Blaming defeat on Mitt Romney would be a mistake. It’s true that he wasn’t a perfect candidate, but there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate. It’s true, too, that he’s proven, ah, flexible as to policy positions; but, then, the (Groucho) Marxian line that “if you don’t like my principles, I have others” is widely applicable to politicians. The question for conservatives and Republicans is what adjustments might be needed to the principles — or at least the specific positions — we ask aspiring politicians to pretend to hold. I’m writing a longer thing on immigration, but a couple of thoughts on issues that had more impact:
War. It’s true that foreign policy doesn’t usually sway elections, but war can. Too many conservatives misjudged the popularity of ending our involvement in Iraq and the prospect of doing so in Afghanistan. Despite the varying merits of our ridiculous intervention in Libya or the widespread use of drone attacks, they don’t entail dead Americans. Blaming Obama for squandering the opportunity to gain a status of forces agreement in Iraq, or talking about the need to stay in Afghanistan until we defeat the Taliban, is not something war-weary Americans want to hear. That goes in spades for war with Iran.
It’s true that Obama’s toadying apologies to the world’s gangsters and post-national sophisticates is unpopular; but after a decade of non-stop war, with the prospect of more, people will choose the cringing apologist and no war over a proud and forthright stance leading to more war. Whatever nuances they might miss, the “to hell with then hawks” are much more in tune with public sentiment than the official GOP foreign policy stance.
Taxes. Grover’s no-new-taxes pledge is very effective at the tactical level; Republicans easily retained control of the House. But presidential candidates need to articulate a strategic vision, and just responding “no” to a question about whether they’d take a 10-1 deal of spending cuts in exchange for tax increases makes it hard for many voters to take you seriously.
Rather, a candidate that’s going to be seen as credible by voters has to make clear that tax increases might well be needed to dig ourselves out of the deep hole we’ve created for ourselves, but that every time package legislation has been passed, the Democrats have welshed on the deal, increasing the taxes without cutting any spending. Thus, the only responsible approach would be to insist some genuine spending cuts first — actual cuts, not reductions in the rate of increase — and only then talk about tax increases. Lots of voters aren’t going to want to see anything cut, even subsidies for lucrative children’s TV characters, but a successful GOP candidate doesn’t have to persuade everyone he’s fiscally serious, just more than now.
The key is not to despair.