COLUMN: What they learned
The headline was inevitable: “What went wrong?”
Republicans plan to commence focus groups and voter-based polls to discover the mystery behind their loss. Having sat staring into space the past couple of days, they now want to get to the bottom of it.
The bubble in which most politicians and their staffs live is not just a metaphor, apparently. The answer has been so obvious for so long and in so many ways, one has to wonder what these people read in their spare time? Old issues of Boys’ Life?
If nothing else, one only had to look at the two political conventions. One was colorful, vibrant, excited and happy. The other was pale, moribund, staid and restrained. If the latter sounds like something in the final stages of life, you’re not far off.
A couple of weeks before the election, I spoke to an audience of about 450 in Florida, the demographics of which were about 80 percent male, 90 percent Republican and, oh, about 99.9 percent white.
What could be more fun than that!
Alas, the bulk of my talk was criticism of the Republican Party. If Mitt Romney loses, I told them, it will be largely the fault of the party. As I spelled out the details, nary a creature was stirring. It was painfully quiet. Even my best jokes fell flat. Hey, guys, that was funny!
It was hard to tell whether they resented the messenger or whether they were trying to digest the unpalatable truth. Truth is often painful and the days following President Obama’s re-election have been a salted slugfest. Amid the writhing, I rest my case.
Some Republicans stubbornly insist, of course, that the problem was that Romney wasn’t conservative enough. Really? In his heart, this may be true. I never believed Romney was passionate about social issues. He embraced them because he had to, but had no intention of pursuing a socially conservative agenda.
But the real problem is the Republican Party, which would not be recognizable to its patron saint, Ronald Reagan. The party doesn’t need a poll or a focus group. It needs a mirror.
The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him and the self-righteous tried to bring him down.
The nitwits are well-enough known at this point – those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.
Equally damaging were the primary leeches who embarrassed the party and wouldn’t leave the stage. Nine-nine-nine, we’re talking about you, Herman Cain. And Gov. Oops? You, too. And then there were Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, who never had a real shot at the nomination and certainly could never win a national election, yet they refused to surrender to the certain nominee.
Did they have a right to persist in their own fantasies? Sure. But not if they were serious about getting a Republican in the White House. Thus, for months and months, Romney had to spend his energy and, importantly, his money to prevail in the primaries against opponents who had no chance and who ultimately hurt him. During that same precious time, Obama’s campaign was busy pinpointing specific voters, practically learning the names of their dogs, and buying ads in niche markets.
More to the point, the GOP seems willfully clueless. There’s a reason there are so few minorities in the party. There’s a reason women scrambled to the other side. There’s a reason Hispanics, including even Cuban-Americans this time, went for Obama.
The way forward is about love, not war, baby. Women’s reproductive rights need to come off the table. As Haley Barbour suggested long ago, agree to disagree.
Compassionate immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, should be the centerpiece of a conservative party’s agenda.
Marginalize or banish those who in any way make African-Americans, gays, single women or any other human being feel unwelcome in a party that cherishes the values of limited government, low taxes and freedom. A large swath of conservative-minded Americans are Democrats and independents by default.
Mitt Romney would have been a fine president and might have won the day but for the party he had to please.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post and lives part-time in South Carolina.