There was this group of drivers that had the same sponsors and fan base. They all entered a grueling, months-long cross country race. They also had to drive and maintain the same car all through the race. The drivers all chose to drive one model of car that had been built many years ago, and had been designed for a totally different terrain. The cars were all beat up, leaked oil, tended to overheat and – after much use – handled rather badly.
Some of the drivers couldn’t handle either the speed of the race or the challenges of driving their broken-down car. The cars would stall out and then, after repairs, catch on fire when the driver turned the ignition. A couple of drivers dropped their cars off the mountainside. Tough to blame that one on the car.
A few of the drivers managed to baby their cars all the way to the finish line. There were times when the cars stalled out and had to be pushed to the side of the road to make repairs. The drivers sometimes made a wrong turn, but they got back on the right road. These drivers went the distance, but they lost to competitors who had newer cars and GPS.
One driver did the best out of the group. He had spent the months before the race taking care of his car so it rarely stalled out – even if it didn’t have the best engine. He had studied maps of the course, so he never got lost. He lost some time on the turns, but it isn’t clear if the problem was his driving or the car’s steering. He spun out a few times, but he always stayed on the road. He finished ahead of all the other drivers who had his model car, but he finished behind a competitor who drove a new car that was designed for the exact terrain of the race.
The metaphor should be obvious. The candidates who crashed and burned were the majority of the Republican presidential candidates from the 2012 cycle. The competent drivers who finished the race but lost, were candidates like Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson and Virginia’s George Allen. These were experienced and accomplished 1990s Republican politicians who lost Senate races in 2012. The last driver was Mitt Romney – who not only got the Republican presidential nomination, but also outperformed Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin and George Allen in Virginia. But he lost the race
Forget about the drivers for a second. Think about the cars. The cars were the interlocking attitudes and institutions of the right. Think about the complete inability to comprehend the worldviews of the various populations of swing-voters, the failure to create an agenda that was relevant for people’s lives as they are lived today, and an inability to effectively use new media to reach rising voting populations. The GOP was either living in a past of Kemp-Roth tax cuts forever, or living in a dream world where the only thing people wanted to hear about was the awesomeness of business owners. And it wasn’t just Romney. The Republicans were all driving the same kind of car. Romney was just a little better at driving and maintaining his.
But being a little better than the other Republicans wasn’t enough to win the race. Maybe someone should have worked on designing a new and better car, that would have given any competent driver a better chance of winning. One thing is certain. Romney was never going to be the guy to build that car or even to imagine what that car might look like.
That better car has yet to be designed and built. Maybe it will be designed by a team of geniuses. Maybe the new design will emerge from aggregating dozens of incremental modifications of the old model made by different drivers at different times. Republicans will be missing a chance in 2016 if they try to win with the same car and the same driver – or the same car with a different driver.