comforting myths about our candidate being the problem, they better get used to losing a lot more elections.
The only Republican to defeat a sitting president in the last century was Ronald Reagan in 1980, when he beat Jimmy Carter, the second-worst president in U.S. history (pending the final results of Obama’s second term). Because of that, and also because he is in the top two best American presidents, Reagan’s example is worth studying.
In Reagan’s one debate with Carter in 1980, he presented “two viewpoints and directions for the country” by vowing to save Medicare and not to cut taxes too much. Loud and clear, Reagan said: “My tax cut does not come close to eliminating (Carter’s) $86 billion increase. I’m only reducing the amount of the increase.”
There’s your bold contrasting vision!
Reagan picked a pro-choice, anti-supply side Republican as his running mate. He lavishly praised FDR in his acceptance speech at the national convention, leading the New York Times to title an editorial about him “Franklin Delano Reagan.”
Meanwhile, Romney promised to institute major reforms to Medicare, repeal Obamacare and impose a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. He said he’d issue a 50-state waiver to Obamacare on his first day in office. (Why he didn’t promise it to all 57 states I’ll never know.) He chose a pro-life, fiscal conservative as his running mate and never praised FDR.
A careful analysis of the Romney plan thus reveals several deviations from the Democratic platform – more stark than those delineated by even Reagan.
Romney was the most libertarian candidate Republicans have run since Calvin Coolidge. And he got more votes from the dwindling white majority than Reagan did.
How many more votes would Romney have gotten by being a rude, condescending jerk? Sure, it worked for Obama, but he was the incumbent.
Some conservatives didn’t trust Romney because, as governor of a state between blue and North Korea, he had instituted a health insurance mandate, one feature of the hated Obamacare.
As governor of a purple state, Reagan had signed the most liberal abortion law in the country and imposed the three largest state tax hikes in the nation’s history. Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt’s nominating speech hailed Reagan’s governorship of California for producing “a veritable Great Society of aid for schools, minorities and the handicapped,” as the Times put it. Reagan had also been an actual member of the godless, treason party.
This is not to diminish Reagan. It is to say that Romney wasn’t the problem.
To the extent Republicans have a problem with their candidates, it’s not that they’re not conservative enough. Where are today’s Nelson Rockefellers, Arlen Specters or George H.W. Bushes? Happily, they have gone the way of leprosy.
Having vanquished liberal Republicans, the party’s problem now runs more along the lines of moron showoffs, trying to impress tea partiers like Jenny Beth Martin by taking insane positions on rape exceptions for abortion – as 2 million babies are killed every year from pregnancies having nothing to do with rape.
Romney lost because he was running against an incumbent, was beaten up during a long and vicious primary fight and ran in a year with a very different electorate from 1980. At least one of those won’t be true next time. But we’re not going to win any elections by telling ourselves fairy tales about a candidate who lost because he wasn’t conservative enough, articulate enough or mean enough.