That sentiment was in full bloom following Romney’s first post-election comments — made on a phone call with donors earlier this week. On the call, Romney attributed his loss to the “gifts” President Obama’s campaign doled out to young people and minorities. For many, the comments had an eerie echo of the secretly taped “47 percent” remarks Romney made at a May fundraiser.
“There is no Romney wing in the party that he needs to address,” said Ed Rogers, a longtime Republican strategist. “He never developed an emotional foothold within the GOP so he can exit the stage anytime and no one will mourn.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both criticized the remarks.
Frankly there have been whispers at the Republican National Committee and elsewhere that Romney has used even more grotesque language, suggesting that the loss is due to Hispanic voters who have become enamored with Obamacare.
Republicans are right to be mad at the comments. As Jindal said, “I don’t think that represents where we are as a party and where we’re going as a party. That has got to be one of the most fundamental takeaways from this election: If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.”
Now it is one thing to observe that President Obama expertly catered to Democratic constituent groups (hire 100,000 teachers; make an issue of contraception; a Dream Act executive order). Liberals may not like to be reminded that theirs is a party of patronage, but it is. That is far different, however, from saying, in essence, that too many Americans are lazy takers so we can’t be expected to go get them.
The latter is not true. Successful Republicans including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush appealed to working-class voters, Hispanics and others who wanted to get opportunity, not a handout. The idea that Americans don’t aspire to a better life, don’t want a better life for their kids, and aren’t inclined to work and take risks to achieve either cannot be the message of the Republican Party, which stresses individual opportunity, personal liberty, upward mobility and the power of free markets to lift people from dependency into the world of world and independence.
The Republican Party is only going to succeed at the presidential and Senate levels by telling voters what opportunities come from an invigorated private sector and reformed, effective government. Romney is gone from the scene, but there are other voices who will make it difficult for the party to expand its appeal and craft a more inclusive agenda. Let’s make this easy:
1. “If Congressman W or Senator X doesn’t do Y or does Z, we’ll primary him.” It is fine to hold incumbents accountable. And when an election rolls around, every incumbent should answer for his votes and his record as a whole. But serially threatening to run unelectable challengers to the right of incumbents whenever they displease the most rigid elements in the party is defeating (see Richard Mourdock) and not conducive to finding creative policy solutions. That stance might earn clicks and get you on TV, but it helps Democrats only. If you make winning arguments on their merits, you shouldn’t have to resort to threats. (And once you’ve threatened someone, you don’t have much sway with them, do you?)
2. Turning back the clock. Sure, conservatives ideally would like no new revenue in a budget deal because they believe the government won’t use it to pay down the debt. But that ship sailed over a year ago when the speaker of the House and then the supercommittee Republicans offered revenue via tax reform. Tax reform has other benefits ( promotes growth, simplicity and fairness) that conservatives should be embracing quite apart from the need to forge a compromise with Democrats. Insisting that Republicans turn the clock back more than a year in the negotiation history, after losing the presidency and Senate seats, is not realistic. Maybe this is how you pump up donors for money, but it’s not a legislative strategy to be embraced.
3. Insult the voters. Too many conservatives post-election would prefer to blame the voters (too dependent, not educated enough, lousy upbringing, moral degeneration, uninformed). As purely a practical matter, it is a bad idea to insult the customer. Moreover, it suggests Republicans should just close up shop and go out of business. How about explaining an agenda in a compelling way? How about addressing real -world problems (college tuition squeeze, expensive energy)? Why not reach out to the very people who embody entrepreneurial values and long for the American dream — immigrants?
The “voters are slobs” or “voters are hopeless” attitude is noxious, and it is good other Republicans have stepped forward to denounce it. But neither should they tolerate these other tactics, which also hold the party back from reviving itself and innovating.