In the wake of President Obama’s re-election, strategists, journalists, and elected officials began to parse what went wrong with the GOP before the body of Mitt Romney’s campaign was even cold yet.
The working theory is that Barack Obama won because he benefited heavily from shifting demographics, like the growing Latino population, of which the president garnered near-record levels of support, and which Mitt Romney alienated early on by opposing the DREAM Act, supporting SB 1070 (Arizona's controversial "show me your papers" law), and proposing a “self-deportation” policy as a viable solution to the illegal immigration question.
Conservatives have since been struggling with the significant impact minority groups had on this election, and what the implications of that impact will mean for Republican policies.
“What are we supposed to do now,” exclaimed radio host Rush Limbaugh on his show Wednesday. “In order to get the Hispanic or Latino vote, does that mean open the borders and embrace the illegals?”
Conservative radio host Sean Hannity suggested securing the border and creating a pathway to citizenship for the immigrants who are already here, declaring it a “position that I’ve evolved on.”
But perhaps conservatives are focusing too much on the wrong issue, and Romney’s defeat represents a greater, ideological dilemma within the Republican Party. Maybe the GOP’s brand of conservatism simply does not suit contemporary American values or current global problems anymore. Maybe it is time for the Republican Party to take a good look at today’s electorate and seriously consider the old breakup cliche, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
As Hardball host Chris Matthews said on Friday, “If the Republican Party wants to survive, then the party that questions evolution is going to have to evolve—and quickly.”
Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and author of the new e-book Why Romney Lost, joined Hardball Friday to discuss why indeed Romney lost.
For LaTourette, Republican values are just fine. The problem is simply that Romney got out-campaigned.
“What the president’s campaign did beautifully in the month of August is he said 42 states really don’t matter, and we’re going to concentrate in eight states, Ohio being one of them,” said LaTourette. The Obama campaign was able “to define Mitt Romney before he had a chance to show up in Denver on October 3 and define himself.”
Despite Obama’s smart campaigning in battleground states, it is hard to ignore some of Romney’s now infamous gaffes, like the $10,000 bet or his 47% remarks, and the negative effects they had on his presidential prospects.
“We all say things that are unfortunate from time to time,” said LaTourette. “But I happen to believe the guy who showed up in Denver was the real Mitt Romney... During the primaries, Romney had to move so far to the right in order to get the nomination.”
“Isn’t that the problem,” challenged Matthews. “Your party’s on the far right; that’s where the votes are.” For a majority of Americans, suggested Matthews, the Republican core would have to travel much closer to the center in order to become appealing.
David Frum agreed, insisting that Romney lost not because of his political mistakes, but because the party he represents is quickly becoming obsolete.
“This is not about Mitt Romney, it’s not about Chris Christie, it’s not about the storm,” asserted Frum. “It is about a deep obsolescence of what the party was doing... The Republican Party has been slow to change to a new reality because what it used to do used to work so well, and it’s so difficult to admit it doesn’t work anymore and hasn’t been working for a long time.”
For Frum, the overwhelming take away from Tuesday’s election was not that the GOP needs to pay better attention to the Latino vote, but rather that the party needs to update its entire approach to problems that face the American middle class.
“They’re offering the same ideas that worked against completely different problems,” said Frum. “It’s like giving antibiotics to someone who suffers from mental depression.”
So now, the Republican Party is faced with the challenge of answering Limbaugh’s earlier question, “What are we supposed to do now?”
Moving toward the middle runs the risk of alienating the party’s social conservatives, as blogger Erick Erickson threatened earlier this week.
“You may mentally decide,” wrote Erickson, “that if only the GOP would abandon its social conservatism, it would do better. But if you do, go find yourself a new coalition because you won’t have half the votes the GOP has now.”
LaTourette disagreed, recommending that the party needs to refocus on its fiscal conservatism and sacrifice those on the far right fringe.
“Our message on finance is sound,” said the Congressman. “It’s when we got a guy in Indiana and a guy in Missouri saying being pregnant after a rape is a gift from God. Well that scares some people, and people in my party need to figure that out.”
And figure it out they must if the Republican Party is to ever stand a chance at representing enough Americans to win.