Political Animal


August 28, 2012 12:23 PM GOP Coalition-Building Off the Table

By Ed Kilgore

At TNR John Judis accurately describes Mitt Romney’s 2012 general election strategy as a big departure from the Bush-Rove effort to appeal to potentially disaffected Democratic groups in the electorate, which means even if Mitt wins he’s helping bury his party’s prospects in the immediate future:

George W. Bush and Karl Rove always understood the importance of the Hispanic vote to the Republican future. That accounted for Bush’s support for immigration reform; his repudiation in the summer of 2000 of Republican congressional attempts to eviscerate social spending (you can’t attract the Latino vote by promising to dismantle the welfare state); and by the elevation of half-Latino George P. Bush at the convention and during the campaign. Bush got about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and above 40 percent in 2004, although the exact numbers are in dispute.
The second element of a Republican strategy would consist of cutting into the Democratic advantage among women and professionals. Bush and Rove were also into that. In 2000, Bush ran on a slogan of “compassionate conservatism,” he kept the religious right at bay during the conventions (and in 2000, believe it or not, said he would not impose a litmus test on the appointment of Supreme Court justices) and he tried to convey through the prominence of Colin Powell at the 2000 convention a politics of tolerance and inclusion. Bush did not create a lasting majority—the Iraq war, the Great Recession, and his unwillingness or inability, once in office, to defy the radicals in his own party doomed the Republicans in 2008—but his political efforts in 2000 and 2004 at least showed an understanding of what Republicans had to do to create a majority.

Judis attributes the repudiation of the Bush-Rove strategy to Romney’s clumsy efforts to serially pander to conservative pressure groups in the GOP. I think that’s unfair. If you look at the whole indictment of W.’s administration as having “betrayed conservative principles—an indictment that virtually the entire GOP embraced after 2008 as a way of distancing itself from Bush’s profound unpopularity—the “betrayals” are precisely those Rovian policies designed to reach beyond the GOP base: No Child Left Behind, immigration reform, the Medicare Rx Drug benefit, and (with the exception of the failed Social Security initiative of 2005) a relatively lax attitude towards existing federal social programs.

No candidate was going to be nominated in 2012 who did not repudiate these “betrayals,” even, and perhaps especially, the candidates (notably Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich) who voted for or supported them. It’s already been half-forgotten that Santorum’s narrow defeat by Romney was not attributable to the Pennsylvanian’s “extremism,” but to the incessant attacks on him by Romney and his Super-PAC for being a “Washington insider” who supported Bush’s heresies. So the self-destructive path of closing off avenues for expanding the party base wasn’t a “mistake” by Romney, but in fact the only way he could have possibly won the nomination.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on August 28, 2012 1:01 PM:

    I have no idea how Romney thinks he is going to win let alone govern without some appearance of coalition building.

  • Burr Deming on August 28, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Insightful, especially in seeing the base itself as the source of GOP electoral problems. If you are right, and you are, then the Republican future is not determined by strategic decisions, but by a sociological direction. If you are right, and you are, GOP national influence may diminish to the vanishing point within a few years.

  • Rich on August 28, 2012 1:09 PM:

    More a repudiation of 2000 than of 2004, when it was all about getting out the base.

  • Kolobian on August 28, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Ed, you have a point - but I think this time, the Repugs just don't care. They are counting, in various senses of the term, on the power of big money, voter suppression, general interference running and confusion from the LSM anda various enablers, and finally: the pig-headed stubborn, stupid, gut feelings of a huge swath of the electorate, mostly the usual suspects among them. We need to go all out, get it all out, go for it, big time!
    "FIFTY" ... well try.

  • lou on August 28, 2012 1:19 PM:

    "GOP national influence may diminish to a vanishing point"

    A troubling thought just occurred to me as a read this post -- perhaps there is an apocalyptic vision at work in the GOP. Get this one last shot via the white, evangelical vote to implement. Unfortunately it is in the realm of possibility.
    Spooky yes. But goes with their flow and interpretations of history. Also, given their science denial, more power to them may bring on apocalypse via the power of the natural, physical world. But in this latter sense, they got all the power they need now to bring on a world of big hurt.

