At the Crossroads
Still scrambling to develop a strategy for the future in the wake of the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party is quite clearly at a crossroads. As America dives headlong into the next term of Obama's America, it is critical for the Republicans to take the right path at this crossroads, which can be summed up with this paradigm: There is no justification for the GOP to continue running moderate candidates for president.
A macro review of the results of the last 21 presidential elections should inform the GOP that running moderates is not a highly successful strategy. Since 1932 the Republicans have offered moderates for president eighteen times (Hoover '32, Landon '36, Wilkie '40, Dewey '44 and '48, Eisenhower '52 and '56, Nixon '60, '68, and '72, Ford '76, Bush I '88 and '92, Dole '96, Bush II '00 and '04, McCain '08, and Romney '12). Of this group, the Republican Party garnered presidential victories seven times (twice with Eisenhower, twice with Nixon, once with Bush I, and twice with Bush II), which empirically demonstrates that, since the Great Depression, moderate Republicans have only won 39% of the time when vying for the presidency. Over the same period of time, the GOP has nominated conservative candidates at the presidential level only three times -- Barry Goldwater, in a losing effort in '64, and Ronald Reagan, who proved victorious in '80 and '84. What can we extrapolate from these data? First of all, the strategy of offering moderate Republicans has been effective in winning the presidency less than half of the times it has been attempted. Secondly, running conservatives for president on the Republican ticket has not been attempted in sufficient election cycles for us to determine whether conservative Republicans for president will beat liberal Democrats with greater frequency than do moderate Republicans.
These historical data point to a pattern showing that in roughly 60% of presidential elections the American people prefer to vote for liberal Democrats over moderate Republicans. As such it is not unusual that Mitt Romney failed to draw in enough Republicans, independents, and disaffected Democrats to secure a victory over Barack Obama. But this begs the question: Why have moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney been unsuccessful in the majority of the presidential elections in which they have run over the last 80 years? A comparison of the 1980 election (when a true conservative faced a devout liberal) and 2012 (when a moderate squared off against a profoundly liberal progressive) provides some insight into this issue.
Many of the conservative movement's favorite pundits thought that the Obama-Romney contest was almost perfectly analogous to Carter-Reagan, when the uninspiring incumbent liberal Democrat was unseated by the positive, articulate conservative Republican. Like Carter, whose dismal presidential term drove America down into a pit of despair, Obama had given America dreadful economic outcomes, squishy foreign policy, and a condescending leadership style. The punditry theorized that, just as the electorate had repudiated Carter in 1980, the people would toss Obama out of office in 2012 for his hubris and the malaise over which he had presided. What the punditry failed to include in its electoral calculus was the political philosophy (and the ability to articulate it) of the respective Republican challengers.
Mitt Romney, though indeed a good and decent man, was not at his core the type of conservative spokesman that was Ronald Reagan -- a former Democrat who had spent long years wrestling philosophically with his political ideology in a personal battle that ultimately embedded sincere and profound conservatism in his heart. Yes, the electoral demography looked different in 1980 from it would become in 2012; yes, Carter was far less personally likeable for many voters than Obama was at the time of his re-election; but Reagan won in 1980 in large measure because he firmly stood for and clearly articulated a conservative option to the liberal incumbent. From the point of Reagan's political coming-out as a conservative with his 1964 "Time for Choosing" speech all the way through the end of his second term as president in 1989, there was no question that he believed in and would vigorously promote conservatism.
Conversely, Mitt Romney, at least in his public persona, has never been a tried-and-true conservative, rather he is a gentlemanly, industrious, and patriotic man with a mixture of political leanings. He most certainly would have been a far more engaged and dignified chief executive than America now has, but for all his gentility and civility, in the 2012 campaign Romney rarely expressed a dynamic and passionate exegesis of conservatism (with the notable exception of the "trickle-down government" debate quip) as Reagan had done some three decades earlier. Thus, even when facing a hardcore collectivist Democrat in Barack Obama (who, to the amazement of many, was still well-liked at the time of his election despite a record in office as stunningly bad as, if not worse than, Jimmy Carter's), Romney could not demonstrate a clear and compelling conservative alternative for the voting public's consumption.
Mr. Romney is a political thinker in the mold of the moderate Republican presidential candidates who have lost over 60% of the time since the 1930's; therefore, he could not muster the clear-eyed conservatism necessary to neutralize Obama's left-wing propaganda because it simply did not reside within him. While we cannot blame Romney's moderation entirely for his loss, it is fair to hypothesize that it contributed to the low turnout phenomenon in which tens of millions of voters simply sat out the election. These non-voters communicated by their absence either a tragic apathy regarding President Obama's dictatorial statism or a distaste for the idea of a non-conservative President Romney who, they likely presumed, would do little more than paper over the problems created by a long list of liberals and moderates who have previously occupied the Oval Office.
The culture may be too far gone down the leftist yellow brick road to turn back on its journey to a European-style, social democratic Oz where their wizard in the White House works the levers of government behind his curtain of urban coolness, hip hop charm, and celebrity mojo. Because our politics is downstream from our corrupt, morally relativistic, and juvenile culture, the American electorate may have passed the point where it can respond positively to the conservative message from the GOP during any future election cycle. We won't know for sure until such a conservative surge is attempted again, but we do know from history that moderate Republicans are not likely to have a smashing record of presidential victories in the future. Thus, moderate Republicanism must be laid to rest. To do this, the Republican Party needs to exclusively offer well-spoken candidates who are deeply rooted in traditional conservative values and principles. The Republican Party must once and for all, in Ronald Reagan's words, paint with bold colors so that the American people can clearly see with the classical, elegant palette of conservatism contrasted with the slapdash, trash art of progressivism, thereby pressing the electorate to respond to those images either with vigorous rejection or passionate acceptance.
John Steinreich is the author of "The Words of God," an analytical comparison of the Bible and the Quran, which can be found here.