Seeing broad-based trouble in the polls, conservative leaders and pundits have already begun conducting “pre-mortum” autopsies of a campaign that still has six weeks to run. Most, like Peggy Noonan and George Will, are taking the easy way out, preferring to focus on the perceived failings of Mitt Romney as a candidate and on the failings of his political team, which they fear is in the process of squandering a historic opportunity.
But Mitt Romney, for all his faults, is not the problem. His campaign team is not the problem. To the contrary, Romney was the only plausible presidential candidate that his party produced this cycle. Herman Cain’s hilarious claims notwithstanding, Republicans would be losing by 15 or 20 percentage points today if they had nominated any other candidate in the field.
The problem is not the salesman. The problem is the product that he is attempting to peddle.
Remember, if they lose again this year, the Republican presidential candidate will have won a plurality of votes just once in the last six cycles, dating all the way back to 1992. That sole victory was itself an historic anomaly, with George W. Bush riding the patriotic post-9/11 wave to a very narrow two-point margin over John Kerry in 2004. The market is trying to tell them something.
I’ve written this before, and I’ll write it again and again:
This country needs a Republican Party that does not treat words such as “moderate” and “compromise” as moral abomination. We need a more rational Republican Party. We need a Republican Party that at least attempts to reach Americans of every race, religion and economic circumstance. Most important, we need a Republican Party capable of offering the American people a vision that matches up against reality and that does not require supporters and candidates to pretend to believe things that are not and never were true.
Conversely, we do not need a Republican Party that explains its losses as a failure to adhere to an increasingly cramped, even claustrophobic ideology.
Some figures on the right understand that as well if not better than those of us on the outside. I’ve already lauded a recent piece in Politico by Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, regarding Romney’s “47 percent” disaster. If you haven’t read it, do so.
Now let me add two other pieces to your reading list. The first is by Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter, in The Washington Post. Here’s a small taste:
Yet a Republican ideology pitting the “makers” against the “takers” offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.
Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic, offers an analysis that is similar but more complex and fundamental. It is provocative not in the Glenn Beck sort of way, drawing attention with the rhetorical equivalent of circus clowns and acrobats, but provocative because he gets at the heart of things.
“It scarcely matters if the GOP starts tilting three more degrees toward social conservatism, or fiscal conservatism, or libertarianism, or centrism, if that agenda is shaped and pursued by a coalition incapable of adjudicating arguments on their merits, or separating fact from fantasy, or maintaining the most basic ethical standards.
This truth was evident during the GOP primary, where voters were presented with unacceptable candidates as diverse as the right itself. So broken are the information outlets (that) Tea Partiers in particular use to assess reality that for months they took Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich seriously as potential or actual presidential contenders. They had every opportunity to see the respective character flaws of these figures; they were mostly self-evident, and persuasively described in great detail by the political press. Ah, but that’s the liberal media talking. With that phrase, any huckster can short-circuit the Tea Party reality-assessing apparatus for months. And while movement conservatism has failed for decades to shrink government, it has succeeded spectacularly in creating jobs for hucksters in the private sector.”
The Republican Party prides itself as the party of business. It preaches the importance of competition in culling the winners from the losers. However, it now finds itself in the position of a major brand name that year after year is losing market share to its competitors. Its salesmen out in the field — at least in regions outside the South — are having trouble making their numbers, and while the initial response back at headquarters may be to try to get better salesmen, at some point the repeated failure of that response must begin to provoke more difficult questions about the product itself.
Seriously, if you cannot beat the man whom many of you believe is the worst president in history, in an election-year economy that may be the worst since FDR, the market MAY be trying to tell you something.
– Jay Bookman