An outspoken columnist named Samuel Francis got himself fired from the Washington Times in the 1990s for voicing views on slavery, Christianity and Bolshevism that his editor considered intolerably radical. I mention him here, not in the context of those remarks but by way of recalling his oft-repeated moniker for the Republican Party. Francis called the GOP “The Stupid Party” because Republicans often did things that cost them elections they should have won. I am half-inclined to revive his term on account of the behavior of some GOP candidates and voters during the recent election.
At least two good Republican candidates for the U. S. Senate destroyed their election prospects by getting into stupid discussions about “rape” in front of reporters. There is simply no way to come out of that without being damaged in today’s media climate. On the voter side, I have seen reports that Governor Romney received 2 million fewer votes than did Senator John McCain in 2008. If this is so, it means that a goodly segment of the GOP electorate basically threw the election by not showing up.
Whatever Democrat voters’ failings might be – and I think they are many – one is bound to say that party-disloyalty is not one of them. Despite a riotously failed first term, gigantic federal deficits, ruinous unemployment, a truly awful economic “recovery,” and a chaotic foreign policy, Mr. Obama’s acolytes have hung with him through thick and thin – mostly the latter. They proved their loyalty by coming out to vote for him in sufficient numbers to put him over the top in all of the “swing” states that he needed for re-election.
With the addition of those missing 2 million voters – plus many others who should have been thronging the polls to support him – Mr. Romney could have carried enough states to win the election. Surely he had a right to expect at least the same support that Mr. McCain received. But he did not get it. Why he didn’t is where we enter the dark underworld of the Stupid Party. It’s worth a look.
Republican voters have a history of sitting on their hands when their party’s nominee for the presidency turns out not to be their ideal guy. The primary system of choosing a candidate almost guarantees that outcome. With several candidates entered, many of the party’s voters will probably find their favorite eliminated at some point in the race.
This very thing happened in 2012, of course, as the original field of seven candidates was gradually winnowed down to Mr. Romney, after a particularly sharp and divisive campaign in which much mud was flung. There was speculation at the time that Mr. Romney might end up so crippled by the wounds inflicted on him by the other Republican candidates that he could not win the general election. In some measure, that prediction probably came true.
Then came the long general election campaign against Barack Hussein Obama, running for the second term that he earlier said he wouldn’t seek if the economy wasn’t fixed. He had no positive record or second-term agenda to run on, so his entire campaign strategy consisted of smearing Mr. Romney and trying to scare voters away from him with exaggeration, disinformation, and outright lies. This brought his base out to the polls – in nothing like his vote-totals of 2008, when he was the emergent messiah, but just enough to get him beyond 270 electoral votes.
Running on an economy this poor, President Obama should have been routed by a strong Republican vote for Governor Romney. But that vote did not materialize, despite the fervent hopes of GOP partisans that a silent army of Republican voters was waiting, under the radar, ready to flood the polls. It was a vain hope. Mr. Romney went down to a rather narrow defeat in an election that should have been as near to a sure thing as one can find in politics.
Where does this leave the GOP? Is Mr. Obama simply the greatest political genius of his generation? Are Republicans snake-bitten? Or are they just hopelessly fumble-fingered about winning critical elections that are hanging there like ripe fruit for the plucking?
Mr. Obama is a smart, nimble politician, all right. No question about it. He did a masterful job of repeating (and repeating and repeating!) the tale about George W. Bush bequeathing him the worst economic mess in the history of the world. Bill Clinton seconded the motion, saying that even he couldn’t have fixed it in four years. (Well, that settles it!)
The One said he needed more time because he hadn’t realized how bad things really were when he took office. He claimed that Mr. Bush’s low taxes had caused the bank crash of 2008 and the ensuing economic contraction. And he blamed Republicans for blocking his righteous attempts to make “the rich” pay their “fair share,” while delicately failing to mention that during two full years of a two-house Democrat majority he could have obtained any legislation he desired. Mysteriously, though, he failed to do so. (BTW – did he mention that this was all G. W. Bush’s fault?)
