Beware liberals bearing gifts

Elections can be hard to predict, though thanks to more sophisticated and voluminous polling data and the greater reliance on statistical analysis afforded by it, it has gotten much easier. But what has always been easy is predicting how liberals will respond to a Republican defeat — with self-serving offers of ill-conceived advice for how Republicans can turn it around. Republicans, conservatives and advocates of limited government should beware these liberals bearing gifts.

It’s hard to miss all the media and liberal hand-wringing over the plight of the Republican Party. Conservatism can’t win, they say. Abandon your limited government principles and start pandering more to voters, they say. Ezra Klein summed up this latest bout of liberal pundit group-think when he said that “the substantive and coalitional commitments of the modern Republican Party need to be rethought,” otherwise “it will be a disaster for the Republican Party.”

I’m no campaign strategist and I don’t work for the Republican Party, but I do want to see strong advocates of limited government and free markets elected, so I have one word for the liberal experts who seem to have all the answers for how to form a winning coalition on the right — malarkey!

If liberals truly believed that Republicans would lose without heeding their expert advice, why would they even bother offering it? Don’t they want Republicans to lose? The truth is that they are afraid of conservatism because conservatism wins. Their only hope is to convince advocates of limited government not to run, and they’ll use every tool in their media and pop culture arsenal to make sure that happens.

Liberal commentators are pointing to the election results as proof that the electorate has shifted to the left, suggesting that a failure on the part of Republicans to do the same will result in permanent minority status. The evidence hardly sustains this conclusion.

Barack Obama and Woodrow Wilson are the only presidents elected to a second term with a lower Electoral College total than their first. The vast majority of the electorate shifted to the right between 2008 and 2012, and in barely squeaking out a popular vote victory the president was unable to match the vote for President Bush when he was re-elected in 2004, despite having a voting-age electorate over 20 million citizens larger. In fact, when looking at the Democratic share of the electoral vote as a percentage of the voting-age population over time, the idea that 2012 cemented an insurmountable new liberal or progressive majority is revealed as pure fantasy.

When President Obama was swept into office in 2008, it marked the only time in the last generation that Democrats received votes from a larger share of the voting-age population than in 1976. Tuesday’s result, however, marked a return of Democratic support to even less than pre-Obama levels.


What this data in particular highlights is the importance of turnout. Who turns out to vote and who does not is just as important, and perhaps even more so, than winning the support of swing voters. The Obama campaign clearly understood and took advantage of this fact. Key demographics for President Obama — in particular minority and younger voters — turned out higher in swing states than in non-swing states, suggesting that they were driven to the polls by the president’s impressive campaign apparatus and well-established ground game. While that is a testament to his campaign and its workers, it hardly suggests a national ideological shift. Moreover, this strategy is heavily dependent upon the characteristics of Obama himself and is unlikely to carry over for future Democratic candidates. Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe acknowledged on the campaign’s final conference call that, “you can’t transfer this [ground game],” and also that, “the only reason why this happened on the ground in 2008 and 2012” was the “relationship between [Obama voters] and our candidate.”