Having just lost an election, many Republicans are anxious to remake our party in the image of Democrats. The theory seems to be that whatever we’re doing isn’t working, so we better change everything.
But in fact, whatever Republicans did in 2012 — other than an overly long primary fight — worked amazingly well, given the circumstances.
In a detailed analysis of the 2012 election, William A. Galston, a fellow with the liberal Brookings Institution, makes a number of fascinating observations that Republicans would do well to consider before embracing amnesty, abortion, gay marriage and Beyoncé.
In my analysis of his analysis, the single most important factor in the election was simply that Obama was an incumbent. As Galston notes, beating an incumbent president is a feat that has happened only five times since the turn of the last century. Republicans have done it only once.
On closer examination, in all these cases the incumbent president faced a primary challenge. In three of the five, the incumbent also had a third-party challenger in the general election.
● In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran against incumbent William Howard Taft and, failing to win the Republican nomination, ran on a third-party “Bull Moose” ticket against him.
● In 1932, President Herbert Hoover faced a number of primary opponents, including Calvin Coolidge and John Blaine (and it was also a few years into the Great Depression).
● In 1976, Ronald Reagan nearly beat a never-elected incumbent, Gerald Ford, in the primary, losing narrowly on the convention floor, 1,070 to 1,187. (And Ford still almost pulled it out!)
● In 1980, Teddy Kennedy ran a primary campaign against President Jimmy Carter all the way to the convention, and John Anderson ran as a liberal third-party candidate in the general election.
● In 1992, Pat Buchanan ran against incumbent George H.W. Bush, winning an astounding 37 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, and then Ross Perot ran a shockingly popular third-party campaign, winning 19 percent of the general election vote — mostly, polls showed, from Bush.
The one time Republicans beat an incumbent was in 1980 when Reagan beat Carter. Not only was the economy in shambles, not only had Iranian savages been holding 52 American hostages for more than a year, but Carter was badly battered by these extra opponents. (And that’s to say nothing of an amphibious rabbit assault!)
Running as the “true liberal,” Kennedy won 11 of 24 primaries against Carter, including the not-insignificant states of New York, Pennsylvania, California and New Jersey. (He impressed voters during the campaign by not drowning any more campaign aides.)
Kennedy battled Carter right up to the national convention in August, even seeking a rule change in an attempt to snatch the nomination from Carter.
A month after the convention, Kennedy’s supporters were still so bitter, one-third of them said they’d prefer Reagan to Carter. Another third said they were either undecided or supporting the liberal third-party candidate, John Anderson. (The rest had unaccountably drowned after being driven off a bridge.)
Independent candidate Anderson directed all his campaign fire at Carter, vowing to stay in the race even if it meant a Reagan victory. On Election Day, if Anderson’s votes had gone to Carter, Reagan would have squeaked into office with less than a 2 million-vote margin and Jimmy Carter would still be whining about it.
By contrast, Obama faced zero opposition from his party, the media, the education establishment or Hollywood, all of which were madly in love with him.