Angry White Men Are Not Going to Win in 2016

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

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.

Republicans Yet to Decide on Future Strategy

Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks in Hillsborough, March 2, 2011
Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks in Hillsborough, March 2, 2011 (Bob Jagendorf)

The contrasting visions offered by Republicans at a political conference this week suggest that their party has yet to come to terms with its recent election losses and decide on a strategy to win back the presidency in 2016.

Whereas New Jersey governor Chris Christie and outgoing Texas governor Rick Perry held up the popularity and success of their administrations as a possible blueprint for a national Republican renewal, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky implored attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington DC not to lose sight of their principles.

But Christie, who governs in a state Barack Obama won in 2012 by almost 18 percentage points, advocated a more pragmatic approach than Perry, who has governed in one of the country’s most reliably Republican state for twelve years, while Cruz’ and Paul’s ideological appeals had very different priorities.

“We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” Christie reminded the conference to which he had not been invited last year after appearing with President Obama when his state was recovering from a hurricane. Read more “Republicans Yet to Decide on Future Strategy”

Health, Security Disputes Reveal Republican Divide

Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks in Voorhees, May 10, 2011
Republican governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaks in Voorhees, May 10, 2011 (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Less than a year after Mitt Romney failed to win the American presidency for the Republican Party, the divide between the party’s centrist establishment and conservative purists has widened. But disputes over health-care and national-security policies do not necessarily break down along ideological lines. The one thing they have in common is that they pit Republicans who can win national elections against those who can’t. Read more “Health, Security Disputes Reveal Republican Divide”

Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is forming a political action committee to help elect moderate Republicans in the United States and giving himself a platform to influence the party’s direction ahead of the next presidential election.

Huntsman, also a former China ambassador, ran unsuccessfully for the Republicans’ presidential nomination in 2011 and has since repeatedly cautioned conservatives that they risk alienating the majority of voters whose views increasingly favor Democrats.

“The very survival of the party is based on our ability to really begin to define the real issues that we confront and to begin a dialogue of problem solving around them,” he told Politico. Read more “Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group”

Bush Warns Republicans Becoming “Too Reactionary”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush warned his Republican Party that it “cannot sustain a message of being against things. You have to be for things,” he told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview that aired on Wednesday.

Bush, who is considered a potential Republican presidential contender for 2016 and whose brother George W. was elected to the presidency with 44 percent support among Hispanic Americans in 2004, argued that the party’s defeat late last year shouldn’t be attributed to lackluster enthusiasm from racial minorities alone, even if only 27 percent of Latino voters backed Mitt Romney.

“It’s not just immigration,” said Bush. “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.” Read more “Bush Warns Republicans Becoming “Too Reactionary””

Regionalization Looms for Republican Party

View of San Antonio, Texas from the Tower of the Americas
View of San Antonio, Texas from the Tower of the Americas (Unsplash/Chandra Maharzan)

Since the crystallization of the modern two-party system, Republicans have been able to rely on solid majorities in the conservative Southern states of the United States. As the nation has become more politically polarized, however, this dependence on the South could start to undermine Republicans’ chances in elections elsewhere.

The regional divide on the American right was clear from last week’s budget vote, when 90 percent of Southern Republicans in the House of Representatives rejected a compromise with Democrats to avert the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that was set to go into effect automatically on January 1 unless Congress acted to prevent it.

The deal maintained low-income tax rates for the vast majority of Americans while raising them on the top income earners. President Barack Obama’s payroll tax cut was also allowed to expire while funding for unemployment insurance extended another year.

Conservative Republicans opposed the law because it raised taxes at all and did nothing to rein in federal spending, which they see as the real problem. Most Republican congressmen from other regions sided with Democrats in voting for it. Read more “Regionalization Looms for Republican Party”

Evidence Republicans Should Focus on Small Government

After Mitt Romney’s election defeat, I argued last week that the Republican Party should focus less on the social issues, where public opinion is turning against them, and more on limiting the role and size of government.

On The Daily Rundown on Wednesday, NBC News’ political director Chuck Todd backed up that assertion with exit poll data.

In most of the swing states that determined the outcome of the American presidential election, a majority of voters agrees that government should do less. The number was unusually high in Colorado, probably because the state also held a referendum on marijuana legalization on election day. Most Republicans opposed that measure although the libertarian wing of the party, which favors marijuana decriminalization, is gaining in numbers and in strength.

Voters who identify as either conservative or moderate far outnumber those who say to lean left in all of the swing states. In Iowa and Ohio, two states that Barack Obama won narrowly, even relatively more voters identify as conservative than nationwide.

With the exception of New Hampshire and Wisconsin, in all of the swing states more voters were also opposed to the president’s health reform law than in favor of it. Republicans argue that it poses an infringement on individual liberties because it forces Americans to buy health insurance.

Given these numbers, Todd was right to question whether Republicans “know how to message in these places.” The 2010 congressional elections showed that if Republicans run on small-government issues — restraining government spending, keeping taxes low, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses — they can win overwhelmingly. When they are associated with fringe positions on abortion and immigration, they lose critical constituencies which can tip an election in the Democrats’ favor even in areas that otherwise favor them.

Republicans Should Move to Middle and Shouldn’t

Mitt Romney lost Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States because the incumbent did particularly well among racial minorities, young voters and women — three groups that are likely to determine the outcome of future elections as well. For Republicans to appeal to them and remain competitive, they have to moderate their positions on some issues but stay the course on others.

If Tuesday’s election had been a referendum on President Barack Obama, there’s a good chance that Romney would have won. A slim majority of voters indicated that they trusted him more to handle the economy than the Democrat. Republicans won overwhelmingly in 2010’s congressional and gubernatorial elections because voters trusted them more to reduce the deficit and boost employment than the president’s party. But on cultural and social issues, public opinion increasingly favors Democrats over Republicans. Read more “Republicans Should Move to Middle and Shouldn’t”

Electoral Fight of the Future: Go West, Young Man!

Las Vegas Nevada
Skyline of Las Vegas, Nevada (Shutterstock/Andrey Bayda)

Often forgotten amid the larger, classic swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the American West is finding itself in a new position of prominence in the 2012 election and will likely retain that prominence as the country’s demographics shift in the Democrats’ favor over the coming years.

With the Midwest probably in President Barack Obama’s column and the entirety of the South probably in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s (with the possible exception of Virginia), Tuesday’s election may come down to three states in the Rocky Mountains that all went for Obama in 2008, George W. Bush in 2004 and split between Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

The region was uncompetitive for Democrats in 2000, with the exception of New Mexico which Al Gore won by a mere five hundred votes that year. In 2004, the region was one of John Kerry’s many “backup” paths to victory (besides Florida and Ohio) that didn’t pan out. In 2008’s election between Obama and John McCain, it didn’t make the difference — preelection polls weren’t close and the election was effectively decided well before results came in from the West.

What will happen this time around? Recent history might offer a clue as to what we can expect — history as recent as the 2010 congressional elections. Read more “Electoral Fight of the Future: Go West, Young Man!”