Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

How the Right Can Reclaim its Edge on Foreign Policy

Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

Read More

Aside from the prospect of automatic cuts in near-term defense spending, the ongoing drama over the so-called fiscal cliff continues to sideline the issue of foreign policy. But as the Republican Party recovers from the November election and finds its issue compass going forward, foreign policy should never be far behind—not least because of what Dan Drezner writes in a new Foreign Affairs essay on the GOP: Republicans finally saw the end of their dominance of public opinion on foreign policy they have held since the era of the Vietnam War.

Conservatives may already be tired of what they perceive to be lectures on their party’s ills from those who don’t share their ideological preferences. I don’t blame them. But Drezner’s essay is worth reading because Drezner generally eschews ad hominem attacks and his writing is tonally free of partisan hostility. Additionally, conservatives reading the essay will find that in addition to what they are accused of getting wrong, they will discover that an honest assessment of the GOP’s recent foreign policy gets a fair amount right.

A great deal of Drezner’s criticism revolves around rhetoric. Thus, there were moments when Mitt Romney, for example, squandered opportunities with unforced errors. The most memorable instance was Romney’s decision to call Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Romney was guilty of the same mistake the Obama administration made with regard to Russia: They both overestimated Russia’s power. Obama thought Russia could and would deliver all sorts of cooperation on a range of issues. Yet Vladimir Putin had no intention and in many cases no ability do more than talk tough. Putin simply bluffed his way to more and more American concessions, and pocketed them.

Drezner expands his criticism to an issue directly relevant to the current budget debate. “Republicans continually attempt to justify extremely high levels of defense spending, for example, on the grounds that the United States supposedly faces greater threats now than during the Cold War,” he writes. It is essential that conservatives, and especially the Republican politicians taking part in the standoff over the fiscal cliff, understand how to advocate for defense spending.

It is true that the existence of foreign threats doesn’t necessitate, by itself, historic levels of defense spending. But those threats are far from the only justification for the defense budget. Republican officeholders would do well to turn to another essay in the same issue of Foreign Affairs that makes this case. The essay, by Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, explains how a fully engaged America abroad yields both security and financial benefits that make defense spending a bargain.

They note that American security guarantees around the globe prevent the rise of regional hegemons, military conflict, and the spread of destabilizing nuclear weapons more often than not; secure multilateral cooperation; and bring the U.S. economic benefits by both strengthening the dollar and giving America leverage when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements. Romney’s repeated exhortations that we’d want a military so powerful no one would dare “test us” is an inadequate justification for a highly justifiable policy.

Finally, Drezner writes:

George W. Bush’s greatest foreign policy accomplishments came not in the military realm but in rethinking economic statecraft. He signed more free-trade agreements than any other president. Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Bush administration devised innovative ways of advancing U.S. interests and values abroad. In developing the architecture for improved financial coercion, the administration paved the way for the sanctions that are now crippling Iran’s economy. Force can be an essential tool of statecraft, but it should rarely be the first tool used, and sometimes it can be most effective if never used at all. Republicans understand the power of the free market at home; they need to revive their enthusiasm for the power of the market abroad, as well.

There are two points to make here. First, Romney had no trouble grasping this, as evidenced by his concentration on economics-based statecraft in the foreign policy debate with President Obama. Republicans remain the party of free trade, and show no sign of abandoning that position. Second, on Iran, there isn’t a ton of daylight between Drezner and the right. Conservatives have pushed for tough sanctions backed up by the credible threat of force. Obama has opposed and weakened tough sanctions every step of the way, and his administration has worked to undermine any credible threat of force.

Drezner says bellicosity is hurting the GOP with a war-weary public. He’s right that the public is war-weary, but Iran is not the issue where this is hurting the GOP. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, public support for military action against Iran in the event sanctions fail is now at a high point. Even out of power, the GOP won that argument.

This is not to say that last year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates always had the policy right–far from it. From flirtations with a trade war with China to undue nostalgia for Hosni Mubarak to loyalty investigations into Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide, there were plenty of forgettable—and dangerous–suggestions. But the 2016 crop of candidates will likely be quite different from the 2012 cast of characters, which too often spoke as if the world wasn’t listening. It was–and is–and conservatives need to remember (or learn) how to reclaim what was a well-earned advantage over the left on foreign policy.

Read Less

The Right’s Latest Meaningless Purity Test

In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

Read More

In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

Could there possibly be a bigger waste of time than what is currently taking place? Conservatives are at each other’s throats fighting over a plan that has no chance thanks to a Democratically controlled Senate and White House. Once upon a time, conservatives understood that the only chance at passing conservative legislation was by holding those branches of government, as Philip Klein pointed this out today in the Washington Examiner,

If all it takes to enact a conservative agenda is to hold one chamber of Congress, then why did conservative activists work so hard for Republicans to win control of the Senate? Why did they spill so much sweat in an effort to defeat Obama, even though it meant supporting Mitt Romney?

Klein goes on to say “Conservatives should acknowledge that some sort of compromise is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean they have to swallow anything that Boehner cooks up.” While these groups don’t have to go along with Boehner’s plan, if they plan to spend their precious political capital fighting “Plan B” they need to at least have an alternative that House Republicans can work with. While many of these groups have their own proposals, none stands a chance at passage through a Democratically controlled Senate, nor will Obama sign them.

During the primary season when opposition to Mitt Romney was at its peak, a group of conservatives started a group called the Not Mitt Romney coalition. The group spent its time fighting the eventual choice of Romney as the Republican nominee. From early on, it became clear that Romney was the most viable of all possible picks in a slim Republican field of candidates, and despite this, conservatives continued to fight his nomination instead of trying to find and recruit an alternative who would be more acceptable to their base (with the exception of the Weekly Standard‘s editor Bill Kristol, who famously spent months trying to draft reluctant Republicans into running). By the time Romney secured the nomination, a great deal of his campaign’s energy, money and political capital was spent battling his eventual nomination with fellow Republicans instead of building his case against Barack Obama. In campaign post-mortems, many of Romney’s top staff attributed their loss in part to this lengthy and nasty primary battle. 

If conservatives have learned anything from that primary experience, it’s that along with principled stands against objectionable legislation or politicians, they need to provide acceptable alternatives. It’s easy to declare that something or someone fails the conservative litmus test, but in order for Republicans to move past the label as the “Party of No” (which inevitably leads to plummeting approval ratings), they need to start offering reasonable solutions. 

Read Less

Poll: Can the GOP Win Over Hispanics?

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Read More

Via Politico’s Alexander Burns, the latest poll from right-leaning pollster Resurgent Republic found that the GOP has some serious image problems with Hispanic voters:

• Hispanic voters say the Republican party does not respect the values and concerns of the Hispanic community by 51 to 44 percent in Florida, 54 to 40 percent in New Mexico, 59 to 35 percent in Nevada, and 63 to 30 percent in Colorado.

