Conservatives are divided, acrimoniously so, over three schools of explaining The Defeat.
1. The Near Fatalists. Some are terrified that we are witnessing the final establishment of the long-feared dependency majority, where half the country is not paying federal income taxes and are on the receiving end of government largess and expect “them” to pay their fair share to pay for it;
2. The Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve What If-ers. The disappointed tacticians believe that should/would/could Romney have run differently (e.g., hit harder on Benghazi, mixed it up in the second and third debates, organized a Contract with America as a broad-based conservative crusade, etc.) he could have gotten the necessary 1 to 2 million extra votes in the swing states. Similarly, had the storm not arisen, or had Christie just been civil rather than going gaga over Obama/Springsteen, Romney’s momentum would not have been lost the last week;
3. The Big Tenters. The strategic centrists will now call for compromising on social issues, abortion, illegal immigration, fiscal policies, etc., to widen the tent in order to bring in young women, blacks, Latinos, gays, etc. and build “a new conservative majority.”
Not all these three positions, of course, are mutually exclusive. But I am not convinced by explanation (2): Romney was a good, and good enough, candidate to win. None of the other primary candidates would have done as well, and would have been far more easily Axelrodded. An especially well-informed Romney did well in the debates and spoke better each week. He raised lots of money, and he seemed presidential in comparison with a shrinking, Big Bird Obama. Similarly, while there were lots of Benghazi, Hurricane Sandy, and Chris Christie what-if moments that might have been better massaged, so were there for Obama as well: He blew the first debate; he needlessly lost his cool with stupid comments like bulls**tter, “revenge,” “you didn’t build that business,” etc. Biden was an unhinged disaster on the campaign trail. All these foul-ups would have been cited as what-ifs had Obama gotten 2 million votes less in key places and lost.
The problem with diagnosis (3) is that there were plenty of good minority kingpins in the party –Condoleezza Rice, Marco Rubio, and an entire new generation of Hispanic and Asian governors and senators. Allen West lost despite being black and because he was conservative. An independent, successful Michele Bachman or Sarah Palin is hated more than stay-at-home liberal housewives. Race matters, but not without ideology. For now, voting conservative is considered “acting white” or “docile,” and minorities and young women will only be considered legitimate when they vote for big government, which for many brings logical dividends.
Moreover, if Republicans would deal on illegal immigration, and propose paths to citizenship for the law-abiding who were brought here as children, the Latino leadership would still not, in turn, allow deportation for the felons and those not working and entirely on public assistance, or agree to close the border with finishing the fence, fining employers, and cross-checking federal documents. And why should they? A forever-blue California is their model, and many activists think it soon can be replicated in the American Southwest with sufficient cycles of open borders and cyclical euphemistic amnesties. As far as young unattached women, or the youth vote in general, the argument was made to them on economic terms (e.g., you are unemployed or underemployed and crushed by student loans in an ossified economy), and it went largely nowhere. Moreover, what does one do with a lily-white and well-off place like Washington, or the Connecticut suburbs, or the California coast, where blue counties of upscale yuppie married couples went overwhelmingly for Obama?
Instead, I fear exegesis (1) is, with each year, more telling. We have never quite had the present perfect storm of nearly half not paying federal income taxes, nearly 50 million on food stamps, and almost half the population on some sort of federal largess — and a sophistic elite that promotes it and at the same time finds ways to be exempt from its social and cultural consequences. For an Obama, Biden, Kerry, Pelosi, or Feinstein, the psychological cost for living like 18th-century French royalty is the promotion of the welfare state for millions of others who for now will be kept far away, in places like Bakersfield or Mendota.
The solution, I fear, may be near-insolvency along the Wisconsin model, and self-correction after some dark Greek-like years, or, in contrast, in extremis blue politicians having to deal with the consequences of their own policies. In the manner that an Obama can vastly expand drones and renditions without a whimper of liberal angst, so too someone like him will have to deal with bounced Medicare reimbursements or free cell phones that can’t be replaced when they break, or long lines in federal health clinics emptied of doctors who have gone elsewhere. The laws of physics ultimately prevail.
In Michigan in September I had a talk with a retired auto worker who did not care that the bailout cost $25 billion, was not sustainable, shorted the legal first-in-line creditors, shorted politically incorrect managerial pensioners, or ensured the Volt debacle. He simply said to me, “Obama saved my son’s job and I don’t care about much else.” That’s the rub in the short term that seems to the norm in at least the past and future few years. It means that the Republicans, without a once-in-a-lifetime Reagan-like perfect candidate — or some sort of national crisis in the manner that Iran once derailed Jimmy Carter, or Ross Perot once caused incumbent George H. W. Bush to implode — can’t quite get that extra 2 to 3 percentage points they need on the national scene to succeed.