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November 08, 2012 10:58 AM Conservative Reaction To Election ‘12, Part II: More, Not Less, Ideology, Please

By Ed Kilgore

A second notable characteristic of conservative reaction to Tuesday’s election results is the iron conviction that Republican pols from Mitt Romney on down did a poor job of articulating why and how the unvarnished conservative creed of small government, “free enterprise,” cultural traditionalism, and militant “Americanism” is good for the country and every one of its citizens. It wasn’t the ideology that’s out of synch with the country: it was the message crafted from that ideology, and the incompetence (or perhaps lack of authenticity) of the messengers.

Here’s Erick Erickson, who was among the first on Election Night to warn conservatives not to pretend the election was “stolen:”

Since Ronald Reagan rose from the ashes of the Goldwater movement, Republicans have articulated a message of freedom and opportunity — a rugged individualism that says if you work hard you can be what you want and do what you want. But people forget.
In the last decade or so, Republicans began to assume everyone just naturally agreed. They stopped explaining. They stopped being evangelists. Worse, conservatism morphed into Republicanism and instead of being about ideas, both became about the acquisition of power for the sake of power. Republicans no longer articulated a core set of principles through policy, but policies designed solely to keep them in power. The party leaders and many of its candidates began to do the same — freedom became a platitude, not a policy.
During Barack Obama’s tenure, Republicans tried to blur every line, make every compromise, and often surrendered before a weapon was even pointed at them. They did not articulate a positive conservative vision, but a defensive position that Obama was bad and they were good with little to show for it. They cut deals that sold out their core to preserve their power. They do so even today.

Here are the Editors of National Review:

Blame for this debacle is widely shared. Mitt Romney made many mistakes in this campaign. Yet with the exception of his failure to press the case against Obamacare — a failure partly explained but not excused by his own record on health care — those mistakes reflected party-wide decisions. The party hasn’t kept up with the political technologies Democrats are using. More important, Republicans from the top to the bottom of the ticket did little to make the case that conservative policies would make the broad mass of the public better off. It wasn’t a theme of the convention in Tampa, for example, or a consistent theme in Republican ads.
Most of the post-election discussion, we can predict, will dwell on the predictable demographic divides of sex, race, and age. Most of this conversation will be unproductive. Until conservatives devise a domestic agenda, and a way to sell it, that links small-government principles to attractive results, they are going to have a hard time improving their standing with women, Latinos, white men, or young people.

As is indicated in that editorial, it seems important to conservatives to deny that Mitt Romney was the only or even the main problem. NRO’s Robert Costa suggests that the Romney camp itself was divided on whether and how to deliver the most robust conservative message possible:

A Romney adviser partly blames last night’s defeat on a weak message. “Turnout was the big problem, since we didn’t get all of McCain’s voters to the polls, but we really should have been talking more about Benghazi and Obamacare,” an adviser says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Those are major issues and Romney rarely mentioned them in the final days.”
The adviser expects Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, to bear the brunt of the blame, but not all of it. “There is a Boston clique that will stick together,” the adviser says. “But blaming Stuart and the other newcomers means blaming Romney, so they will be careful. They know Romney always gave Stuart his complete confidence.”

Beyond these voices, there’s a harsher faction of conservatives who simply think the Republican Party has failed to embrace conservatism at all, predictably led by the movement war horse Richard Viguerie:

[A]n assortment of conservative groups sent representatives to the National Press Club to vent their anger at the Republican Party “establishment.”
“The battle to retake the Republican Party begins today,” railed Richard Viguerie, a veteran of the conservative movement, who called on “the failed Republican leadership” to resign, and then named the leaders of the GOP in the House and Senate, as well as the head of the Republican National [Committee].

And here’s former Gingrich advisor Christian Whiton on the Fox web site yesterday:

In the end, the Republican establishment thought they had this election in the bag. They decided to play it safe with a moderate. They stuffed a candidate down the party’s throat who opportunistically had been on both sides of most issues and told people what he thought they wanted to hear, rather than what he believed.
Recovery begins with saying goodbye to this Beltway GOP establishment. No more Romneys. No more Bushes. No more McCains.

Now it should be obvious that a “struggle for the soul of the Republican Party” that’s between people calling for the existing leaders of the GOP to get back in touch with their inner Ronnie and people calling for new leaders who never lost touch with their inner Ronnie isn’t really a debate over the party’s ideology at all. The still point in the turning world of Republican politics these days is this: conservatism is never to blame, and the answer to every question is “more.”

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.

Comments

  • Perspecticus on November 08, 2012 11:12 AM:

    A couple non sequiturs:

    Erik Son of Erik is right! Too much compromising to this point. It's time today's GOP entrenches itself and refuses to budge until the world is how they insist it is.

