Maybe they will they learn in ’16
For the second cycle in a row, the Presidential election feels decided before the leaves have even started to fall. I think there are obvious comparisons for Governor Romney to Governor Dukakis and Senator Kerry. (Maybe both parties should stay away from Massachusetts for a few decades.) However, if anything is to be learned from the current election, the next best comparison is usually the previous election. As losing provides far more lessons than winning, the lessons to be learned are for the Republicans. I have no hope they will learn them yet. They seems a stubborn bunch. They will get another moral victory at the midterms in ’14 to prove them “right” but unless they do something different, 2016 will play out like the previous two presidential elections.
The Republican nomination goes to a candidate that once appeared acceptable to independents and thus had a path to victory in a general election. However, over the course of the primaries, he is badly damaged from having to take so many extreme positions in order to shore up his right. Even after getting the nomination, he is viewed with skepticism on the right. So in a final bid for their support and in the only real and tangible way he can prove his fealty, he nominates a VP candidate the base can love. The problem is that the VP candidate loses them far more votes than it gains them. It’s not a game changer, it’s a game ender.
While it seemed obvious to me with the last two selections, you wouldn’t know it from the way they crowed over the picks in the right wing fever swamps. Senator McCain’s choice of Governor Sarah Palin was heralded. She was an instant hit on the right but to those not locked into the Republican brand, it became obvious she was completely out of her depth. I called her selection a disaster and loser within a day. McCain had failed the test. It took a little longer for others to get there but eventually it was clear she was more of a liability than an asset. With his selection of Representative Paul Ryan, Gov. Romney learned one lesson from the previous selection, don’t pick a blank slate, pick a serious person. But the main problem persisted, he still felt he needed to shore up his support on the right, he felt he needed a true believer. And he got one in Rep. Ryan, a serious ideologue, a true believer with a record. Once again the pick was heralded, another good looking, vibrant candidate to rally the base but this time, a smart one with a plan. While being a empty vessel was Gov. Palin’s vulnerability, Rep. Ryan is brimming over with ideas like turning Medicare into a voucher program. That’s why one of my first thoughts upon his selection was maybe his selection wins WI but it loses FL, and if Romney loses FL, he will lose this election. So while the right lapped up the selection, I waited patiently for things to play out. What they thought was a game changer was again a game loser. It’s taken a month or so but the numbers in Florida and specifically the polls on Medicare are heading in the wrong direction for Romney.
I am not actually suggesting the VP selections are the cause of losing these elections. They made close elections into significant losses and are the best evidence that the typical right wing, post-mortem on the election, “McCain/Romney wasn’t conservative enough,” misses the point. It’s not the candidates, it’s the extreme beliefs of the right that are the problem. Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney polled well enough prior to their party primaries. They seemed viable candidates in a general election and then the primaries began. Forced to tow a strict party line that essentially disavows science and is hostile to the growing latino population, their favorability among critical independents fell. That is, when forced to agree with and affirm what the far right base believes, they became less popular with everyone else. Then they both chose to saddle themselves with true believer VP candidates that best represented the far right beliefs. Positions that weakened the candidate by taking them during the primary. And the losses got deeper. I repeat. The more conservative they tried to be to win the nomination, the worse their chances got in the general election Then selecting a deeply conservative VP candidate made their November defeat worse that it would have been.
2012 did add two wrinkles but these only serve to prove my point further. Belief is one thing. When it is translated into policy, that’s when the rubber meets the road. In January – March 2011, the 2010 victories in statehouse across the country bore fruit as the GOP-dominated legislatures went into session. But then these sessions brought terms like “transvaginal untrasounds” and personhood amendments to the fore. Coming in the middle of the primary season, the stink of extreme right wing agendas from capitals around the country stuck to the candidates and none more than the leading candidate, Gov. Romney. His numbers took a dive. The other wrinkle was in Tampa. For days, the focus wasn’t just on Gov. Romney it was also on the Republican brand. The GOP had days to talk directly to Americans. The convention culminated with Governor Mitt Romney all wrapped up in Republicanism. The result, a bounce to be certain, but a first to my eyes, a negative bounce. After nearly a week of the Romney and the Republicans show, Romney was worse off.
But to the hardline right wing, the problem is still that Gov. Romney isn’t making the full throated case for conservatism. When the video emerged of Gov. Romney writing off 47% of the population as takers, the response from the hardliners was that he should be making this case, louder, every day in the public square. While that might be cathartic, how out of touch with reality do you have to be to suggest a political strategy that writes off nearly half the population? A part of the population that actually includes a good bit of your constituency liker seniors and veterans. If the aim is to win the election, that seems a pretty poor strategy.
Rep. Ryan suggested that this is a choice election and if so, maybe Gov. Romney isn’t the best one to represent that choice. Yet whenever, America gets a real glimpse of what the choice is, they choose the Democrat. The far right just refuses to see it or acknowledge it because their candidate wasn’t “conservative enough.”
The only way out of this cycle is for the far right to finally get their guy on the top of the ticket in 2016. As the Republican Party usually nominates the 2nd place finisher from the previous primary cycle, maybe 2016 will be their year as that would make Senator Santorium the standard bearer. Sen. Santorium would be the perfect candidate to represent true conservatives. He could take their message across the country from school gyms to meeting halls. From New Hampshire and Iowa to the GOP convention hall. His message could save the Republican Party… by leading them to their worst Presidential election loss since Barry Goldwater in ’64. Maybe then they’ll realize it’s not the candidates, it’s that the GOP has gotten too extreme and is out of step with the majority of Americans.