Now that we’ve moved on to the general election, it is worth reviewing some lessons from the Republican primary season. Here are eight things that Republicans should be proud of and that not coincidentally will drive the left to distraction
1. You cannot be isolationist and win the Republican presidential nomination. Despite the talk that the tea party was moving the Republican Party to an isolationist foreign policy and the predominance of an anti-internationalist sensibility in early debates, isolationism proved to be a loser. All of the serious candidates (in other words, not Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and not former Utah governor Jon Huntsman) favored forward-leaning Reaganesque foreign policy. Most spoke up forcefully against severe cuts in the defense budget. Republicans remain the party insistent that the United States lead in the world and promote our security and values.
2. You must be pro-Israel to win the Republican nomination. Sans Ron Paul, the candidates all supported a robust U.S.-Israel relationship and all severely criticized President Obama’s stance toward the Jewish state. Obama can garner overwhelming support from his base despite his antagonistic conduct toward Israel; No Republican could do that.
3. Obama’s “faith outreach” was a complete bust. It’s hard to remember, but in Obama’s 2008 campaign and initial days in office (recall that Pastor Rick Warren spoke at the inauguration) he courted values voters, spinning the notion that issues such as the environment were now more critical to those voters. He didn’t fool evangelical voters; they are Obama’s most virulent opponents and will, to the dismay of the anti-Mormon baiters, rally to Mitt Romney.
4. Republican primary voters are less dogmatic than Democratic primary voters. Over and over again polls showed that the number one issue for Republican primary voters was whether a candidate could beat the president. While the vast majority of Republican voters opposed Obamacare and had real issues with Romneycare, they did not become one-issue voters and instead looked at Romney (and his opponents) as a complete package, with both negatives and positives.
5. Republican voters are not social extremists. Despite the persistent image in the mainstream media that all Republicans care about is banning birth control and gay marriage, the candidate who embodied the most dogmatic religious and social views lost, in large part, because he raised these issues and made them central to his campaign.
6. Unlike the loudest and most obnoxious voices in the right blogosphere, Republican voters can listen and learn. The right blogosphere was frozen in 2008. While anti-Romney voices refused to notice that he had improved dramatically as a candidate, had come up with a bold but practical conservative message, and was no longer straining to show he was the best friend of social conservatives, voters did take these things into account. Candidates can improve (thankfully) and learn (ditto) from the past. The smart ones figure out how to emphasize their strengths (in Romney’s case, problem-solving with a center-right perspective). While many (Right Turn included) would have loved to have seen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), the GOP electorate fortunately remained open-minded and paid attention during the primary process to see who was the best among flawed candidates. Moreover, unlike many in the right-wing blogosphere GOP voters were able to discern that other competitors were underqualified or plain scary.
7. Voting against someone is as emotionally satisfying as voting for someone, maybe more. Democrats are convinced that because Republican voters are motivated to vote against Obama, while Democrats are voting for something (Obama and his policies) the GOP is at a disadvantage. Nonsense. It is the intense fear of another four years of Obama that has driven the base into Romney’s arms and will likely motivate the vast majority of Republicans to crawl over glass to vote for Obama’s opponent.
8. Unlike Democrats, Republicans are not obsessed by race and gender. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) didn’t run to break the “glass ceiling” and she didn’t lose because she is a woman. Herman Cain (until his past caught up with him and he desperately played the race card) was running as a businessman, not as the potentially the GOP’s first African-American nominee. Romney is not being told he “must” pick a barrier-breaking vice president. To the contrary, the predominate view seems to be that he should pick a credible president-in-waiting and someone who won’t screw up.
In short, in big and small ways the GOP electorate defied the stereotypes created by the left and the media (I repeat myself). In fairness to voices on the left, it is easy to see how they get confused: They spend too much time paying attention to fringe right-wing media (whose mission is too often to rail against common sense and good governance). Real GOP voters proved to be supportive of internationalist and pro-military candidates, pro-Israel, practical, determined to oust Obama, and race- and gender-blind. Now that is something to be proud of.