    Amusing that of all the imagery out there in the world, and of all that might be created, the Republicans seems absolutely super glued to the phrase "crammed down our throats."

    The Diane Rehm Show. first hour, this morning was on how the GOP can change going forward. All three consultants, and this was a point Ms. Rehm called them on and a position none of them wavered from, was essentially the topic of this post: We don't need to change; we just need to explain our greatness better. Admittedly, it was presented more humbly than that, but I'm still on a post-election high and am prone to hyperbole.

  • berttheclock on November 08, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Demanding even more right wing ideology is akin to Captain Edward Smith receiving a message from the home office telling him to try and hit another iceberg on the other side as that might even out the water ballast.

  • greennotGreen on November 08, 2012 11:16 AM:

    You know why conservatives can't articulate the reasons conservative policies are best for the country? Because they aren't! And the only reason conservatives can cling to those policies is because they have a singular ability to deny objective reality.

  • Mudge on November 08, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Well, Todd Akin is unemployed. I hope Viguerie and Whiton get their way. They need a presidential candidate next time who will more openly hate women and gays and non-whites. Someone to openly embraced the concept of the 47% and take self deportation to the next level.

    I will tell every conservative I meet that is a winning strategy.

    Go Santorum.

  • sjw on November 08, 2012 11:18 AM:

    The National Review piece above talks about the need for Republicans to "make the case that conservative policies would make the broad mass of the public better off . . . Until conservatives devise a domestic agenda, and a way to sell it, that links small-government principles to attractive results, they are going to have a hard time . . .."

    Uh, good luck with that: what's being proposed is impossible. "Lowering taxes on the rich is good for the economy and good for you!" "Food stamps and unemployment insurance disempowers you!" "Emergency rooms provide the best health care!" "Privatize governmental services and watch their efficiency grow!"

    But I urge Republicans to keep trying and trying, as it's good for electing Democrats.

  • T2 on November 08, 2012 11:21 AM:

    How foolish and deluded these Conservatives sound. People refused to buy what they are selling. Getting more hardcore about the product isn't going to improve sales. Getting rid of the Old Guard GOP and replacing them with DeMint, Santorum, Akin and Mourdock isn't the way, either. Hell, they had their darling Paul flippin' Ryan on the ticket this time and he got his ass handed to him by Joe Biden.
    The quotes above suggest that the way forward is to make souther white men even angrier. That isn't going to do it, fellas.
    And to the guy who says the Party "stuffed a candidate down the party's throat"....jeesus, do these deluded fools actually think Rick Santorum would have beat Obama? well, yes, they do. And as long as they think that, they'll continue to get stuffed.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on November 08, 2012 11:22 AM:

    Entirely predictable (by them, I mean, not critiquing Ed), and it's fantastic to see. Hopefully their epistemic closure will continue for a good while. Hopefully they keep coming back every 4 years -- although we really need to make that 2 years -- for their ritual beating.

    I'm a moderate conservative, and I'd like to see a moderate conservative party emerge, but not the Republicans, and not until this crop of lunatics has been driven from politics in disgrace.

  • bluestatedon on November 08, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Christian Whiton? You can't make this stuff up.

  • bluestatedon on November 08, 2012 11:47 AM:

    The notion that the GOP will break its fever (Obama) or break out of its epistemic closure (Andrew Sullivan) is completely and totally naive. The Republican Party is now largely a theocratic party whose leaders nationwide are religious zealots in thrall to a base that believes evolution is a Satanic fraud and that Adam and Eve had vegetarian dinosaurs for neighbors in the Garden of Eden 5,000 years ago. Religious zealots never question or re-examine their own beliefs after suffering a defeat; they simply double down on their zealotry. Viguerie is just one of the zealots demanding a purification of the party, which would of course involve the expulsion of all moderates. Cynic, I sympathize with the plight of moderate, reality-based conservatives who are completely dismayed by the lunacy of the Republican Party, but I'm skeptical that a new party is going to emerge in the near future. Millions of Americans will continue to adhere to our unique blend of militantly ignorant Christianism and American Exceptionalism on steroids, and the GOP will continue to be their party. I think that moderate conservatives are going to have to either make abandon the GOP and wander the wilderness as independents, or swallow hard and join the Democrats. Frankly, I think that the Democratic Party would benefit from having a healthy mix of opinions within it, and that includes so-called moderate conservative views.

  • Quaker in a Basement on November 08, 2012 11:48 AM:

    These guys are too consumed with opposing any and every thing liberal. Reflexive opposition pits them against their own positions.