• Majorities of voters in each state say that “is anti-immigrant” better describes the Republican Party, while the Democratic Party has big leads on “understands the needs and concerns of Hispanic voters,” and “makes an effort to win Hispanic voters.”

Only 27 percent of Hispanic voters supported Mitt Romney, a steep drop from 2004 when 44 percent voted to reelect George W. Bush. It’s still not the lowest of recent elections–in 1996, the GOP won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote–but as an increasing share of the electorate, the Hispanic vote is becoming ever more critical.

While there isn’t a lot of good news here, the Resurgent Republic poll (which can be read in full here) did find room for growth and common ground. One area that Republicans can work on is the tone of the immigration debate. Hispanic voters may not be monolithic when it comes to immigration policy, but there are sensitivities the GOP might want to keep in mind when discussing the issues:

The tone Republicans use to discuss immigration has an impact on Hispanics who are not directly affected by the issue. Some Republicans argue that harsh rhetoric and policies regarding illegal immigrants will not affect Hispanics who are American citizens. But this survey suggests otherwise. All Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Yet Mitt Romney lost Puerto Rican voters in Florida by 64 to 36 percent, one of the main reasons why Obama won the state. Many Hispanic Americans take attacks on undocumented Hispanics as an attack on the entire Hispanic community.

There is also room for outreach when it comes to federal spending, taxes and regulations:

While a majority of Hispanics in each state believes in increasing government investment, a significant minority believes in lower government spending, lower taxes, and fewer regulations: 42 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Colorado, 39 percent in New Mexico, and 40 percent in Nevada. All of those are higher percentages than Romney received in 2012, significantly higher in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.

Republicans probably won’t be able to win the majority of Hispanic voters. But it seems that  there is room for significant improvement–especially since many lean right on social and fiscal issues. And with the number of Hispanic voters growing, that could be enough to swing a future presidential race.

Read Less

Sheldon Adelson Talks Politics, Troops and Israel

Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed. 

“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”

As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”

For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.

“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.

Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said. 

Read More

Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed. 

“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”

As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”

For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.

“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.

Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said. 

Adelson has not said whether he will use his influence to try to change the GOP internally. But he does believe social issues cost the Republicans the last election.

“If we took a softer stance on those several issues, social issues, that I referred to, then I think that we would have won the most recent election,” he said. “I think people got the impression that Republicans didn’t care about certain groups of people.” 

“They talked about Mitt Romney and said that he can’t identify with poor people. I can identify with poor people because I was one of them,” he added.

Adelson also breaks with Republicans on health care and immigration. He said he opposes Obamacare, but he does “believe in a socialized medicine system” like the one in Israel.

On immigration, he supports a path to citizenship with some sort of community service requirement.

“We have to find a way for them to earn citizenship,” he said. “I think they got to pay something for it. Not in money…people have suggested serving in the military, community service.”

If Adelson does decide to take a larger role in influencing GOP policy, the upcoming immigration reform debate could be his first opportunity. As a child of immigrants, the issue appears to hold a lot of personal significance for him.

“I was a poor person. My parents were uneducated. My parents were immigrants,” Adelson said. “All of the things that are under consideration today, I was part of.” 

Adelson was born during the Great Depression in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His father had fled from Lithuania in 1912. Adelson recalled his father telling him as a child: “You just remember, Sheldon, the United States of America is the greatest country God ever created. Don’t you ever forget that.”

I asked him what he thought about accusations that he is more loyal to Israel than the U.S., an anti-Semitic smear that proliferated during the election.

“Listen, I live here. I don’t live there,” he said. “My wife is Israeli, my children carry Israeli passports, but I don’t. And what right do critics have to make any comment about who I’m loyal to?”

He continued: “Israel is also one of the greatest nations on Earth…Israel is a melting pot for Jewish people like the United States is a melting pot for people who want to leave other countries. You can’t have another country like that? That’s OK.”

Adelson and his wife are both veterans. She served in the Israeli Defense Force, and he served in the U.S. military during the Korean war. They also contribute to veterans organizations, and six years ago began sponsoring a regular Las Vegas trip for wounded soldiers through the Armed Forces Foundation (my trip to Vegas to cover the event was sponsored by this program).

Adelson said he decided to start the trip after sitting next to a wounded soldier at a veterans event in Washington. Once the gala was over, he said he wanted to find a way to thank the wounded personally.

“Last time we had people coming from the [Brooke Army Medical Center] from San Antonio, that their faces…their bodies were so badly burned it was difficult to look at them, you know? And nobody ever says thank you to them,” he  said.

“It tears your heart out. You wonder how people can carry on.”

Adelson has struggled with his own health issues. He suffers from a condition that makes walking and using his hands difficult.

“Look, I have neuropathy. And all four of my limbs are affected by neuropathy,” he said. “On the motor side my thumb and my forefinger can’t operate. I can’t tie my shoe laces.”

“There are a lot of things I can’t do,” he continued. “But I’m thanking God that’s all I got. How can these people get along without fingers, without hands? Without legs? And all because they wanted to volunteer to fight to save our freedoms.”

Read Less

Is the GOP Digital Team (Still) in Denial?

In this month’s issue of COMMENTARY, Benjamin Domenech has an excellent article on the Republicans’ broken technological machine. In it he explains why the Romney digital team was unable to catch up to Obama’s record-setting digital team that many have likened to “Big Brother” in its scope.

Domenech contends, and I agree, that even taking the strength of Obama’s digital team into account, the Romney campaign didn’t scratch the surface of what they should have accomplished on the digital front. The issues of the Romney campaign were varied and are not only due to the failure of Project Orca. Domenech explains:

Read More

In this month’s issue of COMMENTARY, Benjamin Domenech has an excellent article on the Republicans’ broken technological machine. In it he explains why the Romney digital team was unable to catch up to Obama’s record-setting digital team that many have likened to “Big Brother” in its scope.

Domenech contends, and I agree, that even taking the strength of Obama’s digital team into account, the Romney campaign didn’t scratch the surface of what they should have accomplished on the digital front. The issues of the Romney campaign were varied and are not only due to the failure of Project Orca. Domenech explains:

While digital efforts were the primary focus of the Obama campaign from the beginning, with data miners and tech gurus culled from Silicon Valley, they were a relatively late addition to the Romney effort. Its digital operation was staffed after the rest of the campaign, with an operation that seemed remarkably inefficient for a campaign that was supposed to do things with the rigor of Romney’s research-intensive firm, Bain Capital. There were plenty of people working on the digital side, but tasks were poorly assigned and hampered by restrictive approval processes. Romney’s staff was politically diverse and more used to the world of business than politics—some had never worked on a political campaign before. Frustration set in, then boredom, then Facebook-browsing. The quiet was deafening.

For digital staffers who recognized they were playing catch-up with the Obama machine that had never stopped building after 2008, the contrasts were infuriating. Where the Obama campaign’s content and emails were tailored to the interests of individually targeted demographic communities based on topics of interest and other data-mined priorities, Romney’s campaign didn’t even make distinctions between whether someone had given $5 or $500, or whether the name came to the database through a petition about health care or energy policy.

