Mitt Romney’s defeat last week should signal at least a few red flags for Republicans. In years past, Mitt Romney would have been the quintessential Republican candidate. But this year, a successful businessman and once-moderate Republican governor was unable to beat a frequently polarizing and susceptible Democratic incumbent in a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.
Romney’s selling point was his economic expertise. From the start, his second selling point should have been his moderate social views. Instead, he blew out a large sum of his money defeating the likes of a hyper-conservative circus sideshow, namely, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. In attempting to beat this cast, Romney tacked hard to the right and was forced to proclaim himself as a “severely conservative” governor – something which neither his record nor the ending chorus of his campaign ever aligned with.
Then he secured the nomination, but lest we forget how far-right Republicans had to be dragged to their own convention. Here, Romney was in the process of sprinting back to the center with low cash in the coffer, and the lack of money restricted his ability to proclaim his newly re-found bipartisanship.
And so, in a reoccurring theme, normal, moderate middle-to-upper-middle class voters were again forced to choose between what they see as a Republican’s favorable economic policies paired with increasingly divisive social policies, or a Democrat’s less favorable economic policies paired with more palatable social policies which reflect our increasingly diverse society.
But, there’s a hyper-conservative chunk of the party that doesn’t see it this way. This caucus doesn’t recognize how mainstream voters who are economically inclined to cast a Republican ballot will eventually no longer be able to overcome the increasingly extreme takes on legitimate social policy platforms.
Instead, this coalition believes that by doubling down on the less-moderate parts of its message, it’ll somehow attract people to its platform. This is a fairly strange path to victory for a party that has only once won the nation’s popular vote since 1992.
In fact, if there’s a starting point for the reflection, a place to begin might be the election of 1992. It was then when, after failing to derail incumbent George Bush’s presidential re-election campaign, Pat Buchanan proclaimed to the Republican National Convention, “There is a religious war going on in this country, a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.”
In a 2004 column in The Wall Street Journal, political scientist Morris Fiorina reflected on Buchanan’s statement, and said “to be sure, not all delegates cheered Buchanan’s call to arms, which was at odds with the ‘kinder, gentler’ image that George H.W. Bush had attempted to project.”
And so it goes for Romney, who, upon reflection, might now realize no amount of “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” positivity could shake the fact that his retreat back from the far right was unsuccessful.
He never crossed the 270 electoral vote finish line.
This is not to say the Republican Party is irrelevant. Quite the contrary, given Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives. But, remember the influx of Republican freshmen in the House was largely reactionary to the policies of the Democratic chamber, not necessarily due to the freshmen’s legislative prowess, which has shown much to be desired.
The true relevance of the Republican Party, as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof indicates, is in America’s need for “a plausible center-right opposition party to hold Obama’s feet to the fire, not just a collection of Tea Party cranks.”
This, indeed, is the true relevance of the Republican Party. The message of free markets and small government is valuable in our national dialogue. Angry, militant rhetoric about “culture wars” is not.