Post-election Republican introspection has begun with authors including our own Jed Babbin offering explanations why Mitt Romney lost. (One wonders whether Jed, who penned six reasons, feels outdone by Keith Koffler’s note, “Seven Reasons Why Romney Lost.”)
Both Babbin and Koffler left out a rather obvious explanation: Democrats used Republicans’ own words to make the GOP look like the very intolerant, bigoted bunch of old white guys which the left had been claiming Republicans to be for years. In short, the ignorant Todd Akin and the boneheaded Richard Mourdock, forgetting the lessons of Colorado Senate Candidate Ken Buck in 2010, allowed the transformation of a vague Democratic caricature of Republicans into a high-resolution image broadcast across the minds of the nation’s voters.
Putting this together with Mitt Romney’s desire for Hispanic “self-deportation” and increasingly out-of-touch anti-gay (or at least perceived as anti-gay) rhetoric, and you have all the ingredients necessary for those not descended from Mayflower passengers, and for young people, to abandon the GOP in droves.
Regarding immigration, and the non-lily-white more broadly, if one were to point to a single statistic that shows the degree of Republican disconnect with people who don’t look like Mitt Romney, it is this: Exit polls show Asians supporting President Obama over Romney by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Asian-Americans, as Bloomberg News notes, “happen to be the highest-earning group in the U.S., out-earning whites, and they generally place enormous emphasis on family.” This made-to-order-for-Republicans voting block went for Obama by a higher percentage than Hispanics did.
A more significant canary in the political coalmine you will rarely find.
Republican staunch opposition to civil unions for gays plays, at least among young voters, into the Democrats’ portrayal of the GOP as out-of-touch, intolerant zealots. The Colorado House of Representatives’ Republican leadership dealt with the issue earlier this year by preventing a civil unions bill from coming up for a vote despite (or because of) the fact that there was enough Republican support for the bill to pass.
This sort of behavior, on this issue specifically, was likely a major factor in the surprisingly large turnout of young voters in 2012 after the punditry (myself included) expected their enthusiasm for Obama to be reduced due to so many of them facing the prospect of living in their parents’ basements due to the dismal Obama economy.
In Colorado, the result was Democrats retaking control of the State House, which Republicans had won two years earlier. It must have been with no small sense of irony that Democrats then named Mark Ferrandino as the “first openly gay” (as nearly every news story describes him) Speaker of the Colorado House.
It bears noting that even if Mitt Romney had been a stronger candidate in the areas in which Babbin and others rightly criticize him, had he not been a “technocrat” or been hampered by an ineffective campaign bolstered by ineffective super-PACs, it remains likely that Romney would not have been able to overcome the festering sores of perceived bigotry which years of rhetoric have implanted in people’s minds, only to have the slowly-healing scabs ripped off by individual boneheaded candidates.
The bad news is that this situation is a large and important indictment of the Republican Party, or at least of how it has allowed itself to be portrayed among the section of the electorate that increasingly determines who holds the levers of power.
The good news is twofold: This can be fixed, and it is not an indictment of conservatism (or libertarianism) per se.
More important, but even less discussed than the above, is, in my opinion, the single biggest reason Mitt Romney lost: It is human nature to be reticent to admit a mistake, particularly a mistake in a decision that was made along with a large group, probably made with public pride, and most critically made as part of a “historic” occasion.
It is hard enough for voters to admit that they made a mistake voting for any particular politician. It was, and was always going to be, nigh on impossible to get enough voters to admit, even if only to themselves, that they made a mistake in voting for the first black president. Not, to be clear, because he is black, but because he is simply terrible, a failure by any American standard though perhaps a success from the point of view of Mahmoud Abbas and Vladimir Putin.
Sure, there were newspaper interviews and polling results showing Americans who supported Obama saying they were switching to Romney. And I have no doubt that many did. The talking point that it was all but impossible to find anyone switching to Obama who was a McCain supporter in 2008 made Republicans (including me) feel better about themselves, their candidate, and their chances.
But with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, human nature is such that it would have been a Herculean task, one certainly beyond the polite and only-modestly-inspiring Mitt Romney to pull off, to cause enough 2008 Obama voters to switch to allow a Republican victory.
A caller to a Denver radio show shortly before the election was a jarring wake-up call for me to the likelihood that Romney might not win Colorado, a state I had simply assumed he would have an easy time with. The caller said that although Obama had not been a successful president, he was voting for Obama anyway because “my candidate is historic.” The talk show host wisely recognized a dead end when he heard one and closed the conversation with “I guess we’d better leave it at that.” The caller could as easily have been talking about Jesus or Mohammed.
Turning voters against Obama was roughly the equivalent task to converting the average American to another religion. Perhaps Mitt Romney, given the Mormon propensity for evangelization, recognizes better than most what the success rate of such an undertaking is, as well as how unappreciated, or even reviled (such as by Jews like me), the effort can be. If you think about that scenario in a political sense, perhaps the election result seems more comprehensible; for me, this thought somewhat diminishes my disdain and disgust for those voters who would re-elect such a remarkably incapable leader, a man whose presidential behavior was the equivalent of his many “present” votes in the Illinois State Senate.
If my explanation is valid, and even more than the issues of perception of the Republican Party discussed earlier, the Obama re-election is not an indictment of conservatism, not a mandate for big government, and less an indictment of the GOP or Mitt Romney than MSNBC talking heads would have you believe.
Instead — and not downplaying the tremendous damage I expect the Obama administration to inflict on the nation over the next four years — it represents the foreseeable decision of many Americans, despite the pervasive evidence of Barack Obama’s incompetence and failure, to avoid the emotionally difficult admission to admit, even if only to themselves, that their 2008 “historic” vote was an historic mistake.