Angry White Men Are Not Going to Win in 2016

Republicans need to stop being fanatical about principles many Americans actually share.

Republican governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Republicans are not going to win in 2016 if they continue to insist that votes from one racial constituency must necessarily come at the expense of another and that any compromise is a betrayal of what they stand for.

Yet that is exactly what some in the conservative movement propose to do.

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, probably articulated the view of many rightwingers when he spoke out against a potential candidacy for former Florida governor Jeb Bush on Wednesday.

Bush, the brother and son of former presidents, is seen as a credible contender in part because he could appeal to more Hispanic voters than Romney did in 2012. When he ran for the governorship of Florida in 2002, Bush won 80 percent of the Cuban vote and a majority of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote.

According to Olson, winning more votes from Hispanics is not enough to win the election.

As recounted by The National Interest‘s Akhilesh Pillalamarri, he said during a panel discussion hosted by the Center for The National Interest that America’s Hispanic population is highly concentrated in a few states, including California and New York, that are solidly Democrat. “In 2012, over two-thirds of eligible Hispanic voters lived in what were considered non-battleground states.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Olsen argued that Romney didn’t lose the election because he only won 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Rather, he lost because he failed to appeal to working-class voters in the Midwestern United States.

Obama beat Romney in only one of the four qualities voters desired in a president: the question of whether the candidate “cares about people like me.” On this front, Romney lost to Obama by a whopping margin, with only 18 percent of voters believing this of Romney, compared to 81 percent for Obama.

Democrats certainly did much to portray Romney as an uncaring plutocrat. By his own admission, Romney didn’t care to win the support of the 47 percent of Americans who were supposedly dependent on government. But attributing the 2012 defeat entirely to Romney’s “unlikability” would be unfair — and a mistake.

It takes three elections to recover

Daniel Berman, a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, argues at his blog, The Restless Realist, that parties typically go through a three-elections recovery. The first defeat is written up to bad luck.

We saw this rationalization among Labour supporters in 1979, Tory ones in 1997, Democrats in 1980 and Republicans since 2008.

In hindsight, Margaret Thatcher clearly won the 1979 election because British voters had become convinced the country needed a break from the postwar consensus on industrial and welfare policy. American voters made a similar choice a year later when they elected Ronald Reagan. Britain’s Labour Party and the Democrats in the United States didn’t face up to the fact that national opinion had changed until Tony Blair and Bill Clinton persuaded them to pursue a “Third Way” in the 1990s.

The second defeat is a different matter and is usually written up to the candidates, either the unusual strength of the incumbent or the flawed nature of their opponent.

Labour’s Michael Foot surely was a flawed candidate, as was Walter Mondale. But they didn’t just lose because Thatcher and Reagan were strong such candidates in 1984. Nor did Romney lose because Barack Obama was such a strong candidate. He wasn’t. They lost because they represented something the majority of voters had already rejected.

In Romney’s case, it was a conservative movement that has traded “ends-based efficiency” for a “near-religious devotion to moral principle.”

Taxes are too high not because of even the ideologically-informed Laffer Curve but because they are inherently confiscatory and morally wrong. Government redistribution is inherently immoral while unions are forces of evil not because they are sometimes corrupt or prone to causing inefficiency but because they inhibit the holy market and limit the freedom of the owners who “built” their companies.

In this environment, primary elections turn into “inquisitions” from which a relatively moderate conservative like Romney could only emerged bruised and discredited.

Republican fanaticism scares away sympathetic voters

It’s not that middle America doesn’t share many Republican positions.

In the last presidential election, a majority of voters in all of the swing states that determined its outcome agreed — according to exit polls — that the federal government should do less. Voters who identified as either conservative or moderate far outnumbered those who said they leaned left in the seven states where neither the Democrats nor the Republicans had a solid majority. More voters in Iowa and Ohio identified as conservatives than nationwide yet both states reelected Barack Obama.

Except in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, swing voters were also more likely to oppose the president’s health reforms than support them.

2012 American presidential election map, showing support for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, per state.

According to Berman, Republicans aren’t losing national elections because of their principles. They are losing because they are so zealous about them.

Olsen argued on Wednesday that Republicans would do better to nominate the union-busting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker than Bush because of his “ability to perform well in the Midwest.”

Why the white working class in Midwestern states that haven’t supported Republican presidential candidates since 1988 should suddenly back unrestrained capitalism, globalization and public sector layoffs when they have traditionally been more in favor of regulation, protectionism and a big state is unclear.

They are not the ones most put off by Republicans’ inability to compromise anyway. It is the better-educated, better-off, urban or suburban middle class of whatever race in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia that is voting against their interest in lower taxes and less government because they think reactionaries like Walker — and like Texas firebrand Ted Cruz; like “homosexuality is a choice” Ben Carson; like “legitimate rape” Todd Akin — are just repugnant characters.

Jeb Bush, of all people, recognized as much two years ago when he told NBC News that Romney had lost the election not because many Latinos were appalled when he urged illegal aliens to “self-deport.” Bush said, “It’s not just immigration.”

It’s our party, the party that has been, I think, the source of many of the important reforms grounded in conservative principles over the last generation of time, has become way too reactionary. Way too against whatever someone’s for.

Demographics aren’t destiny

Demographics are a factor. A growing Hispanic population has made the former swing state New Mexico almost safe for Democrats. Colorado, Florida and perhaps ultimately even Republican bastions such as Arizona and Texas could become battleground states as their older, white voters die and Hispanics grow in number — and start participating in elections more.

But demographics aren’t destiny. Why shouldn’t increasingly affluent, middle-class Catholics vote Republican just because they or their parents or even their grandparents were born south of the border?

Bush understands that Hispanics — like most Americans — aren’t as obsessed about immigration and low-tax orthodoxy as conservative activists are. What worries them more is that they “no longer see a clear path to rise above their challenges,” Bush said in Detroit last month.

It’s very hard for people to go from the bottom rungs of the economy to the top or even the middle. This should alarm you. It has alarmed me.

Bush doesn’t deviate from the party line when he says this is caused by a welfare system that “traps people in perpetual dependence” and a “progressive and liberal mindset” that sees “a Washington DC solution” for every problem. He’s just not a fanatic about it.

Many reasonable Americans would agree. And after eight years of ineffectual leadership from a Democrat, they might just be persuaded to vote a Republican back into the White House — provided the zealots don’t scare them away.

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