The GOP will deserve to lose even more in 2016 if it fails to understand why it deserved to lose this time.
The Republican echo chamber reached a crescendo on Election Day. Turnout was at record levels as enthusiastic Romney supporters around the country were preparing to take their country back.
Even the most committed GOP operative recognizes that something went wrong. Candidates for blame include the biased media, Democratic vote fraud, and the Obama campaign’s superior electoral targeting. Obviously to many Republicans the loss was someone else’s fault.
The real problem is the GOP message. The traditional Republican issue triad of fiscal responsibility, national defense, and social regulation is broken. The electoral coalition which delivered the White House to Ronald Reagan three decades ago is headed toward civil war.
Washington’s wild spending, huge deficits, and massive unfunded liabilities are the most important challenge today. However, the Republican Party gave away that issue under George W. Bush and the Republican Congress. The GOP increased spending across-the-board and added the biggest expansion in the welfare state in four decades, the Medicare drug benefit. The GOP tossed money at the Pentagon, creating new unfunded liabilities out of two unnecessary wars, which ultimately will cost trillions after caring for injured veterans for the rest of their lives. Bush created the bailout programs used by Barack Obama.
The various Republican campaigns did little better this year. The GOP ran against the idea of a budget sequester because it insisted on protecting bloated military outlays. Mitt Romney promised to safeguard Social Security, even though the system has started running a deficit, years earlier than predicted, and the much-ballyhooed “trust fund” is an accounting fiction. Ads for Republican George Allen in the Virginia Senate race criticized his opponent, Tim Kaine, for being a spendthrift and supporting the Obama stimulus — as well as for backing cuts in military outlays and reducing education expenditures. Duh?
The GOP’s foreign policy can be summed up in two words: permanent war. Throughout the Cold War Republicans held a political advantage in foreign policy. However, George W. Bush’s bungling also wrecked the GOP’s reputation in this area. Voters rated President Obama ahead of his Republican challengers as military commander-in-chief.
Nevertheless, Republicans remain locked in the past, determined to paint their Democratic opponents as weak irrespective of the facts — such as Obama intensifying the Afghanistan war. Thus, excepting the redoubtable Rep. Ron Paul, during the primary debates the Republican contenders, most of whom had never been anywhere near a military installation let alone worn a uniform, did the foreign policy equivalent of the Maori Haka, clamoring for a bigger military to be used more often against additional countries.
Mitt Romney spent five years, from his announcement until the final debate, simply shouting “we’re number one.” Although the Republican nominee did his best to avoid stating a clear position, at times he seemed to believe that the U.S. should have stayed in Iraq forever, over the objection of the Iraqi government, and be prepared to stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary for undefined “victory,” which likely would be forever — both positions anathema to the vast majority of Americans. Then a couple of weeks before the election he declared himself to be a peacenik. All that was missing was him wearing beads and making a peace sign.
As for social issues, Romney presented a conservative agenda in which he never seemed to believe. He was for abortion before he was against it, before he ended up being not so against it. He was against a contraception mandate that was part of Massachusetts law. He was for limited government, except when it interfered with people’s personal lives. The Republican Party’s mantra was perceived to have gone from “leave us alone” to “make everyone conform.”
The result was an electoral wreck. Although the margin separating Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was small, the GOP could take little comfort. If Republicans can only come close when the Democratic incumbent is presiding over a painful recession and engaged in an orgy of unpopular spending and borrowing, when can Republicans hope to win?
The GOP should rethink what it stands for. Fiscal responsibility certainly, but in practice as well as in theory. That means resisting pork and earmarks, a temptation to which many Republicans yield, and targeting corporate welfare, since business does not need a hand-out.
That also means tying military outlays to security challenges, not an arbitrary share of GDP. Why should Americans spend as much as the rest of the world combined on “defense” when that means subsidizing rich allies, engaging in foolish nation-building, and launching military actions that create more enemies than they kill? There can be no sacred cows if the budget crisis is going to be resolved.
As for the “entitlements” that threaten to swamp the budget, Republicans must point out that recipients have not paid for Social Security and Medicare, which is why the nation’s fiscal future is so bleak. On average the latter alone pays out nearly four times as much in benefits as it collects in taxes from recipients. The starting point of reform should be to means-test, that is, kick the rich off the dole. And why should Washington force young workers into Social Security, which will pay them less than they “contribute”?
Republicans should explain that their argument against tax hikes is not hatred of government, but recognition that Washington wastes money prodigiously. There’s no justification for letting the Feds seize more resources from working people. As for the “rich” who the Left expects to provide everything, they already pay the most in taxes and there aren’t enough of them to fund a generous welfare/warfare/bail-out state.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?