Republican “strategists” remind me of those scientists and detectives who stand around looking baffled in the mysterious indentation of ground at the start of a Godzilla movie. Then the camera pulls back and you realize the shallow trench is really a giant footprint. The GOP slogged out the election in the little toe of politics unaware that they were about to be stomped by the Democrat monster of the broader culture. For much of the electorate, politics is now tribal. I don’t just mean the 93 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics who voted for Obama, but various other demographic niches, from impoverished single women to upscale gays. If you know whether someone’s black or lesbian or a college professor, you can guess how they vote and be right nine times out of ten. They are beyond questions of economic or foreign policy: Their self-identification trumps politics. Sociocultural identifiers count for more than the failure of the stimulus or a cover-up in Benghazi. Just as Obama fits Daniel Craig’s idea of an action hero, so he fits these voters’ idea of a president, and Mitt Romney doesn’t.
Are you so sure it’ll go differently next time with Ryan or Rubio? Republicans have spent the last half-century surrendering all the cultural space in which Americans actually live in the 729 days between elections. Yes, yes, I know; I said exactly the same thing here four years ago:
If Hollywood’s liberal, if the newspapers are liberal, if the pop stars are liberal, if the grade schools are liberal, if the very language is liberal to the point where all the nice words have been co-opted as a painless liberal sedative, a Republican legislature isn’t going to be a shining city on a hill so much as one of those atolls in the Maldives being incrementally swallowed by Al Gore’s rising sea levels.
Which is why the 2010 GOP House made so little difference. “We have to get back in the game in all the arenas we’ve ceded to liberalism,” I wrote in 2008. “Otherwise, as in Daniel Craig’s improvised casting call, we’ll be lucky to wind up with a cameo in the national narrative.”