The campaign was also fiercely hierarchical, to the surprise of some longtime Romney staffers who found their ideas for innovation shunted aside by senior staff and consultants who were unapproachable and unresponsive.

Late last month RedState’s Erick Erickson had a stinging post on the incestuous and unproductive relationship between consultants and the Romney campaign, contending that a group of consultants were “the seeds of Mitt Romney’s ruin and the RNC’s get out the vote (GOTV) effort collapsed — bled to death by charlatan consultants making millions off the party, its donors, and the grassroots.” Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, it appears that his advice on the usefulness of these consultants has more or less fallen on deaf ears. 

Yesterday a “private” meeting (which was immediately reported on by sources present) took place between some members of Romney’s digital team and other major conservative digital strategists. It appears that many found it to be a positive and uplifting experience, and that discussing the enormous gap between the two sides didn’t overwhelm or discourage those present. Roll Call reported that “One source said the meeting was so positive that it was almost as if Romney had won.”

That attitude calls to mind the overconfidence that marked most of the Romney campaign, especially after the first debate. In Domenech’s piece he quotes Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, who announced boldly in a staff meeting, “We’re f—ing gonna win this thing.” The digital divide between the two sides is not insurmountable, but it should not be filling anyone in the conservative movement with anything resembling confidence either. The fact that this meeting left many leaving feeling positive is a worrisome indication that the consultants and strategists who underestimated their ability to compete with the Obama campaign are still living in an alternate reality. 

Read Less

The Recalibration of Conservatism

I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

Read More

I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.

Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.

Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.

The speeches focused on the plight of the poor, the challenges facing the middle class, upward mobility and opportunity, and (especially in the case of Senator Rubio) education. Messrs. Ryan and Rubio offered intelligent defenses of limited government while also acknowledging the important role of government. And they used terms like “compassion,” “the common good,” “civil society,” and “social infrastructure.” Their tone was inclusive, humane, aspirational, and captured the true, and full, spirit of conservatism.

What Ryan and Rubio are doing is widening the aperture of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which in recent years either ignored (in the case of civil society and education) or took aim at (in the case of compassion) issues and concepts that are morally important and politically potent. It isn’t so much that what was being said was wrong, though in some cases (like on immigration) it was; it’s that the vision being offered was constricted. 

The task facing conservatives today is somewhat akin to what Ronald Reagan faced in 1977 with the GOP, Bill Clinton faced in 1992 with the Democratic Party, and Tony Blair faced in 1994 with the Labour Party. In this instance, the Republican Party and conservatism have to remain powerful defenders of liberty and limited government. But they also have to establish themselves in the public imagination as advocates for reform and modernization, of the middle class and social mobility, and of a generous, inclusive vision. There is much more work to be done, and the speeches by Ryan and Rubio were encouraging first steps.

The necessary recalibration of conservatism is under way, and that is something that ought to lift the spirits of conservatives.

Read Less

It Takes More Than a Mega-Donor to Win the White House

Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.

Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.

It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.

Read More

Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.

Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.

It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.

The best example of this was not Gingrich, a Republican veteran whose baggage and lack of discipline doomed his candidacy from the start. Rather, it was Jon Huntsman, whose father Jon Huntsman, Sr., was noted in the Politico piece as the mega donor behind his son’s campaign. The point here is that Huntsman had no shortage of money and was given fawning coverage throughout the mainstream media as well as puff pieces from conservative writers like George Will. But all the money and the media attention in the world could not convince Republican primary voters that a feckless moderate like Huntsman ought to be president.

Mitt Romney’s money gave him an advantage in the GOP race, but Politico’s explanation of his win — “a pro-Romney super PAC obliterated the field” — is misleading. Though he fell short in November against President Obama, he won the GOP nomination because he was the most viable candidate in the field, a factor that no amount of money given to either Gingrich or Santorum could overcome.

While all of the possible candidates on both sides of the aisle would do well to find themselves a friend like Adelson, one such person or even a few won’t elect a person who can’t attract the support of the voters. If you don’t believe me, just ask president-elect Gingrich or president-elect Santorum.

Read Less

Romney Reminds Us Why He Lost

Conservatives have spent the last week dissecting their failure in the presidential election. But one element of that defeat has been largely absent from the discussion: the candidate. That’s because in the last month of the presidential campaign something remarkable happened. Though he had previously been distrusted by much of the Republican base and widely regarded as a poor campaigner, Mitt Romney seemed to erase all of the doubts of his supporters. His strong performance in the first presidential debate gave the Republicans faith in their leader as well as momentum.

In retrospect, that last surge of optimism on the right about the 2012 election seems foolish. As we have already discussed in detail, the polls that showed Romney leading or at least even with Obama during this period were almost certainly wrong. Democratic turnout would, to my surprise, resemble that of the “hope and change” moment of 2008, while fewer people voted for Romney than John McCain. A number of factors were responsible for this: a failure to respond to the changing demography of the nation including the Hispanic vote, the GOP’s comically inept get-out-the-vote effort, media bias, Hurricane Sandy, and Romney’s inability to exploit the Benghazi fiasco. But yesterday we were reminded that although those explanations were valid, there was one other reason why Obama won: Mitt Romney.

Read More

Conservatives have spent the last week dissecting their failure in the presidential election. But one element of that defeat has been largely absent from the discussion: the candidate. That’s because in the last month of the presidential campaign something remarkable happened. Though he had previously been distrusted by much of the Republican base and widely regarded as a poor campaigner, Mitt Romney seemed to erase all of the doubts of his supporters. His strong performance in the first presidential debate gave the Republicans faith in their leader as well as momentum.

In retrospect, that last surge of optimism on the right about the 2012 election seems foolish. As we have already discussed in detail, the polls that showed Romney leading or at least even with Obama during this period were almost certainly wrong. Democratic turnout would, to my surprise, resemble that of the “hope and change” moment of 2008, while fewer people voted for Romney than John McCain. A number of factors were responsible for this: a failure to respond to the changing demography of the nation including the Hispanic vote, the GOP’s comically inept get-out-the-vote effort, media bias, Hurricane Sandy, and Romney’s inability to exploit the Benghazi fiasco. But yesterday we were reminded that although those explanations were valid, there was one other reason why Obama won: Mitt Romney.

As Seth noted earlier today, in a conference call with donors and the press Romney inserted his foot firmly in his mouth once again when he claimed the president’s offer of “gifts” to voters was the reason he lost. Though there is a rationale critique to be made of the big government mentality that Obama advocated, this was wrongheaded on a lot of levels. As Jason Riley said today on Opinion Journal Live, this is just a Republican version of liberal attempts to blame voters for their defeats, of which Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas was the most prominent.

Even worse than that, the comments were nothing more than a repeat of Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe, the revelation of which was widely, and rightly, regarded as the low point of his campaign. It also brought us all back to the doubts that were expressed about Romney’s ability to defeat the president back during the GOP primaries.

