I know most people would like to forget about the election, but as someone who supported Mitt Romney throughout the primary campaign -- taking a lot of flak from Spectator readers in the process -- I would like to defend his effort and make a few comments about the future of the Republican Party.
First of all, Romney ran a damned good race. He was up in the polls by as much as 7 points (Gallup) going into the last week. Where he got sandbagged was Hurricane Sandy. The storm captured the nation's attention and pushed the election off the front page. It gave President Obama a chance to act presidential (with vague memories of President George Bush Jr.'s initial inaction on Hurricane Katrina reverberating in the background) and to shake hands with Chris Christie. Now I don't fault Christie either and don't see any nefarious plot to maneuver for 2016. A governor has to act on behalf of his state. Parts of New Jersey were devastated, and if Christie had snubbed Obama, it would have put thousands of his constituents in immediate danger -- and been interpreted as his fault as well.
So let's just call it an Act of God. Maybe the fates were shining down on President Obama. Polls showed that people who made up their minds the day they voted broke 7 percent for Obama -- a sharp reversal of the usual pattern. I think the storm probably made the difference.
There was one point at which Romney made himself vulnerable to all this, however, and that was his all-out embrace of coal. Two weeks before the election I wrote a piece for the Spectator saying Romney should embrace a carbon tax as a gesture to the educated middle class that he shared their concerns about global warming. Our dearly beloved editorial director Wlad, for whom I hold the utmost esteem, turned it down -- the first time in 25 years he has rejected one of my stories. He said it would amount to Romney "committing political suicide," and in this he was undoubtedly right. Turning away from coal at that point would have branded him as a flip-flopper who changed with the political winds, and any appeal to the middle class would have been quickly erased by the press anyway.
The mistake occurred much earlier in the campaign. Romney's bet was that enough votes could be mustered to put Virginia and Ohio in the Republican column. But coal miners and their families are a distinct minority in both states; the much more pivotal constituency is the professional middle class, which is far more concerned about global warming. (To express your conviction that global warming is a nefarious liberal plot, click here.)
Now, I will never understand why conservative commentators are so unanimous in their rejection of the possibility that human activity might be having an impact on climate. The logic seems to be that if liberals are the first to raise an issue and call for action, then it must be wrong. I agree that there have been ridiculous alarms and exaggerations in the press, but overall it's perfectly plausible that putting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere might affect the climate. Nor would forestalling it mean the end of industrial civilization (although factions of the environmental movement would obviously welcome that). New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's public endorsement of Obama as a result of Hurricane Sandy probably represented the inclinations of millions of middle-class Americans. That's what cost Romney all his momentum. Had he embraced a carbon tax alongside his general support of coal, he might have blunted the impact.
ON THE WHOLE, HOWEVER, Romney ran a very tight and effective campaign. He did so well in the debates that after the one on foreign policy, people were saying Romney looked like the incumbent and Obama like the obstreperous challenger. His only unforced error was the "47 percent" comment made way back at a private fundraising event during the primaries. But most conservative commentators were saying the same thing all along: that we were on the tipping point at which the "takers" would outnumber the "makers."
Here again I think Republicans are being a little too pessimistic. The premise that people getting money from the government will automatically vote Democratic is very much open to question. Recipients of Social Security and Medicare constitute more than half these people, and they're not in Democratic pockets. In fact they have much reason to fear that the Democrats' "can't-touch-it" attitude endangers everyone. There is a growing tide of "takers" who drop out of the workforce and go on Social Security Disability, but they are nowhere near to forming a majority, and it's nothing that a good dose of Reaganesque economic revival wouldn't cure.
So that brings us around to the liberal media's other astute analysis: that the real problem with the Republican Party is that it's too white. "GOP: You're old, you're white, you're history," says the charming cover of Newsweek. (Isn't that magazine supposed to be dead by now?) Somehow this passes as enlightened discourse, whereas if Paul Ryan says urban turnout helped put Obama over the top, that's just a code word for racism.
Let's face it: Black America was going to vote 95 percent for Obama -- in some precincts 100 percent, according to the returns from Philadelphia -- no matter what happened. This contrasts with the usual 90 percent vote for Democrats. I don't think this is going to change much, and I don't think there's any point in worrying about it. In case you haven't noticed, there's a lot of pressure toward conformity in black communities. If you think it's tough being a conservative, try being a black conservative. You're a "traitor" and an "Uncle Tom." When Herman Cain emerged as a Republican front-runner in the early part of the campaign, did you read any stories praising Republicans for becoming more open-minded about race? Cain was simply described as a sell-out and a sycophant who was only being embraced by Republicans as a "symbol." There is what you might call a lack of tolerance for political diversity among African-Americans, and rather than being queried, this will be celebrated by the press as long as it remains Democratic.
Nor is there much hope that Republicans will be able to appeal to Hispanics. President Obama's "gift" to them -- a very appropriate term -- was that those who were born here illegally can stay and that immigration laws will be loosened so they can bring in more relatives and friends as well. This is a win-win situation for the Democrats. The more Hispanics they let in, the more the Democratic votes pile up. It may risk turning the country into another Venezuela, but if it wins elections, who cares? So how can Republicans outbid this, suggest we annex Mexico and give it 100 electoral votes? Then the Democrats would never have to worry about losing an election again.
The Democratic strategy now is to make voting tribal. Blacks will vote Democratic, Hispanics will vote Democratic, single women, who form another tribe, will vote Democratic. Presto! They have a majority. Make race and sex the major issues and Democrats can govern forever. Republicans are told they are missing the boat and the only way to recover is to trail after the Democrats promising…what? Lifetime supplies of birth control? Even easier immigration? Disability benefits for everyone who doesn't graduate from high school?
Although it's hard to remember now, the whole purpose of the Civil Rights movement was to ensure that racial differences wouldn't matter, and that people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Tell that to Newsweek.
THE ONLY SENSIBLE STRATEGY for Republicans right now is to keep calm and recognize that they can win another Presidency by running on the economy and talking about the kind of country we are going to live in. America remains an island of free enterprise in a world where economies are run by the government. Do we want to maintain the system that has made us prosperous or do we want to become a stagnant European welfare state? It could easily happen. The current issue of the Economist features a poll on support for free enterprise. In France, only 15 percent of respondents said they do. In the U.S., it's a healthy 55 percent. The highest in the world? China, at 65 percent.
Since the 19th century, the key question in American presidential elections has been whether the middle class would identify with the people above or below them on the economic scale. The Republican Party will always be the "party of the rich," because it attracts people who have succeeded in the free enterprise system and want to maintain it. The Democratic Party will always be the "party of the poor," because it appeals to people who have not succeeded and want to see the system torn down. The key question is with whom the middle class will cast its lot.
The Democrats ran a 2012 campaign that demonized Mitt Romney for his success and told the middle class it should join forces with the poor. They were successful, but just barely, and with a whole raft of extenuating circumstances. That should be no reason to heed the liberal sirens and try to recast the party as a second-rate version of the Democrats. The best option at this point is to be proud that Mitt Romney came breathlessly close to unseating an incumbent President and to stay the course.
Photo: James Currie (Creative Commons 2.0).