Presidential elections are American Idol contests; mid-term elections are issues exams. On Nov. 6, 68 percent of Michigan voters – mirroring the nation as a whole – turned out to vote for Barack Obama. Two years ago, just 45 percent of Michiganians (the youth vote alone was down a whopping 60 percent without Obama on the ballot) showed up in an election that swept Republicans into command from the U.S. House to the Michigan legislature.
The difference in presidential elections and mid-terms helps explain the whiplash that conservatives feel after a 2012 defeat that seems to run counter to the Tea Party trends of two years ago – and even this fall’s Michigan ballot initiatives that trounced Democrat initiatives like Big Labor’s power grab and Big Green’s 25 percent wind mandate.
President Obama won re-election in large part because folks simply liked him better than Mitt Romney.
Presidential elections uniquely allow campaigns and the media to focus on individual flaws (Romney’s tax returns received more press this year than did Obamacare), making the vote as much a referendum on a person as on a party.
So ignore the conventional wisdom that the 2012 presidential election is a cause for a radical reboot of the Republican Party. Yes, a loss is a loss is a loss. But Barack Obama should have won this election by a landslide, not 51-49. History tells us that incumbent presidents in recovery cycles – especially coming out of deep economic holes – usually dominate come re-election. Indeed, only one challenger has defeated an incumbent in a recovery cycle since WW2: Ronald Reagan. And Mitt Romney was no Ronald Reagan.
Democrats should be breathing a sigh of relief – not gloating. In fact, were it not for two factors – Romney’s weak base support and the Hispanic vote – a Republican would be headed to the White House. On Obamacare and immigration, Romney abandoned market freedom. Address these concerns and GOPers are in good shape for 2016.
Romney was a weak candidate. How weak? Rick Santorum almost beat him in Michigan. In Michigan. So weak that a dozen – count ‘em, twelve - challengers entered the primary to try and defeat the man who should have been formidable after his runner-up primary finish in 2008. So weak that the GOP pleaded with conservative governors like Mitch Daniels (is there anyone today who doesn’t think the folksy, successful businessman-turned-governor from Indiana would have beaten Obama?) to enter the primary.
Conservatives pleaded with Romney to ditch Romneycare at the outset of his campaign. It was a mistake, he could have said. That’s why we have states to experiment on such things, he could have said. But the experiment was a failure and here is the data to prove why it will be an even greater disaster nationally, he could have said.
Instead, he dug in his heels, praising Romneycare even as he incongruously claimed he would ditch its twin, Obamacare, if elected. How can I trust you? the base thought even as it rallied in Tampa around the party nominee. The Massachusetts governor’s play was for ‘ndependents, concerned that they would be turned off by another flip-flop. But not only didn’t get he independents – he lost the GOP base, which turned out in even lower numbers than it did for McCain in 2008. “We didn’t talk enough about Obamacare,” commented righty talk show host Laura Ingraham after Nov. 6. That is inexcusable after an Obamacare backlash swept Republicans to power in 2010.
As for Hispanics, well, Republicans already know how to court the fastest-growing minority in America. After all, the GOP’s godfather, Ronald Reagan, granted illegal immigrants amnesty. With his embrace of immigration reform in 2004, Dubya Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004 – compared to restrictionist Romney’s 27. Republicans would do well to welcome immigrants with a smile and a promise of worker permit reform – instead of the scowling, we-know-you’re-just-here-for-the-welfare-check face of the 2012 campaign. Hispanics won’t listen to your economic liberty message if they don’t think you want them in the country to begin with.
Fortunately, the new generation Republicans in the wings – Rubio, Christie, Perry, Walker – get it.
And by 2016, America may well be sick of the Democratic brand. After all, Barack Obama promised a unified America with a secure future. Instead he has given us a divisive presidency and a first-in-U.S.-history debt downgrade. His economic policies have been cruel at worst (thousands of coal miners sacrificed to the EPA’s global warming god) to incompetent at best (giving millions to wealthy green corporations that have gone bankrupt). He won ugly by dividing us One Percent from 99 Percent, employer from employee, black from white. So much for Hope. Coming out of the deepest recession since 1980 and 1992, America’s economic muscle should have carried Obama to a second term landslide as it did Reagan and Clinton before him. But his stimulus failed and his hyper-regulatory state stymied business investment.
As a result, Obama had to spin to win: It was George Bush’s fault. There is not a businessman in America who thinks we are going backwards – 12 quarters after the recovery began in 2009 – because of Bush. Fortunately for Obama, his media does.
The MSM was a crucial factor in 2012. From The New York Times to the AP to the broadcast networks to big metros like the Detroit Free Press, it was a partisan cheering section. It ignored Obamacare’s ills, the struggles of business, the laid-off coal miners, and so on.
Just take the last week of the campaign.
The media (Fox News excepted) ignored the deepening Benghazi scandal – from Obama’s fibs about its origin to the administration’s refusal to heed warnings that the embassy was under-defended. Like Jimmy Carter’s Iran, a foreign policy scandal would have opened a dangerous second front on the incumbent. On Hurricane Sandy, the press ignored FEMA incompetence in order to praise Obama’s “leadership.” And in the crucial swing state of Ohio, the MSM (correctly) ripped Mitt Romney’s false Jeeps-made-in-China ads – after an entire campaign of ignoring Obama’s falsehoods on GM’s bankruptcy, unfair treatment of Delphi pensions, and illegal favoritism for the UAW in Chapter 363 bankruptcy.
In short, Romney had to defeat Obama & Media. But contrary to media claims, Republicans have not lost the middle class – yet. Romney won earners from $50 grand and up – once again proving the GOP is the party of the middle class.
But that is the real danger of losing 2012. Obamacare – a middle class entitlement – is now the law of the land. As in Europe, Democrats believe it will make the middle class more dependent on Big Government. Then again – like the HMO backlash a decade ago – Obamacare in practice may turn the public against Democrats.
Republicans have four years to rebuild. Their hold on the middle class depends on it.