Oh to have been a fly on the wall inside Romney headquarters on the night of the election.
Indeed, the prospects of Tuesday evening carried some amount of gleaming hope for the nation’s conservatives. Despite most pollsters (including the excellent Nate Silver) projecting an Obama victory, the idea floating around the Republican brain trust and the brains of optimistic voters was that Romney had a legitimate shot at claiming battleground states Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida.
However, Republican buoyancy was extinguished gradually throughout the night as each of these states went for Obama. What ensued between Romney and his staff after the coup de grace, the projection of Obama’s victory in Ohio, must have been fascinating. Was there baffled silence? Had they expected defeat and patted themselves on the back for a hard fought-campaign? Or had the blame game already started?
Pinpointing what went wrong with Romney’s campaign may lead to some embarrassment among GOP strategists. After all, President Obama’s incumbency was not exactly unassailable in the midst of a sluggish economic recovery and a divisive political climate.
What’s more, the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen’s United allowed Super PACs — new organizations that bankroll political initiatives — to pour massive amounts of money into campaign fundraising. This gave the Republicans a distinct advantage in spending due to the willingness of billionaires, such as the Koch brothers, to donate to conservative causes. Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, spent $103 million alone on funding Republican candidates only for Mitt Romney and a slew of GOP candidates in the House and Senate to lose.
That’s still not all of it though. Obama himself gifted Romney’s campaign the momentum they desperately needed with an inexplicably abject and disinterested performance in the first presidential debate. In spite of all these factors, the GOP somehow contrived to be defeated in elections across the board.
Was Mitt the problem?
He fit the economic conservative billing as an anti-tax, anti-regulation, successful businessman. Yet, in order to gain the nomination during the primaries and support of Tea-Party voters Mitt was forced to masquerade as a populist who was determined to minimize government and wage a war against the “food stamp, welfare check takers” of society.
This mindset alienated him from moderate conservatives and independents who were up for grabs due to Obama’s unchanged stances on health care and the economy. Moreover, to assuage the views of social conservatives, Romney took rigid stances on abortion and gay marriage leaving him in the middle of the far-right sea without a paddle.
While Romney’s personality is not nearly as compelling as Obama’s, the flaws of his campaign were not entirely personal. For example, Romney was painted as a desperate candidate willing to say anything if it meant getting elected, but many of his flip-flops on political issues were only necessary in order to “rally the base” of the GOP.
Instead, the fault of Romney’s campaign is the Republican ideology itself. The strategy of “rallying the base” with economicically and socially conservative candidates goes back to Reagan’s first term in 1980 and has hardly changed since. If there has been one change in the GOP’s attitudes in recent years, it is a shift even further right in the political spectrum.
The hard truth for Republicans to realize is this strategy simply will not work in modern Presidential Elections. The “base” is not enough for Republicans anymore.
Rigid stances on the major social issue of abortion exclude progressive women from the Party’s base. Additionally, an absurd partisan reluctance to tax (especially the wealthy) and vitriolic attitudes towards any form of government program alienate moderates.
The party has also done an excellent job of staying as non-diverse as possible. Harsh illegal immigration policies keep out the nation’s Hispanic vote, the electorate’s fastest growing demographic. Moreover, the African-American vote has virtually been given up on by Republicans as they wage wars on public education and welfare, programs keeping heavily African-American urban centers afloat.
In other words, the GOP must seriously consider a revision of their platform and message if they are to have any success in 2016. Moderates and independents would welcome a move back to the center by the party’s elite. Every time Romney tried to shift to the center he was pulled back by the far-right intelligentsia. The intolerant, raving, ideologies of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter have no place in a party needing to reach out to new demographics.
Liberals, too, would welcome a return to the ways of Reagan and Nixon. The current polarization is unhealthy. The democrats need a sane political partner to break the current congressional gridlock that is stymying the legislative process.
Believe it or not, campaigning for 2016 has already begun. Hillary Clinton looks the favorite to claim the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile another Bush — Jeb this time — could carry the standard for the GOP, despite facing stiff challenges from the young, Tea-Party Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
No matter the candidate, the Republicans will need to conduct much soul-searching over the next four years. Our nation has made it clear it wants a revision of the traditional conservative narrative. Obama’s victory was not a result of Romney’s personal flaws. Rather, it serves as an indictment of the GOP’s rigid ideology. If they refuse to learn from Romney’s failure, Republicans will lament once again in 2016.
Questions? Email Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.