If she is to be believed, Republicans may have suffered low turnout on Election Day because their “base” voters were too busy slopping the hogs and tending their moonshine stills:
In a recent interview [Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis] said, “We’ve become a regional party, basically become a white, rural, regional party, and not a national party. And we’re going to have to retool ourselves.”
That poses an acute problem considering that rural whites are an ever-shrinking proportion of the electorate.
We have heard this refrain before — 10 years ago, from Christopher Caldwell, as Jim Antle recently noted. And, considering her assertion that neither limited government nor social conservatism are effective issues for Republicans, Rubin’s complaint bears a close resemblance to what David Brooks argued 11 years ago in urging “national greatness” as a GOP objective.
This panic-struck reaction to the debacle of 11/4 is what I sought to forestall in my columns of Nov. 5 and Nov. 12. First, there is the normal tendency of partisans to take political defeat as a personal rejection: “We are unworthy!” Second, there is a tendency of intellectuals to believe that political defeat is the result of one set of ideas defeating another, requiring that the losers must come up with “new ideas.” So Rubin looks at the results, exit polls and an Electoral College map that looks very much like the 1996 map and comes to conclusions very similar to those that Brooks and Caldwell drew from Bob Dole’s defeat.
Candidates win or lose elections. Other factors being equal, good candidates win, and bad candidates lose. This is a political truism that ideologues and partisans ignore at their peril. Elections are decided by independent “swing” voters who are neither ideologues nor partisans. Independents tend to be disconnected from and ill-informed about the political process. The political scientist Samuel Popkin coined the term “low-information rationality” in an effort to explain how such people make political choices, but it is clear that these voters act on general perceptions of candidates and parties — perceptions that are sometimes at odds with political reality.
Is the GOP too Southern, too white and too rural? Might that have something to do with the inarticulate Texas drawler who has been the face of the Republican Party for the past eight years? And if the party notably failed this year to connect with younger voters, might that have something to do with the 72-year-old presidential nominee?
This is not to minimize either policy failures or the tone and content of political messages as part of the Republican Party’s problem. But to urge that the GOP abandon both limited government and social conservatism (jettisoning both Grover Norquist and James Dobson, as it were) doesn’t exactly strike me as a winning formula. Minus both social and fiscal issues, what do Republicans have left — invading foreign countries to promote global democracy? That’s really worked well so far, hasn’t it?
Republicans should try to learn a lesson from the Democrats. In terms of basic political philosophy and policy, Barack Obama is indistinguishable from Howard Dean. But Obama is charismatic in a way that Dean was not, and voters in 2008 were sick to death of Republicans in a way they were not in 2004. After successive defeats in 2002 and 2004, Democrats kept their powder dry, improved their game, and were ready to score victories in 2006 and 2008.
Finally, as Jim Antle pointed out yesterday, Republican “Reformists” — I prefer the term “Young Turks,” since it is broader and less ideological — do themselves no favors by offering criticisms that sound suspiciously like RINO mating calls. We’ve already got one pro-gay-marriage, pro-abortion party, and we’ve already got two pro-amnesty parties, so those aren’t exactly “new ideas.” Soi-dissant “Reformists” who couch their criticism in such terms might get published at the New York Times, but they’re unlikely to gain much influence among the rank-and-file of the GOP.
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