Lessons Learned
What can we learn from Election 2012? Some reflections

A victorious President Obama, November 7, 2012


The hardest thing for conservative elites to assimilate from this election is the rejection of Romney’s economic message by the voters. At a time of high unemployment, with four years of economic failure and burgeoning deficits, it should have been impossible for Obama to win reelection.

The fundamental problem is that the middle class did not hear the conservative economic message as addressing directly their two primary anxieties: unstable employment and a decline in real income.

Here is the current disconnect in a nutshell: 37 percent of voters in exit polls named rising prices as the biggest economic problem, basically tied with the 38 percent who named unemployment (only 15 percent named the deficit, and 14 percent named taxes). It is time for the conservative movement to think seriously about the forgotten prong of the Reagan economic agenda: better monetary policy — specifically, a gold-linked dollar as a means of fiscal discipline and price stability. In reality, as well as politically, only a program of monetary reform can provide a plausible case that wage-earners will not continue to fall behind, that steady and consistent growth will not be undermined by the fiscal policies of government.

Finally, in addition to appealing to Latinos, it is critical that the GOP get the social issues right. The truce strategy is the most politically ineffectual position possible. Republicans this election cycle adopted pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious-liberty positions while showing voters they would not publicly promote or defend them. This enables liberals to define the public debate on social issues on their terms, not ours.

So we argue social issues on our weakest political ground (rape exceptions) and take a political hit, while reaping none of the political benefits the social issues have in attracting new voters (including Latinos) into the coalition.

An economic policy that addresses middle-class economic decline, a more substantive appeal to Latinos, and an integrated American conservatism that defends fundamental values fearlessly: That’s the pathway to victory moving forward.

— Frank Cannon is president of the American Principles Project.

To extract lessons from this election from the Catholic perspective, one need look no further than Ohio. In exit polls, 25 percent of voters identified themselves as Catholic, and they went 55 percent for Romney and a mere 44 percent for Obama. These numbers are quite different from the national Catholic vote, which split pretty evenly, and it is highly unusual for the Catholic vote not to be with the winner. The spread favors Romney even more among church-going Ohio Catholics. Why so different in Ohio? The Life and Liberty coalition had an extensive grassroots ground game in Ohio. Where the battle was fully engaged, where voters saw the stark contrast between the two candidates on life issues and religious liberty, the outcome was different.

The next lesson does not apply only to Catholics. Catholic outreach needs to include a strong emphasis on Hispanic Catholic outreach. Forty percent of Catholics are Hispanic. The Church teaches us to be welcoming to the immigrant — this is a natural complement to the pro-family, pro-religious-liberty, pro-life coalition. We must find a way to do this better — it is likely to be a major policy debate in the years to come, and the Hispanic population continues to grow as a key constituency in American politics and in the pews.

— Maureen Ferguson is senior policy adviser for the Catholic Association.

It’s virtually impossible to construct a conservative political majority out of a liberal culture. Thus — paraphrasing Daenerys Targaryen from George R. R. Martin’s outstanding Game of Thrones books — to go forward, we must go back. We must go back to the hard work of rebuilding our culture. Can conservatives truly hope to prevail if we can’t arrest the growth of illegitimacy and the decline of marriage? Or if we leave the education of our children to those who reject and scorn conservative values? Or if the entire pop culture outside the conservative cocoon reinforces that scorn?

Even a singular political talent like Ronald Reagan would have difficulty winning in our current cultural environment. Yet conforming is not an option. Conservatives should reject any political movement that responds to negative cultural changes simply by making peace with those changes and becoming merely a slightly less malign cultural force.