An election is a zero-sum game. Unlike in other industries, where an organization that comes in second can still enjoy a hefty market share, coming in second in politics means you lost. You will not get to go to Washington, you will not get your name on any buildings, you will not be able to reward your loyal supporters with anything but gratitude.
As one successful leader put it, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
So it makes sense to see the plethora of post-mortems that invariably follow a big loss: What did the party do wrong? Was it the candidate? Was it the message? Was it an ill-timed word or advertisement? A lousy debate performance? The running mate?
Such has been the case for Republicans lately, with critics arguing that their extremism alienates every minority group and will make it nearly impossible for their party to win future elections.
Truly, the GOP’s demise is all but certain!
Something many have missed (or ignored) is the fact that this election, while obviously a loss, was hardly a blow-out. Obama won the popular vote 50 percent — 48 percent. Republicans only lost two seats in the Senate and a handful in the House, while retaining a strong majority in the latter. Republicans also picked up a governorship, bringing their total to 30. And Republicans still control most state legislative chambers.
Certainly some Republicans came off as too extreme, and it’s notable that Republicans lost some Senate races they should have won because they fielded weak candidates. But that’s hardly a failure of the party in general. And despite the relentless excoriation of the Tea Party brand of libertarianism, let’s remember that the Tea Party’s basic message is that the government cannot spend $1 trillion more than it takes in every year. That’s not extremism; that’s common sense.
This is why this libertarian message was so successful just one election ago, when Republicans picked up more House seats than in any election since 1938.
Has everyone forgotten that already?
There’s also been much hand-wringing that the GOP has “lost the women vote” with its “War on Women.” But Republicans are far less guilty of attacking women than Democrats are of manipulating them with a game of political Three-card Monte that successfully distracted from the Democratic Party’s failure to revitalize the economy.
The Republicans-are-sexist trope is particularly farcical coming from a party that in 2008 nominated a dramatically unqualified male candidate instead of a vastly more experienced female one.
Yes, Republicans lost the youth vote (which isn’t good for them long term), but Republicans also tend to have more babies than Democrats (which is good for them long term). Partisan affiliation isn’t genetic, but it certainly runs in families.
The one genuinely disturbing trend for Republicans is Romney’s numbers with Latinos, who, by some estimates, voted for Obama by a 75-23 margin. Obviously a loss with that demographic at that rate is unsustainable. I wonder whether the problem was the message or the messenger. Perhaps more Latinos would have voted for Romney if he’d picked Marco Rubio as his running mate.
It remains to be seen whether the party will do better with Latinos in future elections, but it might help to look to the past: President Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. That didn’t happen by accident.
Of much greater significance than Republicans’ failure to recapture the White House is the fact that America will, for the first time ever, have its third consecutive two-term president. That’s more a commentary on the invulnerability of the modern presidency than on the weakness of the GOP message or its candidate. Such a topic deserves its own consideration, and seems much more relevant than the somewhat insipid “Republicans lost because they’re so extreme!” theory.
Mitt Romney had to contend with an unusually difficult primary battle, religious prejudice, a sitting president who outspent him by $100 million and a mainstream media content to ignore his opponent’s shortcomings while enabling his prevarications. Even for a leader as capable as Romney, that’s a tough battle.
So rather than buying the line that the GOP’s demise is all but certain, I’m going to remember the words of another great leader: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
Jared Whitley is a writer living in Washington, D.C. He has worked for newspapers, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and the White House Communications Office under Pres. Bush.