© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary: Note to GOP, Your problem was not Romney's 'moderation'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 15, 2012 - Dudes:

I’d hoped that by now you guys, like most people, would have tired of talking about politics. There are, after all, other things we could discuss. Have you noticed the NHL is missing? What’s up with that?

Alas, your post-election commentary tells me your ideological passions persist unabated and that you’ve failed to learn from the usually instructive experience of losing. This worries me.

I didn’t vote for your candidate this time around, but I didn’t write to gloat. On the contrary, I’m concerned about you because if there’s one thing worse than the constant bickering of a two-party system, it’s the unitary mindset of a one-party arrangement. Just look at Stalinist Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Italy under Mussolini or Franco’s Spain to see what I mean…

And your situation is far from hopeless. If there’s one fallacy that’s easily demonstrated in American politics, it’s the notion that one big victory in a national election, or two consecutive wins in these contests, somehow signals the advent of a dynasty. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Since 1901, every same-party successor to a multi-term administration has been ousted after four years. In 1908, Republican Taft took over from McKinley/Teddy Roosevelt then lost to Wilson in 1912. Hoover — another Republican — succeeded Harding/Coolidge in ’28 and was trounced by FDR in ’32. Democrat Truman, who’d served most of FDR’s fourth term, won election in his own right in ’48. He retired rather than run against Eisenhower in ’52. H.W. Bush extended the Reagan era with a big win in ’88, only to lose badly to Clinton in ’92. In this country, dynasties have a relatively short shelf life.

But you folks seem determined to reverse the trend. Bearing in mind Santayana’s warning that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, let’s get two things straight: Mitt Romney didn’t lose because he was insufficiently conservative and he didn’t lose because he failed to articulate the conservative message.

In the 20 years between Nov. 3, 1992, and Nov. 6, 2012, there have been six presidential elections. You lost the popular vote in five of them. Your high-water mark came in 2004 when incumbent W. Bush—fresh off his “Mission Accomplished” moment —captured 50.7 percent of the electorate.

During the period, Democrats averaged 48.8 percent to your 45.08 percent. In half of the contests, the Republican failed to win 46 percent of the ballots cast. Conversely, the only time Democrats fell below that percentile was in 1992 when Clinton took 43 percent -- and that proved to be the winning plurality in a 3-way race. In fact, your reaction to Clinton’s first win demonstrates the blind-sightedness I’m talking about.

Instead of wondering why an incumbent president who’d just recorded a big military victory in the first Gulf War was able to garner just 37.5 percent of the vote, you blamed Ross Perot for the debacle. His 18.9 percent take, the theory went, siphoned critical support from Bush the Elder who, it turns out, wasn’t conservative enough anyway.

Sure enough, in 1996 — when Perot’s share fell to just 8.4 percent — your percentage improved to 40.7. But Clinton benefited even more, taking 49.2 percent that time around while winning re-election. Rather than trying to improve your product, you took solace in the subsequent Supreme Court win of 2000 in which you lost the popular vote 48.4 to 47.9 percent. (For more on the Obama-Romney numbers see, "Putting Obama election numbers in context.")

If my analysis makes you uncomfortable, just look to Missouri to feel worse. Here’s a state that’s been trending comfortably Republican for the past four presidential elections. Yet, “Odd Todd” Akin’s strange foray into theoretical gynecology managed to transform what should have been a competitive senatorial race against a vulnerable Democratic incumbent into a 16-point whitewash.

Akin, incidentally, got 39 percent of the vote. Perhaps not coincidentally, 38 percent of the Missouri electorate self-indentifies as evangelical Christian—and the influence of that voting block appears to have crested

The problem wasn’t that most voters didn’t understand Akin’s point of view; it was that they understood it all too well. No matter how hard you guys click your heels together, you’re not going to get the electorate back to the imaginary Kansas of yesteryear.

Romney lost by a little over 3 million votes overall, but lost the under-30 vote by more than 5 million. Does anybody but me see a problem here? While you were trying to perfect the conservative message, two states voted to legalize marijuana and three passed same-sex marriage initiatives. You people are trying to sell Flintstones reruns to an audience that thinks the Jetsons are obsolete.

Of course, the liberal instincts of youth often temper with age, so your long-term prospects with the so-called “Millennial Generation” are not necessarily doomed. But they will be if you don’t escape the mirror-lined echo chamber you live in.

On the eve of the election, right-wing pundits on Fox News were confidently predicting a 300+ electoral vote victory for Romney even though independent analysts put the odds of an Obama win at 70-85 percent.

Obama won 332-206. As Lou Cypher said in the film Angelheart, “The future just isn’t what it used to be…”

In Darwinian terms, the inability to adapt to changing circumstances is a mortal failing. But since much of your base doesn’t believe in evolution, I suppose that doesn’t worry you. You might want to reconsider your indifference.

Regards,

Mike

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.