The election is over and Americans voted to keep Republicans in command of the House of Representatives, the Democrat majority in the Senate and President Obama in the White House. While we don’t know anyone who would have voted to keep the exact same balance of power in Washington, it’s what America got out of the 2012 election.
As longtime supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, going back to the early days of the 2008 GOP primary, we believed he would have been a great president. The election doesn’t change that. Our nation missed an opportunity to have a president who knew what needed to be done to get our economy back on track and excited for an opportunity to work across the aisle to turn policy into action.
Seconds after President Obama was declared the winner, the finger-pointing and blame game began. The Republican establishment blamed the right. The right blamed the Republican establishment. It’s a natural part of the process, and it will continue for some time.
Because we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of these two groups, early Romney supporters inside the social conservative movement, we thought it was important to first, analyze early election data on various demographics, and second, provide a few ideas that we believe will help conservatives remain relevant in future elections.
According to exit polls, evangelicals, who made up 26 percent of the electorate, broke for Romney by four percentage points more than they voted for McCain four years ago. Romney also matched the percentage of the evangelical vote of George W. Bush in 2004, winning 78 percent of evangelicals. However, Romney was able to get more evangelicals to the polls than Bush. The electorate was 3 percent more evangelical today than it was in 2004 (23 percent of all voters in 2004 and 26 percent in 2012).
On the other hand, President Obama won Catholics, which accounted for 25 percent of the vote, but he only won them by two percentage points (48-50 percent) considerably down from his 9-point advantage four years ago. Reuters reported that, “Hispanic Catholics were far more likely to favor Obama – by 76 percent to 23 percent – than white Catholics, who favored Romney by 56 percent to 43 percent.”
Evangelicals showed up to the polls. They weren’t the reason Romney was unable to find enough votes in the key swing states. Instead, what’s becoming clearer from the data is that there may not have been enough votes out there for Republicans to turn out. While it doesn’t mean that conservatives need to abandon our core beliefs, there are some changes that can be made to increase the number of likely GOP voters.
For instance, we agree with Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity on immigration reform. In this election, Latinos, which comprised 10 percent of the electorate, voted for Obama by a 71 percent to 27 percent margin. Even more revealing, 77 percent of Hispanic voters said that undocumented workers should be given a path to establish legal residency in the United States instead of being deported. Republicans and conservative activists must embrace a plan for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Yet, there’s no need to rush and support what will be called “amnesty” without border security. Hannity described how to “get rid” of the issue:
“It’s simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here — you don’t say you’ve got to go home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done . . . You can’t let the problem continue — it’s got to stop.”
If the left is serious about resolving the issue, they must first be willing to pass legislation that actually secures the border. We don’t see any reason for Democrats to balk at a two-step process. “Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle,” writes Krauthammer. If they refuse, it confirms the idea that the issue is a valuable political talking point for the left and nothing more.
Conservatives, let’s take the lead on this. America is the land of opportunity and conservatives, regardless of how we have been demonized, do not oppose immigration or immigrants. It’s clear that we have lost the messaging battle on this front and one way to fix that is to embrace true, comprehensive immigration reform.
The HHS mandate debate, another issue that became a communications mess, was turned into a so-called “Republican War on Women.” Instead of driving home the point that this was an attack on religious liberty, not about the legality or morality of contraception, Republicans let Democrats take an issue that should have been damaging to the left and turn it into one that became politically beneficial. Charles Krauthammer writes,
The country doesn’t need two liberal parties . . . this [election] doesn’t mean the country needs two pro-choice parties either. In fact, more women are pro-life than are pro-choice. The problem here for Republicans is not policy but delicacy – speaking about culturally sensitive and philosophically complex issues with reflection and prudence.
We couldn’t agree more. Social conservatives cannot, and will not, abandon the pro-life cause, but we must be more aware of how an issue we win on can be used against us. Take, for instance, our final topic – the definition of marriage.
For only the second time, a pro-traditional marriage amendment has lost when put to a statewide popular vote. And for the first time, three states have voted to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Gone are the days of blaming courts for usurping the will of the people. The fight over same-sex marriage is coming to a close in some states and the final showdown may occur at the Supreme Court in the near future as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes its way through the federal courts. Again, it appears that messaging has become a failure. Young evangelicals and many conservatives are now uneasy with the politics of opposing same-sex marriage. We must focus on preserving the free speech rights of religious leaders to speak openly on the issue while guaranteeing the absolute right of churches to decide whether to perform or recognize same-sex marriages.
This election loss wasn’t Mitt Romney’s fault. It wasn’t the Republican Party’s fault. It wasn’t because Romney was too moderate or, conversely, too conservative. And, it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of resources. We lost the presidential election because we weren’t as quick to capitalize on issues and opportunities as our opponents.
More On Faith and 2012:
David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?
Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers
Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?
Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won