  • c u n d gulag on August 28, 2012 1:20 PM:

    This is why this election is now the most important one in our lifetimes.

    They want to finish the demolition of representative democracy that Reagan started, and then more than ably assisted by W.
    President Obama and VP Biden kept McCain and Palin from continuing the rotten work of destroying America from within.

    The "Greatest Generation" is almost gone, and the demographics are starting to drift away from “The Most Fortunate Generation” – the ones too young for WWII and Korea, and too old for Vietnam.

    They’ve gotten a nice ride from themselve and everyone else, and now are willing to drive that safety net car off a cliff – as long as it affects anyone else but them.

    Maybe, “The Greediest Generation,” is a more apt description.

    Regardless, their time's about up, too.

    But, the Republicans aren't totally stupid (evil, yes), they've got a few hispanics on their side that they can trot out there in 2016, for VP, if not for President - Rubio in FL, Cruz in TX, and even a female one in Martinez, NM's Governor.

    And I'm sure there are other soulless individuals of all colors and sexes and religions, willing to sell their souls for some of that silver and gold that's showered on the most base of all traitors, the ones not only willing, but eager, to sell out others of their own kind.

  • TCinLA on August 28, 2012 1:25 PM:

    This is why what we are seeing is an attempted fascist electoral coup d'etat. The Romney people today said that they will not let "the fact checkers" dictate what kind of campaign they will run from here on. They say their lie about welfare is their must successful ad. They are whipping up the base because they do in fact see this as their last chance.

    And if they are successful, does anyone think that there will be elections in the future? Does anyone think these people are incapable of imposing their dictatorship?

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 28, 2012 1:41 PM:

    The absence of any semblance of appeal to women, people of color, people who value education, or poor people is, in part, related to securing the vote of Taliban-like extremists on the right. More importantly, this line of thought is fundamental to how Romney views himself. Lets be clear, Bush was a terrible leader, but there is an important contrast between Romney and Bush.

    Romney conducts himself as aristocracy in the most basic Marie Antoinette style. It’s not just about being wealthy, like the Bushes. It’s an attitude that is evident in his language, his demeanor and his conduct. He shouldn’t have to answer basic questions about finance, his career or governance and he should get a pass on most everything because he’s ….well…Mitt Romney. He is incapable of mixing with regular folks as they are clearly beneath him. He is an odious human being and totally bankrupt of character. It will become more and more obvious, because he believes he is entitled in all things.

  • Kenneth Almquist on August 28, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Of course most conservatives weren't much bothered by Bush's supposed betrayal of conservative principles at the time. They did object when Bush nominated Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court, but that proves the point. When conservatives objected, Bush gave them what they wanted, replacing Harriet Meyers with Samuel Alito.

    So the notion that Bush betrayed conservative principles is a case of rewriting history to deny the obvious: The ideology that the political right is peddling these days doesn't work. The problem that the Republican party faces is that what started off as a lie is now believed by many on the right because those folks believe their own lies.

  • Citizen Alan on August 28, 2012 2:49 PM:

    It is painfully naive to suggest that appealing to nativist influences and even overt bigotry today will foreclose electoral success in the future. If Romney wins and replaces Ruth Bader Ginsburg with someone in the Scalia-Alito mold (i.e. someone who sees no problem with striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as unconstitutional), the GOP can hold onto power for quite a few years through the imposition of Juan Crow style voter suppression laws. It can probably hold onto power for decades if it's prepared to go the distance and turn America into an apartheid state. I've said for years that I anticipate internment camps operating on American soil for illegal aliens, gays, Muslims and other undesirables to be up and running by 2020, sooner if Obama screws up and loses this very close election. I see nothing that leads me to modify that prediction.

  • Zorro on August 28, 2012 3:04 PM:

    Simpler explanation of the above:

    In 2000, the GOP + GWB lied.

    In 2012, the GOP + Romney are lying about different things.