The Republicans’ Regifting: The Right Policy, The Wrong Politics
Tis’ the season of sheer folly. As I watch conservatives engage in the fiscal cliff debate, it sure seems that way to me. Still fresh off our 2012 shellacking, Republicans have yet to understand why we lost. If we are honest with ourselves then the explanation is simple: voters don’t blame President Obama or the Democrat Party for the anemic economy.
In 2008, the idea that the “Great Recession” was somehow caused by two republican wars and tax cuts for the rich was as much a failure of the Republican message as it was untrue. In the 2012 elections, Republicans again failed to refute this false but effective narrative. Conservatives have all the right policies but all the wrong politics. Party talking heads who seem incapable of facing these unpleasantries have drummed up a few responses to the 2012 defeat, none of which are plausible.
Some in the party have debated whether the party needs a makeover, which is code for selling out your principles. Others want us to believe that the expanding entitlement state and changing demographics caused a permanent shift in the electorate.
There are two flaws with this analysis. First, according to the Census Bureau, in 2011 roughly 49.1 percent of American households received government benefits. However, this includes 16 percent of those in a household with at least one member receiving social security, and 15 percent receiving Medicare. Seniors constitute a supermajority in these overlapping figures, so it is unclear how this worked against Romney considering he won this group comfortably. In fact, if more of these households had actually gone to the polls, Romney’s vote share would have increased. Perhaps the real challenge is the 47 percent, not the 49.1 percent.
The second flaw is that the shifting demographics in the 2012 electorate were a result of a decrease in white turnout and not some unforeseen boom in minority voting. This is my personal favorite because it is a complete myth, yet has continuously been perpetuated since election day. The reality is that the so-called shrinking white slice of electorate pie found our message so uninspiring they simply stayed home. The GOP’s problem with demographics is overstated, but the lack of outreach to these growing populations is not. Although I completely reject the argument, we have surrendered entire minority voting blocs to the opposition. Republicans allow the Democrats to write the narrative, so at best we don’t care about their needs and at worst we are racists.
The real problem is not the content of our message, the real problem is the messenger. As conservatives, we do not have the luxury of a complacent media on standby, eager to feed our message to the public. Some culpability for the fabrication of this falsehood can be laid at the feet of a corrupt media, as I know we all love to do, but that will not change the fact that the most damage to liberals came from Bill O’Reilly in a six-minute segment with Barney Frank.
Why are we relying on Bill O’Reilly to fight the fights we should be fighting, and to deliver the message we should be delivering? It is time we recognize that we do have something that liberals do not — history. Social welfare has not and never will work, but conservatism does.
History is a weapons cache of appropriate analogies, waiting for us to wield them against liberalism. That is why liberals are constantly rewriting history. The economy boomed under Clinton, but forget that signing the Community Reinvestment Act in 1997 and deregulating Glass-Steagall directly fueled the collapse. Tax increases never hurt the economy under Clinton, but forget that cutting the capital gains tax increased economic activity and federal revenues, leading to a balanced budget. How is it this man turned out to be the most effective speaker at the DNC? It is an important function of a party to not just regurgitate talking points but actually educate the electorate.
This brings us back to the current debate over the fiscal cliff. Over the past five years, we have come out on the wrong side of every major policy debate except the debate over Obamacare. Seniors actually showed up in 2010 to vote but it were largely ignored in 2012. As President Obama travels around America in Air Force One selling his plan, rest assure we are setting up to lose this one, too. Instead of tax reform, it’s “tax cuts for the wealthy.” Instead of entitlement reform to avoid national bankruptcy, it’s “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” Garbage disguised by a great use of alliteration is still garbage, but Democrats don’t care. Their message is unified and it works. Nevermind the most reliable Democratic constituencies will be crushed by national bankruptcy.
Before it is possible for us to wrestle the narrative back, we must accept our failure to execute a unified message that educated, excited, and just plain made sense to the voters. The holiday season reminds me just how much our party message is like regifting. Every cycle, we dust off the same old box nobody wanted last year, slap on different wrapping paper, and pretend we just bought it. Sure, the Democrats do the same thing. The fact that the financial crisis was a predictable result of liberal policy didn’t stop them from rewrapping the Bush blame game. The only difference is they use shinier wrapping paper.
- Do Democrats have a permanent Electoral College advantage? (salon.com)
- What Now?: Hispanics and Immigration after the Election (themigrationist.net)
- Mitt Romney’s loss creates GOP leadership vacuum (news.yahoo.com)
- Democrats can win base elections, and only base elections (dailykos.com)
- Can This Party Be Saved? (swampland.time.com)