September 30, 2013

In his book “Coming Apart,” Charles Murray has a quiz intended to gauge how isolated from the average American’s culture the reader is. I often wonder if right-wing pundits and politicians from deep-red states should take that sort of quiz to gauge how isolated they are from the average American’s politics or lack thereof.

Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.
Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint (Chris Maddaloni/CQ-Roll Call)

Do the right-wingers know and interact with people who don’t know who the secretary of defense is? Do they have close friends who don’t read the newspaper? Do they have neighbors who have no idea who Bill Ayers, Lois Lerner and James Rosen are? Do  they ever spend an entire weekend without talking or reading about politics? Are they a member of a church or synagogue in which almost all congregants are not conservative?

If they were, and they fully understood there are more Americans like that (by far) than watch the Fox evening line-up on any given night or have ever heard of their favorite conservative blog, it might help re-orient their thinking just a tad. They might also understand that people who hold views closer to the president’s than to Jim DeMint aren’t the “enemy” or part of the infamous 47 percent; they are neighbors, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who need to be wooed, not denounced.

Currently, it seems that a great many right-wingers who claim to speak for “ordinary Americans” don’t have a clue how they react to politics or about the overwhelming disgust they feel when they watch sniping and political grandstanding that winds up disrupting ordinary people’s lives. If they did they might learn:

- No matter how many ads Ken Cuccinelli runs lauding his prosecution of human traffickers, most women in the state are turned off not only by his positions on issues such as contraception but by his persona as an ideological warrior.

- No matter how many times Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) says it’s the president who is inflexible, most Americans will regard the senator as the more polarizing, unreasonable figure if the shutdown happens.

- No matter how many times they tell one another that the party needs a stronger conservative who is more dogmatic and articulate, the presidential electorate isn’t going to embrace him or her, and, moreover, is going to choose the candidate they like more and identify with on some level.

In their partisan bubble wrap, partisans (on both sides) delude themselves into thinking that ideology — not personality, abstractions, experience, process or substance — resonate with most voters. The opposite is true. This doesn’t mean that ideology, abstractions and process are unimportant — especially to the base — but they can’t substitute for much less partisan concerns.

Partisans also don’t fully appreciate that voters can have contradictory impulses. They can oppose action in Syria and be very upset when an American president doesn’t do what he said he would. They can be in favor of getting rid of Obamacare and dead set against a shutdown to achieve it. They can think the president is in over his head and still think Republicans are responsible for a budget stalemate.

Even more harmful is the tendency to rewrite history to fit their own narrative. Right-wingers are convinced Bill Clinton lost the 1995 shutdown battle. They are certain Ronald Reagan would never compromise on important issues, and that his personality was a trivial part of his success in reaching beyond the conservative base. Naturally they don’t learn from the past when they refuse to recall it accurately.

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon dubbed ordinary Americans turned off by soft-on-crime, anti-war, counter-culture liberals as the “silent majority.” Republicans today are in danger of ceding the silent majority to the Democrats. Republicans need to get out more, understand how the rightwing pols sound to voters who aren’t staunch conservatives and find some people who don’t sound like college debaters impressed with their own arguments. If they don’t, like the Democrats from 1972 to 1992, they will find themselves out of favor and out of the White House. They might be certain they have “won” the arguments on points, but will have lost power — for a very long time.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.