Let’s specify that over the course of the last year, we learned a lot about who Mitt Romney is as a man and most of that was very much to his credit. The campaign brought into focus his intelligence, his seriousness of purpose and above all his innate decency. He is a good man and his skills would have enabled him to deal with the nation’s problems and be a good president.

But he was never going to be a good presidential candidate. The hole at the center of the campaign was always his inability to connect with ordinary voters. That was exacerbated by the disingenuous and largely false assault on his character that was the centerpiece of the Democratic campaign. But part of the reason that Obama was able to paint a high-minded and charitable man like Romney as a heartless plutocrat was the Republican’s awkwardness and inability to talk about himself or his ideas in a manner that would have made these slanders irrelevant. Romney’s propensity for gaffes, his tin ear for speaking to the people, and a background that made it easy for the Democrats to smear him were on display throughout 2012. Those who argued that he was the most electable of the Republicans who ran for president were not wrong, but that was always more of a criticism of his rivals than a compliment to him.

Conservatives despise the president so much that they were largely blind to his appeal to so much of the electorate. But in the last month of the 2012 campaign, they also tended to forget about the reasons why Romney was a fairly easy target for the president and his minions.

Ideology is important, but personalities always drive presidential politics. As much as Republicans are right to do some soul-searching about constituencies they have foolishly written off, as well as tactical political errors that were made this past year, any attempt to dissect the 2012 election must also include a realization that they didn’t have a very good candidate. If they pick a more impressive politician from their deep bench to lead them in 2016 (a year when the Democrats will no longer be able to rely on the historic appeal of Barack Obama) they are likely to do a lot better on Election Day.

Read Less

What Romney Calls “Gifts,” Voters Call Solutions

The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

Read More

The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.

And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Times reports:

“In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama’s strategy to his own of “talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth.”…

“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge,” Mr. Romney said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”

Romney is not wrong in suggesting that demographic groups preferred what they heard from Obama to what they heard from Romney, but he is wrong in his characterization of it. First of all, there are many reasons Obama won reelection, not least of which is that he apparently had a 52 percent approval rating on Election Day.

Second, the obvious objection to Romney’s comments is that his own version of the health care reform plan served as a model for Obama’s. Did Romney think he was giving away free “gifts” to minorities and young voters when he designed the plan? Or did he think he was serving the people who elected him by solving a quality-of-life issue for the entire state of Massachusetts? In politics, it’s easy to impugn the motives of your opponent, but it’s fair to say that Obama targeted what he and many Americans saw as an economic hardship and a great injustice, especially to the poor. Romney may or may not agree with that, but I doubt he would take well to someone characterizing his signature achievement in office as crude politicking or vote buying.

And that gets to the larger problem with these comments. A very large portion of this country sees our immigration laws and those in favor of even stricter measures as a moral failure on the part of a country of immigrants. Hispanics don’t see “amnesty”–a path to citizenship–as a “gift” in exchange for their vote. It isn’t candy; it’s the difference between opportunities for their children and their families being torn apart.

Republicans don’t have to agree with liberal solutions to the problems facing the country. But they certainly should not ridicule the need for reform at many levels of government–indeed, they should embrace it, for much in our federal government needs reform. And making broad statements about jobs isn’t enough. To wit, the Romney message to Hispanics was that he will create jobs here but he wants them to “self-deport,” thus making those jobs unavailable to them anyway. In such a case, why on earth should they care what his jobs plan is?

Obama offered specifics, and Romney offered principles. But conservative principles should lead to conservative solutions–specifics, in other words. Romney doesn’t seem to have understood this. But he should take a look around his party. Republican governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Snyder, Rick Perry, and others offered voters the combination of conservative principles and conservative policy proposals. It is a winning combination, even in blue New Jersey. And it can be a winning combination nationally as well. That’s the lesson Romney should have learned on Election Day.

Read Less

Obama Planning Major Foreign Policy Readjustment?

James Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine; Harry Truman had the Truman Doctrine; George W. Bush had the Bush Doctrine; and now, the L.A. Times reports, Barack Obama will have the Costanza Doctrine.

Or at least that’s the best way to understand it. In a season five episode of “Seinfeld,” George Costanza’s character decides his life has been marked by an almost uninterrupted parade of bad decisions, and he must now do the opposite to break the pattern. The L.A. Times tries delicately to couch the Obama administration’s second-term foreign policy agenda in terms of moderation and pragmatism, but voters may, if the report is correct, witness an agenda quite different in tone and substance from what Obama told them he would do if reelected:

Read More

James Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine; Harry Truman had the Truman Doctrine; George W. Bush had the Bush Doctrine; and now, the L.A. Times reports, Barack Obama will have the Costanza Doctrine.

Or at least that’s the best way to understand it. In a season five episode of “Seinfeld,” George Costanza’s character decides his life has been marked by an almost uninterrupted parade of bad decisions, and he must now do the opposite to break the pattern. The L.A. Times tries delicately to couch the Obama administration’s second-term foreign policy agenda in terms of moderation and pragmatism, but voters may, if the report is correct, witness an agenda quite different in tone and substance from what Obama told them he would do if reelected:

For months, these issues had what some U.S. officials called “AE” status, meaning any policy changes would be put off until after the election.

But with Obama winning a second term last week, top administration officials say they are weighing whether to deepen U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, and offer Iran a compromise deal to curb enrichment of uranium.

They also are considering ways to work out new cooperation with China, an undertaking that Obama campaign operatives had feared might alienate swing state voters anxious about Chinese trade policies and competition.

To be sure, replacing a failing policy with a better one, as the administration seems to be doing with regard to Syria, is of course a good thing. We’d always rather have better policy than consistent but principled failure, especially when lives are at stake. So now that the Obama team no longer needs to paint Republicans as warmongers, they can take their advice on the Syrian conflict.

Additionally, to be fair, the Afghanistan policy here is the one change that wouldn’t be a total about-face, instead simply accelerating the pace of retreat. But if the Afghan forces are handed total control before they are ready, it would certainly contradict Obama’s promise that the withdrawal would be done in a “responsible manner.” The others–Syria, China, Iran–all signal an administration relieved to finally reveal it didn’t mean anything it said prior to November 6. It also tells us why the Israeli administration seemed so unnerved by Obama’s Iran policy despite his repeated assurances that the Israelis–and the broader Arab world, much of which is also concerned about Iran’s nuclear program–had nothing to worry about.

Read Less

Jindal: The Republican Party Is a Wreck

Thanks to reports about the Romney campaign’s internal polling problems, disastrous get-out-the-vote schemes, and some of the inevitable internecine finger pointing that follows the loss of a presidential election, the dust hasn’t yet settled on the Romney campaign’s post-mortems. But as the soul searching begins to shift to judging the GOP on the whole, Bobby Jindal would like that judgment to be harsh.

