Mitt Romney, meanwhile, failed to connect with voters, and in particular to convince advocates of limited government that the GOP again deserved their enthusiastic support after eight years of profligate spending and expansionary government under Bush. The exit polls showed that Romney’s supporters were less likely than the president’s to express unreserved support for their candidate, and were also more likely to suggest they were voting against a candidate instead of for one. And while 51% said that “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals” — another sign that Republicans should not adopt more big-government positions to attract voters — Mitt Romney was only able to attract 74% of these voters. That the president got 24% of the vote from those who think that government is doing too much is an indictment of Romney’s campaign and demonstrates a clear failure to win the major arguments of the day.
Faulting Romney alone for this failure, however, is probably unfair. He and his campaign did about as well as they could with what they had to work with. He just wasn’t the right man for the job. He was a Northeastern moderate Republican, with a nice family and a history of kindness, who nevertheless was stuck trying to speak a conservative language that he didn’t fully understand and with which he wasn’t entirely comfortable. Unsurprisingly, it showed and voters weren’t convinced. It was only through the complete incompetence, overwhelming baggage and just generally unacceptable condition of every other Republican primary candidate that he inherited the nomination, and he did with it about as much as could reasonably be expected.
It’s certainly true that demographic groups which today vote strongly for Democrats are growing as a share of the population. So far that has not produced the kind of new heights in the Democratic vote that would preclude the possibility of future conservative victories. Nor are party preferences by any means static. There is little reason to believe that conservatism well argued and articulated cannot appeal to these demographics. In fact, there is plenty of support for conservative principles amongst the black and Hispanic communities in particular. That conservatives should find ways to demonstrate how the consistent application of their principles are to the benefit of all, including members of these groups, is just plain old common sense.
What Republicans and conservatives don’t need to do is abandon the principles of limited government and adopt the kind of pandering and demographic-vote-buying schemes used by Democrats — who have a smaller ideological base upon which to draw from, and who thus must rely upon more creative coalition-building efforts. Liberal pundits who suggest otherwise either don’t know what they are talking about or, as is more likely the case, are trying to convince Republicans to preemptively surrender. I can’t really blame them — given half a chance that it might work I’d similarly try to convince statists to adopt without a fight my views for shrinking government, cutting spending and freeing markets.
The challenge for advocates of smaller government is that liberalism is easy. It’s not at all hard to convince people that government should help them or give them something seemingly for nothing. It’s much harder to convey the more subtle understanding that such efforts often create many more problems than they solve, and that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. This is why it is all the more important for Republicans to pick candidates both well versed in conservative thought and capable of connecting with and educating the electorate.
The good news is that there are several capable choices on the horizon. It would be a major mistake for the Republican Party to preemptively cut them off and run toward the left before they have a chance to make a principled case to the American people.
Brian Garst is the Director of Government Affairs at the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. CF&P works to promote and defend tax competition, financial privacy and fiscal sovereignty.