Republicans were mocked when popular social liberals Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger were showcased to make their party's case on national security and economic opportunity at the national convention in New York. What Democrats saw on the podium were dissident Republican politicians with enlightened views on abortion and gay marriage who had been enlisted in order to deceive voters; what we were all actually looking at was the makings of a successful majority party.
The moderate Republicans who spoke at the convention are at home in their conservative, pro-life party and represent countless others who share their views on such issues as foreign policy, tax rates or tort reform. Political parties are coalitions, and elections are won when a self-confident party can remain faithful to its core principles while appealing to voters with different priorities. President Bush's success exemplifies that approach: He is unapologetically opposed to abortion but passes no judgment on those who disagree with him and encourages them to find common cause with him elsewhere. Last year, Sen. John Kerry was calling pro-lifers "the forces of intolerance."
The election was won because neither Bush nor his party pretended to be something they're not. George Bush was the Real Deal running against the Great Pretender.
Bush enjoys the appeal of authenticity. He is a conviction politician, utterly comfortable with who he is and what he believes. Throughout the campaign, he could be counted on to remain on course in the face of withering criticism. If mistakes were to be made, he would err on the side of protecting American lives. Kerry, meanwhile, tried to shed his party and his past by donning a yellow barn coat and attempting to pass himself off as a fiscal conservative, a defense hawk, a gun aficionado, a faithful Catholic and a proud veteran. The voters that Kerry needed to win could tell the difference.
Republicans find themselves on the majority's side of the cultural divide because they don't display the Democrats' condescension and hostility to the moral sentiments and concerns of most Americans. Bush's deeply held religious faith sometimes finds awkward expression but never seems insincere. His habits of heart and mind mark him as a man of faith. Kerry, on the other hand, glibly declared in the final debate, "My faith affects everything I do and choose. . . . And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people." Had Bush made such a declaration, it would have signaled to liberals an underlying intention to usher in a theocracy; but secularists were unconcerned about Kerry's pledge because they knew he didn't mean it.
Religious voters, too, can spot a phony. Talking the talk, as Kerry tried to do, won't be enough as long as the Democratic Party's most vocal supporters equate conservative Christianity with Islamic fundamentalism. The culturally tone-deaf glitterati clogged the red carpet for the premiere of "Fahrenheit 911," when people who hadn't been to a movie in 10 years made the "Passion of the Christ" this year's box office smash.
Republicans don't talk patronizingly about the issues that matter to voters by telling average Americans to "vote their pocketbooks." Rich Hollywood liberals might put aside their own economic interests to support a candidate who pledges to raise their taxes, but the little people leading small lives in small towns are not expected to look beyond their parochial concerns about overtime pay or health benefits. Leaving aside whether Democratic prescriptions on taxes and the economy would actually benefit these middle-class voters, Bush recognizes that they, too, care about issues larger than themselves. Despite Ohio's poor economy, moral values almost tied jobs as a matter of concern to the state's voters, who -- by the way -- also gave the edge to Bush in handling economic issues.
Bush recognizes that American diners are filled with middle-class voters who likewise have concerns that transcend their daily lives. He let them know that he shared their worries about marriage and its weakening as society's most fundamental institution, about the chilling brave new world of cloning and about the coarsening of the culture -- at the hands of Kerry's Hollywood supporters. The guests enjoying dinner at Tina Brown's sparkling table have not had their daily lives affected by Halliburton's no-bid contracts, the USA Patriot Act or missing munitions in Iraq, yet these are the kinds of issues that motivate liberal elites.
Bush believes Americans are smart and unfailingly decent. He doesn't think southern conservatives are closet racists, that opponents of gay marriage are hateful homophobes or that pro-lifers are mean-spirited misogynists. He is well aware that America's liberal media (and as well as European commentators) view him as a dangerous fool. Nonetheless, the majority of high school and college graduates voted for him.
A closer look at one crucial issue is telling: For about a fifth of voters, the war on terrorism was the priority issue and they went overwhelmingly for Bush. Although a majority of voters saw the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, only a bare majority approved of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. On balance, the war in Iraq and its aftermath probably hurt the president. It seems likely that those who approve of the president's handling of the war on terrorism would remain supportive had Iraq not been invaded, while a majority of those who put the situation in Iraq at the top of their agenda voted for Kerry.
The president wound up having the personal characteristics most appealing to voters. Religious faith trumped intelligence, and being trustworthy trumped being someone who "cares about people." To counter the culturally conservative, tough-minded incumbent presiding in post-9/11 America, Democrats nominated a Catholic veteran who promised change. But a majority of Catholics and veterans voted against Kerry and only a quarter of voters were interested in change.
In the aftermath of the Republicans' historic gains, Sen. Zell Miller reiterated his despair over the state of his party in an article titled, "I Tried to Tell You. . . . " But the Georgia conservative is as unwelcome in the Democratic Party as Pennsylvania's late pro-life Governor Bob Casey was a dozen years ago. Democrats in denial will continue to curse their Cassandras and pine for their siren in the hope that four years from now Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will seduce the rubes in red-state America. But she would be just another pretender, without the authenticity to create a true coalition.