The Republican governor of Louisiana, a popular 41-year-old reformer with a reputation for competent management and policy expertise, unloaded on the Republican Party in an interview with Politico. Jindal criticized Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, but made clear he understands that the right has a branding problem it cannot lay at the feet of its nominee this year:

Read More

Thanks to reports about the Romney campaign’s internal polling problems, disastrous get-out-the-vote schemes, and some of the inevitable internecine finger pointing that follows the loss of a presidential election, the dust hasn’t yet settled on the Romney campaign’s post-mortems. But as the soul searching begins to shift to judging the GOP on the whole, Bobby Jindal would like that judgment to be harsh.

The Republican governor of Louisiana, a popular 41-year-old reformer with a reputation for competent management and policy expertise, unloaded on the Republican Party in an interview with Politico. Jindal criticized Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, but made clear he understands that the right has a branding problem it cannot lay at the feet of its nominee this year:

“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal said. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

Calling on the GOP to be “the party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,” the Louisianan urged the party to “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same.”

Jindal, who was a frequent suggestion for vice presidential nominee this cycle and is expected to at least consider running in 2016, was critical–but on target. Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan are both energetic policy-oriented politicians, which explains in part why they ran ahead of the party’s Senate candidates. Some of those Senate candidates imploded–both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost surefire GOP seats by making comments about rape–but what about the rest of the candidates?

As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote last week, nine other Republican candidates ran behind Romney, even in states Romney won. That means the scenario many conservatives feared–that Romney was a lackluster nominee who would hurt Republican enthusiasm and thus down-ticket candidates–was flipped on its head. Romney and Ryan energized conservatives to the point the right thought it was sailing to victory, while Republicans running in down-ticket races underperformed even with GOP enthusiasm. (You could even make the case that the “rape” comments and the like fed an anti-GOP narrative that hurt Romney.) Here’s Blake:

In five races, the GOP candidate under-performed Romney by at least nine points. This includes Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who both lost in states that Romney carried by at least 13 points. (Maine is a bit of a special case, since there was a third-party candidate in the Senate race.)…

But even if you look at only the open seat contests, the GOP under-performed in most of those races — up to and including two people who won: Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) in Nebraska.

Jindal took a reform-minded tone in his interview with Politico, advocating tougher regulation of the big banks (an idea gaining steam on the right), reforming the tax code, a comprehensive approach to energy production, and school choice. The latter two are areas of particular expertise for Jindal, who recently enacted his own education reform in Louisiana and expanded offshore oil drilling.

He was, however, lukewarm on the subject of immigration reform, suggesting the newfound support on the right for policies once derided as “amnesty” is far from universal, and would also pit Jindal against some of the other GOPers thought to be viable 2016 candidates. Nonetheless, Jindal’s comments indicate a recognition that although President Obama won reelection convincingly, he did so while leaving major issues–education, energy, immigration, financial regulation–on the table for creative, reformist Republicans intent on rebranding the party in their image.

Read Less

Will GOP Learn Its GOTV Lesson?

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat’s co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

Read More

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat’s co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

We’ve heard very little about what went wrong on the record from top-level campaign staff. Today Romney’s political director Rich Beeson gave a very perplexing interview to National Review’s Katrina Trinko. He told Trinko, 

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit”? Really? The numbers the Romney campaign needed to hit were, as NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, the numbers needed to win. Republicans saw 1.4 million fewer votes in 2012 verses 2008. Granted, turnout for Obama was off by a far greater amount–7.7 million voters– yet if Romney had brought out the same number of voters as McCain did in 2008 we would be talking about a Romney victory, not a Romney defeat. Romney even drew fewer Mormon voters than George W. Bush did in 2004 (numbers for the 2008 race are unavailable). Romney staffers could point to several positive stories from their campaign, but turnout isn’t one of them. 

Beeson went on to defend not only ORCA in principle, but also in practice on Election Day:

Beeson contends that while Orca had its flaws on Election Day, it was a smart idea. “Did the overall system work the way that we wanted it to? No. But it is a good precursor for what I think we’ll want to be able to design and implement and improve on in coming elections? Absolutely,” he says.

With an election as close as Tuesday’s (NRO’s Jim Geraghty put the margin of victory at 407,000 votes between Romney and Obama in key swing states) what would have been a better use of resources? Should volunteers have been tracking voter turnout in order to get results to Boston a few hours before the networks would have, or should they have instead focused on traditional GOTV efforts like door knocks, transportation to polling locations, and calling undecided voters? 

Worryingly, it appears the Romney campaign and the consultants it hired refuse to admit that ORCA was a bad strategy in theory and in practice, and that they also hope to replicate it for future campaigns. Given the huge financial investment the campaign gave to the consultants responsible for the program, it’s understandable that its utter failure is an inconvenient detail for those who would like to try to sell the program all over again. For the GOP’s sake in 2014 and 2016 and beyond, one would hope that the track record not only of ORCA, but also of the consultants and firms responsible, don’t disappear down the memory hole. For that to happen, the creators of ORCA need to be exposed by the Romney campaign’s staff as a last service to future GOP candidates. 

Read Less

Conservatism in the Wake of Defeat

“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

Read More

“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

If the premiership was out of his reach, as he believed it was, “I should quit the dreary field for pastures new.”

But of course Churchill couldn’t do such a thing, because there were too many causes in which be believed. As Gilbert puts it:

As long as he was fighting a cause, … [Churchill] was not afraid of anything, ‘nor’, he added, ‘do I weary as the struggle proceeds’. The Party machine, [Stanley] Baldwin, public office: all these, he said, were ‘mere irrelevancies’. Policy alone was what counted: ‘win there, win everywhere’.

Fast forward to the here and now. Based on my conversations, e-mails, and some public commentary, many conservatives are despondent. “The shock of this [Romney] loss is overwhelming,” one person e-mailed to me last night.

It would be silly to deny that in some important respects, the tide is running against our ideas. And I’m all for using this period to reassess where the nation stands and what it means for conservatism. Some adjustments and refinements are clearly needed; the questions are which ones and how can they be made in a way that remains true to conservative principles. 

The impulse for most of us is to argue after the election for exactly what we were arguing prior to the election. Perhaps a better way to approach things is to step back a bit and consider the challenges America faces today, which in some respects are quite different than what we faced in, say, 1980. What do conservatives have to say about wage stagnation, income inequality, poverty and social mobility, crony capitalism, educational mediocrity, family breakdown, and reforming our entitlement system and tax code? Has conservatism become adamantine on certain issues (Bill Kristol suggests conservatives should agree to increasing taxes on the wealthy, for example)? How much of our problem is tone v. substance?  

I for one believe we should use this moment to encourage fresh thinking and not vilify those who engage in it. At the same time, it seems to me that trying to fully understand the consequences of this election and what it means for conservatism 72 hours or so after the vote is probably unwise. We have plenty of time to sort through the exit polling data and think things through in a prudent manner. And because politics has taken an orientation not favorable to us now doesn’t mean that is a permanent condition. As Gilbert reminds us, “Central to Churchill’s belief was the conviction that the public would respond fairly to a good case, well presented.” Nor should we grow weary as the struggle proceeds. Because there are still things worth fighting for. 

