Over the last few weeks, pundits and politicians have taken to the airwaves to offer hundreds of explanations for the Republican losses on November 6th. Some insist it was the Hispanic vote, others say it was the Republican turnout operation, the messaging, or the candidate at the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney. Each person gives you their numbers and claims if their post-hawk strategy was followed, things may have turned out differently.
As a politics buff, I engage in this back-and-forth just as much as everyone else. Post-election assessments are important, and I don’t want to discount them. But, when your side loses, these evaluations are overwhelmingly negative and ignore any progress that has been made.
The 2008 election was a disaster for Republicans. Gains made by the Democrats in 2006 in the House and Senate were widened. The Democrats enjoyed a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and with Barack Obama in the White House, Republicans were scrambling.
This election was not even close to as bad as 2008 for Republicans. We still control the House, and the presidential ticket made important gains in all the swing states. While the gains were not enough to win, we maintained and expanded the 2008 levels of support for the Republican ticket. Mitt Romney won more votes than John McCain, despite a decrease in turnout. Romney won more votes than President George W. Bush in his 2004 reelection win in many of the swing states. These numerical gains cannot be discounted. Democrats managed to counter Republican gains by turning out more Hispanic and African-American voters in the swing states than in even 2008. Nobody predicted this would happen, and it speaks volumes about the need for Republicans to compete in these communities.
Where Republicans made real progress, thanks to Romney and Paul Ryan, was in advancing a reform conservative agenda for the country. Entitlement reform took center stage. Romney, Ryan, and Republican candidates down the ballot laid out a coherent plan to reform Medicare using a more market-based approach, without losing the votes of seniors. A greater percentage of seniors in Florida voted for the Republican ticket this election than in 2008. Scare tactics from the other side failed to convince seniors of the preposterous lie that Republicans are trying to take away Medicare for good.
This is significant for two reasons. First, it shows the power of establishing and sticking to a consistent message. The Romney campaign was often criticized for not being bold enough on the issues. I think the Medicare fight proves that this was not entirely true. While the economic and tax arguments could have had more force and substance, the Medicare plan was clear and direct. And, Republicans won on this issue by not losing senior votes.
While Obama did the GOP a favor by cutting over $700 million from Medicare as part of the Affordable Care Act, the idea of Republicans “winning” a reform debate on Medicare was unimaginable to political strategists and politicians alike since the 1980’s. Now, we’ve done that.
In the next couple of years, the Republican Party needs to continue to build, not rebuild. Mitt Romney was a step forward for the party, and probably would have made an excellent conservative president. The time for that has passed.
The GOP has a solid bench of individuals who must step up to the task and run in 2016. Many people complained about the lack of many strong candidates in 2012, making Governor Romney the clear favorite from the beginning. Next election, we need a primary that is not about minor points of disagreement, but about the big stuff. We need a candidate who can articulate a conservative vision that appeals to all of America. Without an incumbent running, the GOP will be in a far different position to start with in 2016 than in 2008. We can’t squander that opportunity.
But, that is four years from now. Right now, the Republican Party should start the process of tailoring its message, and find qualified conservative candidates to run in the 2014 Senate races. This whole debate over Grover Norquist’s Tax Pledge is an absurd media trap to put Republicans in positions of getting challenged from the right in a primary. This will make it easier for incumbent Democratic candidates in the competitive races to start their general election campaigns earlier. Republicans should ignore questions about the Pledge, and focus on fixing our fiscal mess in Washington. Raising taxes just gives more opportunity for the government to expand, and unless the Democrats agree to a serious reworking of our federal budget, there is really no need for Republicans to engage with the media about breaking the tax pledge. We still control the House, which puts Republicans in the position of vetoing any deal that does not seriously curb spending.
President Obama, bring bipartisanship back to Washington and create a deficit deal all parties can be happy with. Remember hope and change? Well, let’s get on with it.