As I wrote before the election, if my “call” was wrong (and it was) there were ten things I should and should not do.
Let me start that process here.
I have long believed economic and social forces make 2012 a mildly Republican year. I still believe this to be true and stick with my prediction that Romney will carry the popular vote 51/2 to 47/8 and win in the Electoral College. (A three point margin makes this electoral win all but sure.)
There is, however, decent evidence against my belief. In many polls Romney and Obama are tied and Obama leads in enough state polls to get an electoral majority. I think there are flaws in much of this data, but I could also be wrong.
It is good to consider what will happen if next Tuesday, if I discover I am wrong about the election. Here are ten things I must do or not do:
My prediction was wrong. President Obama, running in a tough year, got millions fewer votes than he received in 2008, but Mr. Romney did not improve substantially on Mr. McCain’s showing.
First, admit I was wrong and consider what was wrong in my reasoning.
The first is easy, the second is harder to do, but more vital.
If the President wins, I will have to accept that my ideas about polling and bias were incorrect. In the future, I am must be more accepting of this data.
First, news reports say the Romney camp believed data showed they would win. I knew this and trusted the campaigns ability to assess themselves and thought public polling had limits.
Second, I tended to trust Gallop in particular as a pollster given the record.
Both of these assumptions were shown to be false. GOP pollsters, political data crunchers, and “get out the vote” operations failed Mr. Romney. They gave us bad information and false hopes. I began to suspect them to be false the week before the election, but bided my time to see. In the future, I must (until there is contrary evidence) assume that aggregates of polls are generally accurate.
Second, I will not pretend “fraud” cost Mr. Romney the race.
Thank God I see little of this on the right. Republicans tamp down votes in some regions. Some Democratic areas engage in election trickery. Both practices are morally wrong, but there is no reason to think the problem cost Mr. Romney the election.
Third, I will not assume my candidate was flawed, but my ideas popular.
Blaming the candidate is easy. McCain was not a great candidate and he was running in a tough year, but I also had to accept that some 0f the policies of the Bush years that I accepted had been rejected by a majority of the American people.
The republic would not sustain the effort needed to pursue them and there was no sense pretending otherwise.
If Mitt Romney loses, I must examine what ideas I hold that can no longer command an electoral majority. Of course, that does not mean I will change my mind necessarily, but that policies (such as opposition to Obamacare) that I still think correct are no longer electorally feasible.
I have to tailor my political expectations to the political reality.
Mr. Romney made mistakes, but he also had virtues. He was the only candidate who could have competed with the billion dollar Obama money machine. He was disciplined, won the first debate in crushing fashion, and ended up with favorables to match the President. He was not inspiriting to the base, but they voted. His biggest problem was his personal wealth and connection to Bain. He lost the populist vote . . . one a Huckabee might have won, but Huckabee did not run and would have been demonized by a billion dollars in other ways.
GOP ideas failed (narrowly) in three areas: economic, social, and foreign. It was a complete (though narrow) repudiation.
Mr. Romney ran hard on economic issues, in fact that was the heart of his campaign argument. Too often however, my party has defended and promoted “corporate welfare” and most voters did not hear Mr. Romney repudiate this. We said: “Obama does it!” but Mr. Romney’s connection to “monied interests” trumped any sins on Mr. Obama’s part in the minds of just enough people.
Economic populism might have worked, but I see evidence economic libertarianism would have done worse. Americans did not like details of Obamacare, but they liked government help. More government involvement in health care is here to stay. Conservatives must work to limit the damage.
To do this, we need to connect to working people and have clear explanations of how our ideas can help the poor and those without jobs. We failed and continue to fail in this educational task. We must begin by repudiating Rand economics as wrong headed. Let economic libertarians go, if they must.
Small government conservatives must keep working to make government smaller, but point out (as Reagan did) where we accept what the public wants (while trying to educate them where we think the “wants” wrong).
Social conservatives fared no better, though only ballot initiatives really point this out. Mr. Romney emphasized economics, so one could spin his loss that way, but this would be wrong. Pro-life issues can win, but obviously not with misogynist or extreme candidates. Mr. Aiken was a disaster. He could have been avoided, by insisting our primary nominees have a “run-off” to get a majority of the vote.
On gay marriage, we must press for a “federalist” solution. Utah must not be forced to have the marriage rules of New York. However, for those of us who think sex outside of traditional marriage is a vice, the problem is greater. Fewer are getting married and sexual activity is not connected to marriage in the public culture or more and more hearts.
As small government conservatives and federalists, we must begin to educate our own people, tolerate the “immoral” majority, and do better in our own behavior. Mostly, we should pray that we can be left alone while the social experiment with sexuality plays out. When it fails, as it must over the next eighty years, then we will be there to help.
We must not demand our candidates back DOMA or a Constitutional amendment on marriage. The public will no longer exist to do this, if it ever did and if it was ever a good idea.
Foreign policy conservatism has become associated with foreign wars. I supported the Iraq and Afganistan wars as just. Given what I knew at the time, I think that decision still the right one. However, conservatives must recognize the aftermath of both wars has been botched. They lost public support. This election showed no will to support a military establishment larger than our present one or for more Middle East adventures.
We must support our allies, such as Israel, but we are more limited in our options. We cannot fight a war the public rejects!
Vitally, we must jettison any anti-immigrant talk. It is useless and dooms our candidates. It was Mr. Romney’s biggest error, but one primary voters too often demanded.