Read Less

Democrats Better Start Soul Searching

Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved. 

Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.  

Read More

Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved. 

Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.  

The president’s reelection is not evidence of a new liberal America, but rather of the illogical and confused experience that is infatuation. For multiple reasons, Americans continue to have a crush on Barack Obama even after his universally panned first term. No longer quite head over heels, they’re at the “I know he’s no good for me, but I can change him” phase. Whatever this means, it surely doesn’t suggest conservatives would be wise to move closer to policies that aren’t even popular among Obama supporters.

Why isn’t soul searching underway on the left? When the personality at the center of the cult leaves the stage in four years, Democrats will own his results without the benefit of his appeal. We can’t know quite what a second Obama term will bring, but if his first term is an indication, there’s little reason to expect his party will be crowing. The fiscal cliff is here but a whole landscape of steep drops comes next: the economic cliff (over which lies a possible double-dip recession), the Obamacare cliff (over which lies an unprecedented bureaucratic behemoth), the Iran cliff (over which lies a nuclear bomb), and so on. A precipice in every direction and a president who’s given us no reason to presume he can steer clear. Have Democrats stopped to wonder what initiatives they’ll have to defend when the dust settles in 2016?

Already Obama has signaled he’s continuing policies that don’t meet the moment. There’s the assurance of more taxes, of course. But that’s not all. On Friday, citing ecological concerns, the administration closed off 1.6 million acres of federal land in western states from planned oil shale extraction. An American energy boom lies in wait underground and Obama is determined to keep it there. Abroad, the groundwork is being laid to offer Iran a fanciful “grand bargain” in an effort to halt its work on a nuclear weapon.  Think “Russian reset” with fanatical theocrats.

 Perhaps Democrats are confident purely because of their stance on social issues. But as a tactical matter (principle and ideology are a different question), is doesn’t make sense for Republicans to fret over the culture and identity wars that have transfixed the left. Gay marriage as a presidential issue is off the table. The November election showed the future of that question lives at the state level, which is both a popular and conservative approach. Obama himself has said he’ll do nothing about it nationally. Multiple polls taken this year show opposition to abortion is at least as high as it’s been in 15 years. By 2016, the new class war will surely have wound down after Americans see that making the “rich pay their fare share” didn’t solve everyone else’s problems and in fact created new ones.

On immigration reform, of course conservatives should act. That was true before Obama’s reelection; it’s now inevitable. In the next four years, serious Republicans will offer policies aiming to give foreign workers a path to citizenship. Leaders like Marco Rubio have already gotten a brilliant head start.

It is in the nature of personality cults to fail at most things beyond generating and disseminating propaganda. This inability is the result of two things. First, the personality’s popularity is not results-driven. Since adoration hasn’t been earned by achievement but by the advent of charisma, why kill yourself trying to get results. Second, few people are willing to candidly critique the personality at the center of the cult, so there is little chance of course correction. None of this bodes well for Barack Obama. And for the country’s sake, let’s hope it’s wrong.

To effect a revolution in American politics, you have to set parameters that successors will be compelled to heed. FDR implemented programs that at least produced identifiable results before revealing their unsustainable flaws. Bill Clinton had no problem declaring the age of big government over because Ronald Reagan had ushered in a prosperous era in which this was so. What part of the Obama agenda will resonate when isolated from the Obama phenomenon? It’s too soon to say, but not too soon wonder.

Read Less

Axelrod: GOP Has Some Soul-Searching to Do

Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

Read More

Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

There is no crisis for the Republican Party, at least not the type Axelrod talks about. Most of the swing states have Republican governors: Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania. The coalition Axelrod boasts about was cobbled together through a mix of mudslinging, fearmongering, cynical election-year handouts, and a powerful get-out-the-vote operation that dragged every last Democrat to the polls. Other than the last part, that’s nothing to be proud of.

Charles Krauthammer pushed back on the demographic doomsayer nonsense this morning:

Ignore the trimmers. There’s no need for radical change. The other party thinks it owns the demographic future — counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem. Do not, however, abandon the party’s philosophical anchor. In a world where European social democracy is imploding before our eyes, the party of smaller, more modernized government owns the ideological future. …

The answer to Romney’s failure is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism.

Republicans: No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.

Krauthammer calls Romney a transitional figure, which is a great point. The party that was left rudderless after John McCain’s defeat in 2008 has come to embrace an optimistic and reformist vision for conservatism. The younger bench of Republicans who embody that vision will be ready to run in 2016. Romney, as a technocratic political moderate, was not the right spokesperson for such an ideological message. But by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney ensured that Ryan’s brand of reform conservatism would be the party’s future. What is the Democratic Party’s message, other than Barack Obama?

Read Less

Returning from the Political Arena

It’s a pleasure to return to COMMENTARY after having served as a senior advisor in the Romney campaign. At a later date I’ll dilate on the outcome of the election. For now I simply want to say that I ended the campaign with an even higher regard for Governor Romney than I began it. He is a man of great personal decency and integrity. He single-handedly revived his campaign on the largest stage in American politics (the October 3 debate); and he became stronger over the course of the election.

Tuesday’s loss was a body blow for those associated with the campaign. Few of us saw this defeat coming, which makes the defeat all the more jarring.

Most Americans are simply relieved the campaign is over. They believe it went on for far too long, that it was much too expensive, and that it was characterized by personal attacks and petty discussions. Everyone, it seems, is sick of politics.

Read More

It’s a pleasure to return to COMMENTARY after having served as a senior advisor in the Romney campaign. At a later date I’ll dilate on the outcome of the election. For now I simply want to say that I ended the campaign with an even higher regard for Governor Romney than I began it. He is a man of great personal decency and integrity. He single-handedly revived his campaign on the largest stage in American politics (the October 3 debate); and he became stronger over the course of the election.

Tuesday’s loss was a body blow for those associated with the campaign. Few of us saw this defeat coming, which makes the defeat all the more jarring.

Most Americans are simply relieved the campaign is over. They believe it went on for far too long, that it was much too expensive, and that it was characterized by personal attacks and petty discussions. Everyone, it seems, is sick of politics.

Post-election lamentations aren’t unusual, and they aren’t without merit. But let me offer several other observations, the first of which is that we tend to be hyper-critical about the present while idealizing the past. That’s a mistake. Consider the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It’s regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns ever. One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

According to the New York Sun, the 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” So have many others. During the 1980 campaign, for example, the liberal New Republic declared, “President Carter has made a grave moral error in trying to portray Ronald Reagan as a racist.” The editorial page of the Washington Post chimed in, saying, “Mr. Carter has abandoned all dignity in his round-the-clock attack on Mr. Reagan’s character.”

My point isn’t to hold up these incidents as a model for political discourse; it’s that slashing attacks are often a part of politics. Even the Lincoln-Douglas election consisted of more than the Lincoln-Douglas debates. So some perspective is in order.

