Common Sense After a Close Election

| November 22 2012

(Editor’s note: This is one of the best post-mortem assessments to come down the pike. If you want some perspective, and some inspiration, read on. Happy Thanksgiving!)

By Tom McClintock

Common Sense After a Close Election
Northern Division Republican Women
Rancho Cordova, California
November 17, 2012

“Now let’s pull up our socks, wipe our noses and get back in this fight.”

 

After listening to ten days of hand wringing and doom saying from the usual suspects that Republicans must abandon our principles if we are to survive, we need a little of Mark Twain’s common sense.  I suggest we all take it to heart.

He said, “We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

So it is in that spirit that I will begin with three incontrovertible truths about this election.

First, the same election that returned Barack Obama to the White House also returned the second largest House Republican majority since World War II – bigger than anything Newt Gingrich ever had.

Second, according to polls before, during and after this election, the American people agree with us fundamentally on issues involving the economy, Obamacare, government spending, bailouts – you name it.

Third, the American people are about to get a graduate level course in Obamanomics, and at the end of that course, they are going to be a lot sadder and a lot wiser.

That is not to say that there aren’t many lessons that we need to learn and to learn well from this election, particularly here in California.  But capitulation is not one of them.

Have we forgotten that just two years ago, Republicans campaigned on clear principles of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government?  We took strong and united stands to oppose Obamacare, rein in out-of-control spending, roll back the regulatory burdens that are crushing our economy and yes – dare I say it – secure our borders?  Have we forgotten that the result was one of the most stunning mid-term elections in American history: a net gain of 63 U.S. House seats, six U.S. Senate seats, 19 state legislatures, six governors and nearly 700 state legislative seats?

Now we’re told, just two years later, after a net loss of just eight House seats, two Senate seats and a 2 1/2-percentage point loss of the White House, that we must abandon these principles or consign ourselves to the dustbin of history.

If you want to see a catastrophic election, look at 1976.

We not only lost the Presidency, but as a result of that election the Democrats held 61 U.S. Senate seats (today they have 55); and 292 House seats (today they have just 201).

Then, we heard the same chorus of impending doom that we hear today.  We had to moderate our image.  We had to broaden our base.  In short, that we had to become more like the Democrats.

Here is what Ronald Reagan said to the naysayers of 1976:

Americans are hungry to feel once again a sense of mission and greatness.

I don ‘t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, “We must broaden the base of our party”-when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents…

Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people?

Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.

Fortunately, we had the good sense to take that advice, and four years later Ronald Reagan became President, and shortly after that it was morning again in America.  That would never have happened if we had listened to the usual suspects of their day and become a pathetic reflection of the Democrats.  As Phil Gramm said, “why would anyone want to vote for a fake Democrat when they can have the real thing?”

The first of the cold stove lids we are told not to sit on is illegal immigration.  Republicans, they say, must accept the notion that our nation can no longer control its borders and we should declare amnesty for the 12 to 20 million illegal aliens now in this country.  We should do so, we are told, because our position on border security has hopelessly alienated Latino voters who would otherwise share our values.

It is true that Latino voters are a growing part of the American electorate – making up ten percent of the vote in 2012, of which 71 percent voted for Barack Obama, according to the CBS exit poll.

Sean Trende is the senior political analyst for Real Clear Politics.  Last May, he published an article addressing this argument directly.  He made three points.

First, Latino voters are not a monolithic group on this issue.  Citing 2008 exit polling, he noted that a majority of Latino voters “either thought that illegal immigration was fairly unimportant or thought that it was important and voted Republican.”

So why are Latinos voting for Democrats?  Very simply, he said, once you adjust for socio-economic status, Latinos vote pretty much the same as the general voting population.  But because they are disproportionately poor, they tend to vote disproportionately Democratic.  However, as they begin to work their way up the socio-economic ladder and assimilate into American society, they become more and more Republican.

Second, citing research from the Pew Institute, he pointed out that the wave of illegal immigration has now crested, and may actually be reversing.  He noted that every immigration wave has followed this pattern.  Those who stay become more and more assimilated and more and more Republican as the years go by.

As recently as 20 years ago, we used to hear a lot about the Italian vote or the Irish vote.  We don’t hear about that anymore because they have melted into the general population.  The demographic tide, he said, is not running against the Republicans, but running with them.

Third, he points out that a very sizeable part of the Republican base is firmly opposed to illegal immigration, and that abandoning that position could be politically catastrophic.  He reminded us, “In a large, diverse country, every move to gain one member of a political coalition usually alienates another member.”

