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NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Ross Douthat, Sean Trende, and Yuval Levin on the Election



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Ross Douthat writes on the apparent durability of the Obama coalition and what it means for Republicans:

 

[T]he lesson of the election is that the Obama coalition was truly vulnerable only to a Republican Party that took Obama seriously as an opponent – that understood how his majority had been built, why voters had joined it and why the conservative majority of the Reagan and Bush eras had unraveled.

Such understanding eluded the Republicans this year. In part, that failure can be blamed on their standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, who mostly ran as a kind of vanilla Republican instead of showing the imagination necessary to reinvent his party for a new era. Romney’s final month of campaigning was nearly flawless, though. His debate performances were the best by any Republican since Reagan and he will go down in history as one of the few losing challengers to claim a late lead in the polls. A weak nominee in many ways, he was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn’t particularly want to be reinvented, preferring to believe that the rhetoric and positioning of 1980 and 1984 could win again in the America of 2012.

Sean Trende draws attention to the large number of white voters who chose not to participate in this week’s election, and why they might have stayed home:

Had the same number of white voters cast ballots in 2012 as did in 2008, the 2012 electorate would have been about 74 percent white, 12 percent black, and 9 percent Latino (the same result occurs if you build in expectations for population growth among all these groups). In other words, the reason this electorate looked so different from the 2008 electorate is almost entirely attributable to white voters staying home. The other groups increased their vote, but by less than we would have expected simply from population growth.

Put another way: The increased share of the minority vote as a percent of the total vote is not the result of a large increase in minorities in the numerator, it is a function of many fewer whites in the denominator.

So who were these whites and why did they stay home? My first instinct was that they might be conservative evangelicals turned off by Romney’s Mormonism or moderate past. But the decline didn’t seem to be concentrated in Southern states with high evangelical populations.

So instead, I looked at my current home state of Ohio, which has counted almost all of its votes (absentees are counted first here). The following map shows how turnout presently stands relative to 2008. The brightest red counties met or exceeded 2008 turnout. Each gradation of lighter red represents a 1 percent drop in the percentage of votes cast from 2008. Blue counties are at less than 90 percent of the 2008 vote.

We can see that the counties clustered around Columbus in the center of the state turned out in full force, as did the suburban counties near Cincinnati in the southwest. These heavily Republican counties are the growing areas of the state, filled with white-collar workers.

Where things drop off are in the rural portions of Ohio, especially in the southeast. These represent areas still hard-hit by the recession. Unemployment is high there, and the area has seen almost no growth in recent years.

My sense is these voters were unhappy with Obama. But his negative ad campaign relentlessly emphasizing Romney’s wealth and tenure at Bain Capital may have turned them off to the Republican nominee as well. The Romney campaign exacerbated this through the challenger’s failure to articulate a clear, positive agenda to address these voters’ fears, and self-inflicted wounds like the “47 percent” gaffe. Given a choice between two unpalatable options, these voters simply stayed home.

If Sean is right, I’d say the Grand New Party thesis is looking pretty strong, as is the free market populism championed by Tim Carney and Luigi Zingales’s critique of crony capitalism as a barrier to upward mobility. 

And finally, Yuval Levin has written a really excellent post on the larger issues at stake for conservatives, drawing on Sean’s analysis:

Some of today’s Democrats do advance such a view of the good of the whole—a progressive view by which the national interest is served by replacing traditional mediating institutions with the more rational and technocratic public institutions of the welfare state, replacing what they take to be a stifling combination of moral collectivism and economic individualism with what they take to be a liberating combination of moral individualism and economic collectivism. It is this view that conservatives call “the Left” and which we oppose and resist. But the Democrats are not united by this view and are by no means all agreed in it. The party’s electoral strength is not a function of its commitment to this view or of the public’s acceptance of it. Its electoral strength is a function of a coalition of special-interest groups that provide both voters and activists in return for the party protecting their interests at the expense of those of other Americans when it is in power. 

The Republican Party has its own interest groups too, of course. It has often been too protective of big business, above all. But interest groups of this sort in Republican politics play nothing like the role they have in Democratic politics. The Republican Party, for good and bad, is much more of a real party—largely united and moved (and increasingly so) by a complicated and often contradictory but at bottom very coherent worldview we call conservatism which, to vastly overgeneralize, argues for traditional morality, free enterprise, and a robust national defense. The party’s electoral strength is without question a function of this view and of the public’s acceptance of it (or lack thereof). Its electoral fate therefore depends on its ability to lay out this vision of American life (at least in part translated into concrete policy) for voters in an appealing way and to persuade them of its virtues and its value to them and their country. 

This can of course involve explaining to specific groups why a more conservative government would be better for them in particular, but it generally should not mean offering certain groups benefits or protections at the expense of others for the sake of their votes. I do think there are some parts of our society that deserve special consideration and special treatment. I would favor a tax code designed to be more supportive of middle-class parents, for instance—but that’s because I think it would be good for America, strengthening us where we are weak and helping to redress the mistreatment of families in our current tax code. I favor benefits and protections for the poor and the vulnerable, provided they are designed to encourage independence and to lift people out of poverty wherever possible. But those are, at least as I understand them, outgrowths of a broader conservative worldview—they are my conservatism applied to specific instances, and I think they should be persuasive to everyone, not just to people in the groups that might benefit, because I think they would be good for the country. I don’t think I would change my mind about them if an election went poorly, though I might change which of them I emphasize in response to the needs of the moment or I might change the way I argue about them to try to be more persuasive to one kind of fellow American or another.

The election results were disappointing. But President Obama’s reelection also represents an opportunity.



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