How Republicans will win or lose in 2012
In 2008, Mitt Romney bested John McCain in both the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses by huge margins, and was part of a three-way split in Missouri. Just a week ago he lost all three. So what’s different in 2012?
The fundamental difference between the current race for the Republican nomination and the 2008 version is that Romney is viewed as the “least conservative” of the field – vs. 2008, when McCain held (or at least shared) that title. The result? Romney has had a harder time attracting conservatives, and many of them have spent the better part of the last year trying on other candidates.
Given Santorum’s recent wins, and his new status atop some national GOP polls, it should be a validation of his strategy to stay focused on conservative issues. For Romney and Gingrich, it should remind them that they need to lay off of attacking each other and get back to the issues. Everyone knows that both of them (and a good many of their supporters) think that the other is suspect. Some think both of them are. Some even have suspicions about Santorum. But, baring divine intervention, one of them will be the Republican nominee, and as they say in NASCAR, “you’ve got to run with what you brought to the track”.
What we do know is that turnout is down in most states from ’08, (except in South Carolina), which points to two things: first, the campaigns as a whole are less organized than they were four years ago, (with a far greater reliance on debates and free media); and second, the party base is less excited about which one ends up becoming the nominee than they are about beating Obama in November.
Which brings us to conservatism. Simply put, this is what excites the base, not the candidates, which is as it should be. It is the reason they got involved in politics and in the Republican Party, and it has the happy coincidence being in sync with the largest segment of the electorate. In other words, it’s good for what ails us politically.
For the third straight year in a row, Gallup’s annual survey of American political ideology shows self-identified conservatives comprising the largest segment of the electorate, at 40%, with moderates coming in at 35% and liberals at 21%. In other words, we only need to win a third of the moderates and it’s over. Interestingly, it also shows that the number of political independents calling themselves conservatives has increased from 30 to 35% since Obama was elected.
From the ballooning national debt and failed stimulus programs, to a lousy economy with an 11% real unemployment rate, not to mention Obamacare and regulations that command religious groups to violate their faith, the political ground is well prepared.
If Republicans lose in November, it will NOT be because there weren’t enough Americans that believe in conservative principles to carry the day. It will be because our party – specifically our nominee – didn’t do what was necessary to frame the election as a choice of two very different sets of principles. That it didn’t make the election a referendum on Barack Obama and all that he represents. Period.
We can only hope that the folks who end up running the show aren’t the same ones that brought us Dole ’96 or McCain ’08, especially when we have so much more to work with now than in ’08 when Obama was a blank slate. If they refuse to take the fight to Obama, then here’s hoping that independent conservative groups (maybe a new Super PAC) will take up the slack and, in the words of Lee Atwater, “strip the bark off” of him and expose him for what he is.
Of course it’s one thing for an independent group to point out why we should send Obama to the unemployment line. It’s another thing for our candidate to define why he should get the job and how he would be different on the things that matter. Voters are looking for a choice, and the starker the better. As Reagan once suggested: bold colors, not pale pastels.
But telling the truth will take guts. Obama and his cheering section in the media will claim that we’re being “mean” and “divisive” – or worse, (witness their attack on Gingrich for calling him the “welfare President”, or the assertion that talk about being faithful to the Constitution carries racial overtones).
But we have to remember that what we are arguing over are fundamental constitutional principles. We believe in them. He doesn’t. And we have to say so.
If we’re lucky, this will be referred to as the “meanest”, most “divisive” election in history. If it isn’t, it will probably mean that we lost.