All of this rubbish produced barely a peep from Republicans and Mr. Romney to correct the record. And what they did say evidently made little impression. Exit polls confirm that significant numbers of Mr. Obama’s voters still believe that the stuck-in-the-mud economy is mostly Mr. Bush’s fault.
This is so reminiscent of the Democrats’ enduring tale that Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression, and FDR ended it. Well into my lifetime – certainly into the late 1950s – this was the conventional wisdom. Diehard Dems may believe it still, but historians now largely agree that while Hoover’s policies deepened the post-crash recession, it was Roosevelt’s spending, taxing and regulations that kept unemployment near to 20% all through the 1930s, until preparations for war finally propelled us into a real recovery around 1940.
In 1992, Bill Clinton rode a post-war downturn and a tale about the “worst economy since the Great Depression” to a counter-intuitive win over George H. W. Bush. The president did not contest the “worst economy” story – disbelieving that anyone could accept so specious a claim. He evidently did not comprehend that significant numbers of voters, who wouldn’t have known the Great Depression from the Great Awakening, would swallow this whopper. Failing to educate them was a core reason for his defeat.
Mr. Bush later admitted that he considered the worst-economy claim too silly to answer. If that election taught us anything, it was that no claim, charge or accusation should ever be ignored or considered “too silly” to contest. The derivative lesson is that one should never assume that voters are educated about something as complicated as the economy or as remote as history.
Mr. Romney lost – at least in part – because he forgot these important lessons, learned at such dear cost by Mr. Bush. He evidently believed that most voters shared his level of understanding about taxes, spending, and how a free-market economy actually works. Clearly they did not, but Mr. Romney did not work significantly to increase comprehension about these matters. This ended up costing him dearly.
The “history thing” (as President Bush-41 might have said) was a related failure of Mr. Romney’s campaign. He did not educate voters sufficiently on what really caused the bank crashes and economic contraction of 2008, not to mention what caused (and prolonged) the Great Depression. Younger voters, especially, have no idea about any of those things. This is why they accepted Mr. Obama’s tall tales so readily. Maybe Mr. Romney thought the public schools were educating students about these matters. Perhaps they do in Massachusetts. Elsewhere, not so much.
The 2012 campaign evokes a vignette from the Foyle’s War dramatic series, seen lately on PBS-TV. Mr. Foyle is a Police Chief Inspector in WWII England who solves crimes often related to the war. On one occasion, he was discussing the German character with an army officer who interrogates German soldiers and airmen that have been captured. The officer believes “kindness” is the best approach, but Mr. Foyle suggests that the enemy is different from well-bred Englishmen schooled in the joys of fair play.
To illustrate, he relates a personal experience from before the war when he traveled to Germany with a police-force soccer team to play a match against a German police-team. He recalled how the Germans wined and dined them – singing and drinking through the night, finally getting to bed around dawn. The next day, they staggered onto the pitch, much hung-over, where they met eleven entirely different, clear-eyed men who hadn’t touched a drop and were in bed before 10 PM.
“We got a complete stuffing,” said Mr. Foyle, who went on to say that the Germans are splendid folk, but they play by a different set of rules. “We’d better find out what those rules are, or we’re going to lose this war,” he added.
In some approximation, that advice can also apply to the Republican Party. Mr. Romney is a fine, capable man who probably would have made a good president. But I don’t think he realized that the Democrats were playing by an entirely different set of rules. (Hint: they were certainly not the Marquis of Queensbury rules for gentlemanly pugilism.) Republicans had better find out what those rules are, or they won’t win another election any time soon. The public can yearn all they want for more "civil" politics, but Democrats play the game to win. After they win, they are all for civility - on their terms. As Mr. Dooley famously observed, "Politics ain't beanbag."