Heather MacDonald makes the same point in the aftermath of the election.  She notes that 62 percent of Latino voters support Obamacare.  They overwhelmingly support higher taxes to pay for a larger government and more public services.  These are not voters who will suddenly flock to the Republican banner because we have reversed our position on border security.

That’s not to say Republicans should ignore the Latino vote – far from it – and I will get to that in a few minutes.  But to suggest that Republicans need to reverse themselves on a fundamental issue of national sovereignty and the rule of law is unprincipled, counterproductive, self-destructive and wrong.

Ironically, the issues where most Latino and African-American voters do agree with us are the social issues, like abortion and marriage — but of course, we’re told by the same naysayers that we should repudiate our position on these messy social issues.

Let’s look closer at the polling on the social issues.  According to exit polling by Public Opinion Strategies, it is true that five percent of voters last week said that the most important issue in their vote for President was their pro-choice/pro-abortion position.  Five percent of the entire electorate is nothing to sneeze at.

But four percent of voters said that the most important issue in casting their vote for President was their pro-life/anti-abortion position.  That’s a statistical tie.

I have a question for you.  How many of those hard-core, single-issue abortion-on-demand Obama voters will suddenly switch their votes to Republicans once we’ve renounced our position on this issue?

Now, here’s a bonus question: how many of that four percent of the electorate who support us solely because of our pro-life position are going to stay with us once we have repudiated them?

It is important in politics to know the difference between addition and subtraction.  Addition is what creates majorities and subtraction is what destroys them.  In this single exercise, we have just subtracted four percent of the entire American electorate from our vote and added little or nothing.

Now, repeat this process on every other so-called social issue, and tell me if we will be better off or worse off for taking this advice.

With all this said, there is no blinking at the fact that we just lost an election that we should have won, and to pretend there’s nothing wrong meets Einstein’s definition of insanity.  There’s a great deal wrong and a great deal that we need to address.

The voters who appeared at the polls agree with us on Obamacare.  According to the CBS exit poll, by a plurality of 49 to 44 percent, they want to repeal some or all of Obamacare.

They agree with us on the size of government.  By a margin of 51 to 43 percent, they believe that government is “doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”

They agree with us on taxes.  By a resounding margin of 63 to 33 percent, they disagreed with the statement that “taxes should be raised to help cut the deficit.”

Perhaps most telling of all, 52 percent of voters agreed “things in this country today are seriously off on the wrong track,” and yet then voted to continue down that wrong track for another four years.

As Lincoln said, “The voters are everything.  If the voters get their backsides too close to the fire, they’ll just have to sit on the blisters a while.”  It is a painful experience; but it is a learning experience.  And at the end of that experience, they emerge sadder but wiser and in time for the next election.

We are winning the issues.  And that means over time we will be winning the votes — but only if we stay true to our principles and true to the millions of Americans who are already with us and many more who may not consider themselves Republicans today – but who believe as we believe.

What was the single biggest political movement in 2009 and 2010?  It was the much-maligned, politically incorrect Tea Party, which energized fully one third of the American electorate across party lines.  Although 60 percent were Republicans, 20 percent were Independents and 20 percent were Democrats.  Long before the Tea Party, we had another name for that phenomenon.  We used to call it the “Reagan Coalition.”  But this year, those who tell us we need a bigger tent told the Tea Party to get out.  And many did.

Who brought a tidal wave of young people into the party?  It was the much maligned and politically incorrect Ron Paul, whose simple message of unadulterated freedom resonated deeply on college campuses.  Eight thousand UC Berkeley students turned out last year to hear that message.  But this year, those who tell us we need a bigger tent told Ron Paul and his supporters to get out.  And they did.  In fact, many of their votes went to Obama.

A well-intentioned supporter e-mailed me last week and said, “we’ve got to kick the religious right out of the party.”  I reminded him that we did that in 1976, when the religious right voted for Jimmy Carter.

My point is, you cannot build a majority by systematically ejecting the constituent parts of that coalition.  You build a majority by adding to that coalition by taking your principles to new constituencies.

Working Americans of every race know instinctively that you cannot borrow and spend your way rich.  We need to appeal to them.

Immigrants came to this country to escape the stultifying central planning and corrupt bureaucracies that ravaged their economies.  We need to appeal to them.

For the first time in our history, young people face a bleaker future than their parents enjoyed.  We need to appeal to them.

The very groups of voters most damaged by Obama’s policies are those who voted for Obama – we need to appeal to them.

Not in the closing days of a campaign poisoned with partisanship – but right now.