Point number two: It doesn’t help matters that many who comprise the political media tend to ignore intellectually serious discussions. Rather than discussing, say, the pros and cons of a premium support system or grappling with how to increase social mobility, they prefer to obsess on the horserace aspect of the campaign, gaffes, Twitter feeds and political intrigue. Many in the press are drawn to the sensational and trivial. Increasingly they themselves are contributing to it. Yet with the campaign now over, prepare for countless journalists to travel to the Shorenstein Center and appear on Charlie Rose to complain about the superficiality of campaigns.

A final point: Campaigns are never pristine and politics is an imperfect profession. But as flawed as they are, they have helped create an extraordinary nation and produced great leaders. Politics is a means through which we deal with matters of enormous importance, from policies on taxes and health care to the nature of justice and the relationship between the citizen and the state. Which is why it has always attracted, and still attracts, good people.

Shortly after Mitt Romney conceded on Tuesday night, a writer for whom I have great respect sent me a note. “Nights like this I realize how much easier it is to be in the peanut gallery rather than in the arena,” he wrote. “Easier but less satisfying.”

As for me, I rather like the peanut gallery. But I deeply admire the individuals I have worked with and for who have entered the arena. It isn’t an easy life. But it is a satisfying one. 

Read Less

Romney’s Get Out the Vote Fiasco

The Wednesday before the election, Mitt Romney sent a special message to volunteers about a special project his campaign was working on: “With state of the art technology and an extremely dedicated group of volunteers, our campaign will have an unprecedented advantage on election day.” What is it they say about something that sounds too good to be true? It probably is. That was the case with the Romney campaign’s “Project ORCA.”

The idea behind Project ORCA was simple, albeit far too complex in execution. Romney’s Boston headquarters wanted a way to track who had been to the polls in swing states, and who had not. It was the most complicated GOTV (get out the vote) effort in GOP history. Volunteers in swing states would be assigned polling places. They would be given lists of every registered voter assigned to that polling location. Those voters would be reported on to Boston via a web application when they arrived to vote, and if that failed, via phone or, as a last resort, voice. Volunteers were to log in to the application, use their assigned pin number and password, and begin reporting on voters who had come through their polling place by ID number. A source familiar with the campaign told me that Boston would initiate calls and visits to those who had not yet gotten to the polls.

Read More

The Wednesday before the election, Mitt Romney sent a special message to volunteers about a special project his campaign was working on: “With state of the art technology and an extremely dedicated group of volunteers, our campaign will have an unprecedented advantage on election day.” What is it they say about something that sounds too good to be true? It probably is. That was the case with the Romney campaign’s “Project ORCA.”

The idea behind Project ORCA was simple, albeit far too complex in execution. Romney’s Boston headquarters wanted a way to track who had been to the polls in swing states, and who had not. It was the most complicated GOTV (get out the vote) effort in GOP history. Volunteers in swing states would be assigned polling places. They would be given lists of every registered voter assigned to that polling location. Those voters would be reported on to Boston via a web application when they arrived to vote, and if that failed, via phone or, as a last resort, voice. Volunteers were to log in to the application, use their assigned pin number and password, and begin reporting on voters who had come through their polling place by ID number. A source familiar with the campaign told me that Boston would initiate calls and visits to those who had not yet gotten to the polls.

The story of how monumental a failure Project ORCA was on Election Day was first reported by a volunteer, John Ekdahl, on the Ace of Spades blog. After tweeting the article, I was contacted by several other volunteers who were eager to explain in greater detail just how many things went wrong with Project Orca on Tuesday.

I spoke with one volunteer in a rural Virginia county who had a similar experience to the blogger on Ace’s site. Shoshanna McCrimmon signed up to volunteer on Romney’s website several months ago. She was contacted by Dan Centinello of the Romney campaign and underwent online and phone training that lasted for several hours in order to volunteer locally on Election Day. Because of secrecy concerns, the application itself was inaccessible until the morning of the election. From the outset there were failures of organization.

Shoshanna wasn’t given the credentials necessary to gain access to the polling place and was told to arrive when the polls opened at 7. A few days before the election, she was emailed a PDF packet, which she was meant to print out, containing the names of all of the registered voters at her polling place and instructions. Her location’s packet was only dozen or so pages; Ekdahl’s packet was over sixty. The packet was supposed to contain credentials, but they did not. Shoshana’s email to the Romney campaign the night before the election about the lack of credentials went unanswered. When Shoshanna arrived on time at 7 a.m., she learned that polls had actually opened an hour prior.

Unable to test her pin number and password until that morning, she discovered, only after after she arrived at the polling location ready to work, that her pin was invalid. She spent until 2:30 that afternoon on calls to Boston every 45 minutes trying to get a new one. She attempted to input the voter information via phone dial-pad–the first backup plan–but her invalid pin number was useless. Plan C, calling in to Boston and verbally transmitting the information, was also a wash. The same phone number for dial pad and voice reporting was given–there was no option to ask to speak to Boston directly after calling in.

After finally getting her pin number in the late afternoon, Shoshanna attempted to log into the site. She had been sent an email from the Romney campaign that morning (after polls opened) telling her that cell phones were often not allowed in polling places, after she was previously warned not to forget to bring her cell phone in other emails. Thankfully, her polling place allowed her to use her cell phone. The website, on a secure server, was inaccessible from her cell phone (Ekdahl explains why in detail). By this point hundreds of voters had passed through Shoshanna’s polling station, unreported. Nevertheless, she went home, retrieved her laptop, and thanks to the pastor at the polling place (a church) she gained access to a locked wireless network. It was only at that point that Shoshanna was able to access ORCA, with only a few hours left before polls closed.

Shoshanna’s experience was far from unique. Starting in the early afternoon, reports were coming in from across swing states that ORCA had crashed. That morning, when Shoshanna was on the phone with Boston, she was told the system was crashing, unable to withstand thousands of simultaneous log-ins. The system had never been stress tested and couldn’t handle the crush of traffic all at once. Thousands of man-hours went into designing and implementing a program that was useful on one day and one day only, and on that day, it crashed. My source familiar with the campaign described it this way, “It was a giant [mess] because a political operative sold a broken product with no support or backup plan. Just another arrogant piece of the arrogant Romney campaign.”

The operative in question, Dan Centinello, Romney’s Deputy Political Director, was Shoshanna’s only point of contact with the campaign. After a two-and-a-half-hour conference call with volunteers across the country, Shoshanna still had questions about minor details about ORCA and volunteering at her polling place. Her emails were answered within 24 hours, always by Centinello. There appears to have been no delegation on Centinello’s part, and every question sent was answered by the ORCA project manager personally. It’s likely that if this was taking place with the thousands of volunteers in Project ORCA, Centinello was spending hundreds of hours answering basic questions from volunteers that could have been addressed by lower level staffers. This time would have been better spent, I would argue, testing the capabilities of ORCA and its servers and testing the application on small groups of trusted volunteers, especially elderly ones who might have difficulty with its interface (which, on election day, they did). 