    Heck, there's not much I agree with the GOP on, but I could do a better job of advancing their case than Erickson or any of the clowns who ran for the Republican nomination.

  • bobbo on November 08, 2012 11:58 AM:

    They really need to retire the term "stuffed down our throats."

  • CharlieM on November 08, 2012 12:01 PM:


    I marvel at the disconectedness of Christian Wheton here.
    The Republican establishement "stuffed" a candidate down the party faithful's throat?
    Were there no primaries? Were there no end of the Santorums, Cains, Gingrichs, Bachmanns, Ron Pauls, Perrys, etc. that were offered up as candidates and then rejected by the party faithful? Who, exactly, was "paying it safe" here with a (supposed) moderate Mitt? It wasn't the "establishment" that rejected those alternate choices - it was primary voters.
    And who, exactly, is Viguerie going to "take back the party" from? Those voters in the primaries? So that a candidate even more clownish than Cain wins their nomination? And they expect that Americans would elect a choice like that?
    These people are seriously coming apart. They've spent the last 40 years vesting their election hopes in angry old white guys. And now that demographic is dying off, they're out of options.

  • Rip on November 08, 2012 12:02 PM:

    They are still searching for another Reagan. Not even the real Reagan, but an idealized version who never compromises, never wavers, and articulates a far right conservatism so convincingly that the electorate can't resist it's appeal. GW came up short, and McCain and Romney were never trusted, only preferable in comparison to what they've told themselves is a neo-Marxist, anti-constitutionalist, class warfare waging, America hating Democrat.

    It doesn't matter how many far right candidates go down in flames in what were supposed to be easy Senate races, they can always find one who triumphed as the proof they need that uncompromising conservatism is the path to victory.

    Whoever the Republican nominee is in 2016, he or she will only get there with the unreserved approval of the far right, who will are convinced that Romney and McCain
    might have won had they more fully and vocally embraced conservative extremism.

  • James E. Powell on November 08, 2012 12:02 PM:

    Don't expect anything like honest and clear-eyed reflection from right-wingers. It's not how they think or act. And, the people being quoted would have to say "Gee, everything I've been saying turns out to be wrong." It's not going to happen.

  • Ronald on November 08, 2012 12:18 PM:

    @Rip-
    The issue with that is, of course, that even St. Reagan would have been soundly and utterly rejected by the current Conservative movement as 'too squishy' on everything they believe in.
    Heck, Uncle Ronnie even, gulp, raised taxes!
    They're looking for their Right Wing Unicorn.
    Good luck with that, guys.

  • Just Guessing on November 08, 2012 12:19 PM:

    Here's some advice for the Democrats.

    1). Support job creation efforts and small business. This will neutralize what is often conceived a Republican strength.

    2). Keep reminding Republicans that the following issues from their 2012 Republican platform are winning issues with a majority of the US electorate:

    - Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the
    union of one man and one woman

    - End war on religion

    - Assert every citizens right to apply religious values
    to public policy

    - Oppose legislation limiting capacity of clips or
    magazines

    - Endorse legislation to make clear that Fourteenth
    Amendment protections apply to unborn children

    - Support the appointment of judges who respect
    traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent
    human life

    - Oppose federal funding of embryonic stem sell research

    - Move Medicare from defined benefit to defined
    contribution program

    - Repeal Obamacare

    - Oppose any form of immigration amnesty

    - Affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity
    of human life

    - Single-sex classes in schools

    - Oppose zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the
    Left in schools

    - Liberals do not understand that criminals behind bars
    cannot harm the public

    There are a lot more in case those aren't enough.


  • DrBB on November 08, 2012 12:20 PM:

    GOP: "The problem wasn't our policies, but our failure to articulate them in a way the Murican people could understand."

    Right. But that "failure to articulate" wasn't a case of accidental ineptitude but the whole core of your communication strategy. It's the clearest possible tacit evidence that even THEY know what they're selling isn't what people want. If you've got a decent product, you WANT people to know all about it; you don't pretend it isn't what it is, or ask people to buy it first and then you'll tell 'em; or try to get 'em to think it's something else by finding different words for it ("Privatize? Who said anything about privatizing? Oh, we did? But we're calling it something else now!") Even more devastatingly obvious: the fact that the previous standard bearer for that same basket of policies, who had 8 years to show just how nifty they all were, was The Great Unmentionable, The President Who Must Not Be Named, among his own fercripesake party. WTF do they think THAT communicates? "Pay no attention to that former president behind the curtain!!!" Oh yeah, that'll work.

    You'd think with all their vaunted private-enterprise idolatry and experience, they might have some people who recognize this situation for what it is. This is the communications strategy you're forced to adopt when you know you're selling a product that, if you told the truth about it, no one would want.

