Status Quo Ante
Like when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, we now know what happens when a candidate so weak anybody can beat him meets a candidate so weak he cannot beat anybody. Americans vote for the status quo. $6 billion later, Americans voted for the status quo. Karl Rove, call your donors.
Republicans will keep the House. Democrats will keep the Senate. Obama will keep the White House.
It is what it is. The next two years are going to be some of the most fun and exciting years within the modern American conservative movement.
We know in American politics that nothing is permanent. The question we are going to have to assess is whether Barack Obama’s coalition is a Democratic coalition or a Barack Obama coalition. My personal opinion is that Barack Obama built a winning coalition for Barack Obama and it may not translate to a long term Democratic coalition. Just ask Minority Leader Pelosi and that now endangered creature known as the Democratic governor.
As the jockeying for 2016 begins soon (and it will begin very soon) we will find out.
The Obama campaign ran a very good campaign. The Republicans did not. There was no fraud. There was no stealing the election. There was just a really good ground game from Barack Obama and a lot of smoke and mirrors from Team Romney and outside charlatans, many of whom will now go work for Republican Super PACs making six figure salaries, further draining the pockets of rich Republicans when not on television explaining how awesome and expert they are. Whether you can bring yourself to say it or not, like it or not, Barack Obama is, today, your president.
There will be a lot of blame to go around, but, if Republicans are honest, they’ll have to concede that the Romney campaign ran a bad campaign and only almost won because the President had a bad debate. Romney could not even win his home state, his second home state, or his vacation home state.
Neither side bothered to put forward a serious agenda that stood for much of anything. Barack Obama ran on beating up Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney ran on running away from himself. He stood for nothing and everything at the same time. At least Barack Obama campaigned on the consistent message of hating Mitt Romney.
Compare Romney to Scott Walker. Scott Walker took on the unions in Wisconsin and won big. Romney barely took on Barack Obama. He drew few lines in the sand, made those fungible, and did not stand on many principles. Americans wanted to assess a contrast between the candidates and got blurred lines instead. They went with the politician they knew instead of the one who was different depending on the election season, constituency, and time of day.
At the same time, Romney made a conscious decision to blow off Hispanic voters. Yes conservatives, we must account for this. The Romney campaign to the Hispanic community was atrocious and, frankly, the fastest growing demographic in America isn’t going to vote for a party that sounds like that party hates brown people. That does not mean the GOP must offer up amnesty. It does mean that a group that is a natural fit for the GOP on social issues, must in someway be made to feel comfortable with the GOP.
One more thing before moving on to my larger point, both parties should henceforth agree to never, ever nominate for president anyone from Massachusetts.
As for you conservatives who are convinced today that suddenly we are a socialist nation, sober up and pay attention: the next two years are going to be some of the most impactful and fun years in the conservative movement. Republicans who, overnight, were screaming about the country headed toward socialism are, if we are honest, not yet deprogrammed from defending Mitt Romney. The Romney campaign, truth be told, has been pathetic at defining a real, right-of-center alternative to Barack Obama. It’s hard to say Americans embraced, overnight, socialism, when Americans delivered back the status quo — including the “crazy” tea partiers in the House of Representatives — rejecting only Mitt Romney’s brand of “I’m going to do what the President is doing, but with more tickle.”
The quicker you accept he ran a crappy campaign of tofu ideas the better off you will be.
Over the past two years the GOP has atrophied into a party of intellectual lightweights in the House and Senate. They have run on “saving the free market”, but actively collaborated with the Democrats to drive-up the national debt to more than $16 trillion. Major conservative groups on the outside have, instead of reinforcing conservatism, continued their Bush era habit of reinforcing the party line.
Just go back to the primary and look at the major conservative influencers who went quickly to Mitt Romney before the field had even fully shaped up. He was the Republican, not the conservative. Even worse, look at the rest of the GOP field. Romney, the man so weak anybody could beat him, beat the rest of the field. That speaks volumes about the rest of the field.
Once in the arena for president, Romney failed to define and articulate a conservative foreign policy beyond a muddling of the Bush policy. He failed to truly advocate any reforms of the fiscal house, even muzzling Paul Ryan. And the party went right along with it. Back in November of 1976, columnist George Will wrote this:
If nature is not as bountiful, or men’s capacities as equal, as once was assumed, then equality must be forced on men. That is a paralyzing thought for liberals, whose philosophy derives its name from the word liberty.
Conservatives are comparably disarrayed. True conservatives distrust and try to modulate social forces that work against the conservation of traditional values. But for a century, the dominant conservatism has uncritically worshiped the most transforming force, the dynamism of the American economy. No coherent conservatism can be based solely on commercialism, but this conservatism has been consistently ardent only about economic growth, and hence about economies of scale, and social mobility. These take a severe toll against small towns, small enterprises, family farms, local governments, craftsmanship, environmental values, a sense of community, and other aspects of humane living.
Conservatism often has been inarticulate about what to conserve, other than “free enterprise,” which is institutionalized restlessness, an engine of perpetual change. But to govern is to choose one social outcome over others; to impose a collective will on processes of change. Conservatism that does not extend beyond reverence for enterprise is unphilosophic, has little to do with government and conserves little.
It rings true today with where the GOP finds itself — intellectually bereft of actual conservatism, replaced instead by pretty faces, spray on tans, and platitude. When it actually advocates sound, conservative policies, it wins. It won in Michigan last night on union issues. It won in Wisconsin. Hell, we kept our 2010 tea party gains that were won on reining in government.
Barack Obama won because his campaign team ran a tremendous ass kicking ground game while the Romney campaign clearly ran smoke and mirrors so convincingly inside the echo chamber of the GOP as to fool a lot of great Republican pundits and Dick Morris.
But Barack Obama also won because the public knew him and stacked him up to a nothing burger on the other side. That nothing burger was not, per se, Mitt Romney, but the GOP as a whole. Consider, if you will, the GOP’s Senate nominees, many, but not all, of whom were backed by the party establishment.
Tommy Thompson, Heather Wilson, Connie Mack, Pete Hoekstra, Linda McMahon, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock were not exactly founts of rhetorical genius or articulate mouthpieces for conservatism in the way Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz have been.
Add to them Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and the like and the GOP has had very few skilled salesmen for conservative ideas and values. The party then put its fate in the hands of a moderate from Massachusetts who, just trust the GOP, was really more conservative than he let on.
In the next two years, conservatives are going to have some fun fights within the GOP to move beyond a cliched defense of free markets into really articulating a vision for defending free markets and what it means. At the same time, it will be forced to deal rationally and charitably with the issue of immigration. And it will have an opportunity to drive out those who now think the time is right to give up on fiscal conservatism or social conservatism. Primary season 2014 should be spectacular.
Compromise? Like hell. We’re going to keep fighting. And we will find someone who actually doesn’t speak conservatism like he learned it from Rosetta Stone last week. For those of you on the left licking your chops thinking this spells doom — the nation just spent $6 billion for the status quo. I’ll take my chances.
The nation did not drift left. It was just unpersuaded Mitt Romney would actually take us right and sure as hell did not know what it would get even if it went with Romney. The next two years will set the vision of a more populist oriented conservatism of which I am excited to play a part. And I think, when the Democrats finally realize the new Democratic coalition is only a Barack Obama coalition, conservatives and the GOP will be ready.