One of the most basic tenets of conservatism is a loathing and mistrust of big government and bureaucracy. Project ORCA was the embodiment of big government, top-down management. Information was sent by volunteers in swing states across the country to Boston, and those in Boston were then tasked with assigning other volunteers in those same swing states to contact those who had not yet been to the polls. Boston was, at best, a detour and an unnecessary middleman in the GOTV efforts, and when that link in the chain broke, Romney’s GOTV effort crumbled on the most crucial day of his campaign. One of the most successful components of Karl Rove’s GOTV efforts with George W. Bush’s campaigns was his small-government ideological approach. Each volunteer was tasked with personally getting a handful of voters from their area to the polls, voters that they were already familiar with from their church, their children’s schools and their community. Instead of this strategy, Boston was the hub; information was sent there and GOTV assignments were delegated from thousands of miles away by Romney staffers largely unfamiliar with individuals and communities. At Ace of Spades, Ekdahl described the organizational approach of Project ORCA: “The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters).”

Was ORCA’s failure the reason why Romney lost Virginia by almost 116,000 votes, Ohio by 103,000, Iowa by 88,000 or why Florida is still, days later, too close to call? It’s impossible to know what a Romney campaign with working GOTV technology would have been able to accomplish. Ekdahl explained that with the failure of Project ORCA’s organization and its later meltdown on Election Day “30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc.” The possibility that all of the efforts of Romney’s campaign, all of the enthusiasm, went unharnessed and dormant on Election Day when they could’ve at least led to a closer election result, if not a victory, is becoming beyond frustrating for thousands of his staffers, for the millions of Americans who gave their time and money to elect Mitt Romney president as they come to learn just what a disaster ORCA seems to have been.

Read Less

Do Demographics Point to a Permanent Democratic Majority?

The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

Read More

The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

Instead, why not challenge the notion that people vote primarily based on their allegiance to an identity group, rather than their individual interests? It’s supported by the statistics. While immigration is an important issue for Hispanic voters and can have a big influence on their vote, their biggest individual concern in 2012 was jobs and the economy. The same goes for women voters and abortion. 

Just look at the Jewish vote. The overarching issue that connects American Jews is Israel, but as a bloc they vote reliably for the party that has a weaker record on Israel because it is liberal on social issues.

The point is, people don’t always vote based on their primary identity interest. There are, however, group sensitivities that need to be considered. A Democratic politician who sounds like Tom Tancredo isn’t going to win over Hispanic voters, just like Jewish voters aren’t likely to support Charles Barron, no matter how liberal he is on abortion and welfare programs. 

It was these sensitivities that Obama exploited. He was able to use his presidency to indulge identity groups in small but concrete ways, while arguing that Romney would set back their interests if he were elected. Hence, the executive order on immigration, the “evolution” on gay marriage, the birth control insurance mandate, the auto bailout, and so on. This was helped along by Romney’s hard line on immigration during the primary, Romney’s inability to support gay marriage, controversial comments from Republicans about abortion, and Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout.  

But that strategy isn’t going to be as easy for Democrats in 2016. First, the Democratic candidates won’t be able to distribute these handouts before the election. And second, Republicans aren’t likely to give Democrats as many opportunities to demagogue them on immigration and women’s issues (at least not if they learned any lessons from this year).

Rather than pander to different groups, it’s more helpful to find common ground between identity groups and broader national interests. For example, the GOP isn’t going to become a pro-choice party anytime soon, and it doesn’t need to. The majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion to some degree — just not in cases of rape and incest. Pro-life politicians would be smart to focus on the former and steer clear of the latter. Even if they personally oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest, there’s no need to bring those controversial personal views into the policy debate. 

Tone is just as important here as policy. It didn’t matter that Romney wouldn’t have governed as a hardliner on immigration; Democrats were able to use his comments from the primary to portray him as anti-immigrant. And it didn’t matter how many times Romney’s campaign insisted he wouldn’t support an abortion ban — Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock set the tone for the entire party.

The only way the Democratic Party can keep its identity-based coalition together in 2016 is if Republicans give them enough fodder to do it.

Read Less

Immigration Issue Hurts GOP with More Than Just Hispanics

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

Read More

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

It should also be noted that respondents who were neither white nor African-American nor Latino made up 5 percent of the electorate. They, too, went for Obama overwhelmingly by 67 percent to 31 percent. This suggests that Asian-Americans, who like Latinos ought to be a natural Republican constituency, are strongly trending the other way.

Respondents were then asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.–should they be offered a chance to apply for legal status or deported? Sixty-five percent of respondents said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status–what Republican politicians normally characterize as an “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Only 28 percent said that they should be deported. This suggests that Republicans’ anti-immigration views hurt them not only with Latinos but with a broader electorate, which is more sympathetic to undocumented migrants than Republican leaders are.

As I noted earlier, it is high time that Republicans adjust their position to show that, while they want to police our borders, they are sympathetic to the plight of millions of immigrants who are already here and who will never be deported. We need to find a way to legalize their status instead of demonizing that as an “amnesty.” Providing an opportunity to young people whose parents came here illegally–the aim of the DREAM Act–is a good place to start.

Read Less

Christie Shouldn’t Be the Scapegoat

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

Read More

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

It’s now apparent that many in Romney’s camp as well as some of us in the media had a mistaken view of the state of the race in the days just before the storm. The belief that Romney was ahead was based on a model of the electorate that assumed that Democratic turnout would not come close to that of 2008. That was wrong. The Obama campaign really did have a massive ground game advantage over Romney’s more amateurish efforts, and the result was another wave of Democratic enthusiasm that swamped the upsurge in Republican enthusiasm. The storm and the adoring press coverage it got certainly aided the president and might have helped turn a more narrow margin for the president into the clear victory he achieved. But even if there were no Sandy and no photo op and gushing praise from Christie, Obama would still be planning a second term today.

Conservatives spent the last two years underestimating President Obama’s political strengths and paid the price for it on Tuesday, and this bout of Christie-bashing is just another instance of them engaging in denial about what really happened. But even though the Romney camp’s shots at Christie are way out of line, the governor has no one to blame but himself for the way this controversy has grown.

Christie built his reputation on his blunt, tough-guy persona that conservatives love because of his refusal to play by liberal rules in public debate about the issues. But the flip side to this is an arrogant disdain for anyone else’s point of view. Christie always operates as if he is in business for himself, and if he allowed his hurt feelings about the vice presidential nomination to affect his behavior during the campaign, that doesn’t speak well for his judgment. His instinct is always to fire back at any criticism, and that has helped keep this minor controversy about the storm alive. The governor has many attributes that recommend him to the country, but the last few months show that being a team player is not one of them.

Though no one should blame Christie for Romney’s loss, this is just another piece of evidence that shows that he might not do as well under the scrutiny of a national campaign as his admirers think. Christie’s temperament is perfect for the maelstrom of New Jersey politics, but might not play as well on the national stage.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.