The Lies Parties Tell Themselves

It’s easier to blame a candidate than accept that most voters don’t agree with your policies.

Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26
Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26 (Gage Skidmore)

It’s hard to lose an election. Especially for activists and politicians who’ve poured their heart and soul into a campaign.

More so in a two-party democracy like the United Kingdom or the United States where losing really means losing and there’s virtually no chance of ending up in a coalition government.

To cope with the loss, politicos often look for others to blame.

They blame voters who stupidly supported a party that doesn’t really look after their interests. They blame a biased media or the insidious tactics of their opponents.

Sometimes one or all of the above are true. But most of the time, candidates and political parties lose an election because they fell short in a way. Serious parties live up to their failures and set out to do better next time.

Out of touch

Republicans in the United States, for example, investigated their 2012 presidential election loss against Barack Obama and recognized that their man, Mitt Romney, was seen as out of touch: the candidate of the “1 percent” and associated with the most reactionary elements in his party.

Similarly, Britain’s Ed Miliband lost the election in May for Labour to David Cameron’s Conservatives because he was seen as in denial about the country’s budget woes and beholden to his party’s leftist fringe.

Instead of accepting what every poll and independent expert told them, though — which is that Labour failed to appeal to Middle England — the party lurched further to the left and elected a Marxist and peacenik, Jeremy Corbyn, as its leader, all but guaranteeing another Conservative triumph in 2020.

Many Republicans wish to make the same mistake. Rather than speak to the concerns of moderate and middle-income voters in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, they are rehearsing the economic policies of the 1980s and the culture wars of the 1990s.

Middle America doesn’t care about either anymore.

As this website has argued, their concerns are job security, the absence of real wage growth, being able to send their kids to college and pay for the family’s health insurance. Tax cuts for their bosses or stopping the gay couple down the street from marrying is not exactly their priority.

If only

The argument that Republicans need to move further to the right nevertheless endures. Many believe that the only reason they’ve been losing elections is that supposedly moderate candidates, like Romney, failed to advance Republican principles.

They are encouraged in this delusion by the likes of Ted Cruz, a far-right senator and presidential candidate, who argues, “If we nominate Democrat-lite, we will lose again.”

It isn’t difficult to understand why conservatives want to believe him. Like Labourites in the United Kingdom who insist that Miliband would have won the election if only he hadn’t backed down from his hard-left positions, it is a way for Republicans to avoid serious introspection and convince themselves that their views are not, in fact, outdated.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two of Cruz’ opponents in the party’s presidential nominating contest, know better. They are talking about making education better and affordable; about making life a little easier for those millions of Americans who own a small business. But they are having a hard time convincing the party faithful that the road to victory runs through the middle, not the right.