Again, with economic liberty, sexual morals (that have political consequences), and foreign policy, we must educate hearts and minds. But as conservatives, we must accept realistic electoral limits.
Fourth, I will not blame one faction of my party.
Mr. Romney picked Mr. Ryan as his running mate. Mr. Romney was a fairly moderate Republican, but Mr. Ryan is very conservative. Most Republican primary voters picked Mr. Romney and we were pleased with Mr. Ryan, but we will have failed.
Where we can change, we must. Where reason and morality forbids changing, we must begin the hard work of educating the general public.
This was a mildly Republican year and we failed. We do not have to go mad, however. We are losing the argument, but this is a call to make better arguments. Matt Anderson and others were right, and more establishment voices that I accepted were wrong, that the Reagan coalition could be rebuilt at present. It is gone.
We must build a new coalition that does not compromise our values, but can move us close to those values. Politics is the art of the possible, but for a conservative, politics is limited.
I want a smaller government, more economic liberty, less corporate welfare, all human life protected, and strong traditional marriages. I am persuaded by revelation, reason, and experience these things are true. We need cultural institutions that will defend those ideas, but also learn from others that disagree.
Fifth, I will not quickly blame one event.
It is, I suppose, possible that my candidate lost because of one gaffe, but I doubt it. Failing to win over millions of voters will have been a complex failure and it would be too comforting to blame this failure on an overly simple solution.
Since we now know the poll aggregates (including Mr. Silver) were accurate, we know the President took a narrow but constant lead all cycle. The Republican primary process failed our party with its clownish candidates of the week. Mr. Romney united the party, but he was left without the immediate resources to avoid an onslaught of negative ads.
Triumphalists on the left should look at the spending and the polling. They won by 3 million votes with a lower total mostly by making Mr. Romney unacceptable in certain swing states. The GOP, for example, looked like it supported bailing out banks but not car makers. That was stupid, and there was truth to it. Most Obama ads were negative (as were Mr. Romney’s).
Sandy did not cost us the election. By that time, evidence shows the President had won. It may have padded his very, very narrow margin, but that is a good thing. Thank God the election is not now hanging on Florida!
Sixth, I will support our President.
If the President is re-elected, then he is (once again) my President. I will pray for him daily (as I have) and support him where I can as a member of the loyal opposition. I will rejoice in the rituals of our Republic and support him when I can.
Thank God we can vote. Many of my friends are rejoicing in their victory. They are my political opponents, but still my dear friends. Mr. Obama is my President and I will support him as a member of the loyal opposition.
Seventh, I will be moderate in my reaction.
We survived Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, and Andy Jackson. We can survive a second term of Mr. Obama. I hope I don’t have to do so, but I will!
Let me go on record as saying Mr. Obama is a better President than Buchanan or Jackson. I have done well here (I think) with the exception of a Chris Christie slam. That was stupid. Mr. Christie did the right thing by his state and he did not cost Mr. Romney the election
Eighth, I not confuse the United States with the Kingdom of Heaven.
Patriotism is a lesser love . . . our love for God must come before our love for our people. If my nation moves from God, as I understand Him, then I must disagree with my nation. Even if the United States were to become a state I could not in good conscience support (something far from happening!), then Christ’s Kingdom would still be triumphant.
I must put the ebb and flow of national life in the context of the universal, triumphant Church of Christ.
Jesus is Lord. I am a Christian first and then an American.
Ninth, I will not confuse my political foe with my enemy, but I will love both my political foe and my enemy.
Millions of brothers and sisters in Christ will vote differently than I will vote. They are (for the moment) opposed to me politically, but they are not the “enemy.” My enemy is the Devil and evil . . . and there is enough battle there to consume most of my time!
Of course, the Cause of Christ does have enemies, and they can be found in both parties. If I can love the man or woman who hates Jesus, as He has called me to do, surely I can love the brother or sister in Christ I think wrongheaded about free trade.
I still believe this.
Finally, I will not give up my ideals, but continue to press them as I can.
Losing is not enough to cause me to give up, if after searching review the cause still appears just. I will have to reevaluate what is possible (for a time!), what is practical, what is prudent, but elections do not determine right or wrong. If I am convinced an idea is right, then I may have to hold it without hope of seeing it politically prevail in my lifetime.
My work may be endurance and education.
My faith seeks understanding, not political affirmation. I will wish we had won, but know that God is still in His Heaven and that at the deepest level this necessitates all is right with the world.
Whoever wins the presidency, Jesus is still Lord.
If Mr. Romney had won a 51/48 election . . .as I predicted, then it might have given false comfort. This would have required a few million people more showing up, a few million more persuaded. Mr. Romney could have won the electoral college with less than one million well placed votes. I am glad he did not.
We have allowed intellectual laziness to set in. We need an end to “talk radio” or FOX bubbles that do not allow dissent or discussion. We have repeated slogans to ourselves too often .. . and our wise men failed us by failing to get good data on which to act.
This must change, but it cannot change without schools to produce data collectors, cultural education, and media making.
Of course, this all must take place not in new propaganda outlets, but in free educational systems where we are allowed our views. Most universities will not tolerate social, economic, or foreign policy conservatism in many departments . . . but we must not repeat this lack of ideological tyranny in any institution we build (a problem in conservative media). We must dialog . . . and grow.
I am full of hope that we can change . . . and become better people . . . and so help our nation achieve a new birth of justice and liberty.