We need to recognize that a large portion of our population is not familiar with the self-evident truths of the American Founding and has no compass with which to follow back to the prosperity, happiness and fulfillment that is the hallmark of free societies.

Without that clarion call – without a party of freedom willing to paint our positions in bold colors – I am afraid that as the economy suffocates under the avalanche of government burdens, intrusions, restrictions, regulations and edicts, people in their growing despair, will increasingly turn to the false hope that paternalistic government offers.

The only antidote to that is the self-evident truth of the American founding: that freedom works and we need to put it back to work.

Like it or not, we are at this moment the only party equipped to revive and restore those truths and take them to the millions of Americans who are desperately searching for them.

Great parties are built upon great principles, and they are judged by their devotion to those principles.  Since its inception, the central principle of the Republican Party can be summarized in a word: freedom.  The closer we have hewn to this principle, the better we have done; the farther we have drifted from it, the worse that we – and the country – have done.

Dick Armey put it more simply: “When we act like us, we win, and when we act like them, we lose.”

The Republican Women formed originally as the educational arm of the Republican Party.  Never has that role been more important than it is today.   We will not win the political battle until we win the battle over principles.  We need to begin that campaign today.   We can be confident that these principles resonate, but only when we are true to them with our existing constituencies while we reach out with them to new constituencies.

That is our challenge.  That is our destiny.  That is the salvation of our country.  Now, fellow Republicans, let’s pull up our socks, wipe our noses, and get back in this fight.

4 comments
dleeper47
dleeper47 moderator

Good stuff.  I fully support the idea of the GOP moving toward its conservative roots, rather than capitulation to the Left.  Sounds great.  Sounds wise.  Sounds correct.  After all, did we see the Left arguing to move toward conservatism when they got trounced in 2010?  Of course not.

However ...  

To whom is this message addressed?  Us free-market, limited-govt, fiscal-responsibility types?  Or the Old Bulls of the GOP Establishment?  I think we get it, and the Old Bulls don't and won't.  They don't want the aggravation of having to change their go-along-to-get-along big spending habits.  They're too comfortable, and they like going on liberal TV to show their compromise bona fides.  And they love being invited to all the right DC cocktail parties and dinner parties.  They have too many of their "old friends across the aisle" (to quote Sen. McCain) that they don't want to disappoint. 

So ...

Who is our opposition going into 2014/2016?  Just Democrats?  Or those Old Bulls?

And ... 

Is John Boehner the right Speaker?  Is he moving to the right or the left at the moment?  Can he be turned around?  Can he be replaced?  Will the Old Bulls ever step aside?

Bottom line: this is an excellent summary and pep talk.   But I doubt the Old Bulls will take heed.  How can we challenge them?

WesternFreePress
WesternFreePress moderator

 @dleeper47 It's not all one or the other. Some people in the "establishment" get it, some don't. Some can change, some won't. McClintock totally gets it, but he has also been in the "establishment," that is, the GOP hierarchy, for a long, long time. IMO, it's not about changing people, it's about changing ideas. We have to get back to First Principles, and have those spread like wildfire throughout the movement. We need to understand our own core, so that we can express it to others. It's the right message, and so once that happens, it will spread. Then, most of the old guard will come right along, either because they too have become "changed" and have seen the light, or for pragmatic reasons.

dleeper47
dleeper47 moderator

@WesternFreePress You're right that the GOP Old Bulls can change. They're changing as we speak. They're moving Left(!) for all the reasons in my initial comment. Can you name one Liberal Old GOP Bull who has said he/she now needs to reverse course and return to first principles? They'd rather lose graciously for a fourth time. If we can't replace these good old boys with conservatives, we might as well start a 3rd party and lose on principle rather than on compromise, capitulation, and exhaustion.

WesternFreePress
WesternFreePress moderator

 @dleeper47  @WesternFreePress I do agree that pale pastels will not win us anything. And when it comes to the old guard, they won't move until a bottom-up movement forces them to. That said, one also cannot underestimate the power of personality in all of this. Reagan was just more likeable than Carter---more powerful, affable, manly. He won. Same thing with Dukkakis----was America REALLY going to vote for him? No. Clinton was more likable than Bush 41. It was close between Bush and Gore, but really, Gore? Gore is an unhinged pathological liar and kind of a dork. Kerry was not as impressive as Bush, on a basic, visceral level. Obama was way more impressive sounding than McCain, with much more of a cult of personality vibe. Romney is a decent fellow, but he didn't really have the zazz to overcome Obama's larger-than-life cult of personality vibe. I hate to say it, but a lot more of this may be based on the strength of the candidate on some very basic, visceral, personality level than we'd like to admit.