  • JWJ on November 08, 2012 12:21 PM:

    The country will soon be the nirvana that is California, Illinois, and Detroit.

  • danimal on November 08, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Benghazi was a major issue? Please. As I understand it, the issue with Benghazi was two-fold: 1) Obama didn't recognize it was a terrorist attack, and 2) Obama failed to send Rambo in to protect the victims as he sat watching the attack in the war room with Cheetos-stained fingers. While #1 has been pretty well debunked, #2 still has some currency in Fox News land.

    But to make that a major issue in the campaign? Really. George Bush waved off warnings of 9/11 --"You've covered your ass"--and 3000 Americans in NYC and Washington DC were killed. Somehow Obama being unable to save 4 Americans from an enraged mob/group of terrorists in Benghazi, Libya is more of a security failing? Really? And Mitt Romney, who thoroughly screwed up the issue on the day of the attack and in the second debate, is going to make the case. Really?

    They got nothin.

  • CJColucci on November 08, 2012 12:55 PM:

    If the Republicans double down on the crazy, which states do they think they will pick up that Mitt didn't? What states would Gingrich, Santorum, Cain, or Bachman have won that Mitt lost? The states that respond to the crazy are already solid red; and they accepted Mitt and McCain, even if, perhaps, they would have preferred someone else. Where's the pick-up?

  • Ted the Slacker on November 08, 2012 1:22 PM:

    This Politico story was striking - Team Mitt stunned by African-American turnout:

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83549.html

    Presumably some people in the GOP will take this to heart and work even harder at voter suppression going forward.

  • Tim on November 08, 2012 2:07 PM:

    I love the idea that Newt Gingrich would have done better in the the general election.

  • MosesZD on November 08, 2012 3:18 PM:

    The Diane Rehm Show. first hour, this morning was on how the GOP can change going forward. All three consultants, and this was a point Ms. Rehm called them on and a position none of them wavered from, was essentially the topic of this post: We don't need to change; we just need to explain our greatness better. Admittedly, it was presented more humbly than that, but I'm still on a post-election high and am prone to hyperbole.

    I heard the same show. If anything, you're being too kind. Those people are living in a tin-foil echo chamber.

    I personally believe that if Obama wasn't black, it'd have been a massive sweep for the Democratic President, much like for the Republicans in 1984's Reagan v Mondale...

  • PTate in MN on November 08, 2012 3:19 PM:

    I'll second Whiton's comment: "No more Romneys. No more Bushes. No more McCains." Hehe.

    I have zero hope that the Republican party will reflect and change. The asylum is completely controlled by the lunatics, and there is no way for sane conservatives to take it back. The GOP is brain dead; the body is sustained by large infusions of cash and history. Given their ideology--government is the problem, not the solution; that inequality is great and "no new taxes" is a viable fiscal strategy, and that the biggest problems facing America have to due with the people of color, gays and single women--it is obvious that the Republican party has no interest in governing. Their purpose is power, period. As a result they do not put up qualified candidates and the policies they embrace have been proven to do bad things to America.

    So, for me, the real questions is whether the MSM will reflect and change. Will they stop pretending that the Republicans are a viable political party, equivalent to the Democrats? Will they figure out that "He said, she said" reporting has got to stop? Will the MSM acknowledge that the Republicans are nothing but well-funded fringe group and start ignoring them? Will we have more Martha Raddatz's and fewer Jim Lehrers?

  • buddy66 on November 08, 2012 4:56 PM:

    I've got a couple lovely "Palin '12" buttons that I still wear. I'm going to have to order a '16 upgrade as part of my admittedly modest efforts to agitate for a New National Conservative Party. Sure, I'm an agent provocateur, however two-bit, but I learned long ago the political tactic of splitting the enemy's vote. Since the cuckoos and the cashiers already hate each other, we should do everything we can to get them to go for each others' throats.

  • Just say in' on November 08, 2012 6:19 PM:

    I hope the GOP needs to think outside the box and look for a Presidential candidate in '16 who is not a Washington insider... someone who, just like Ronald Reagan, has the media skills to articulate conservative ideas in a way that even the most unsophisticated citizens can understand.

    Draft Rush Limbaugh!

  • Doug on November 08, 2012 7:51 PM:

    Wasn't it Dylan Thomas who wrote "Do not go gently into that night, rage, rage against the dying light!"?
    Besides being an extremely dumb way to run a political(?) party, I never knew Republicans were that into poetry...

  • INTJ on November 09, 2012 11:05 AM:

    ideology noun \ˌ-d-ˈ-lə-j, ˌi-\ the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

    Assertions, theories, and aims. That's really scary stuff, I guess.