'I come not to debate GOP conservatives, but to diagnose them' - Macleans.ca

‘I come not to debate GOP conservatives, but to diagnose them’

Paul Wells explains why this election will be dead easy for conservative Republicans to rationalize


This was always going to be a close election. It’s hard to imagine a U.S. presidential election that wouldn’t be close. They used to have decisive victories — Johnson in 1964 and Nixon in 1972 both won with more than 60 per cent of the popular vote — but those days seem long gone now.

Barack Obama won despite 8 per cent unemployment by fielding a superb campaign operation, staging a vastly superior nominating convention and bouncing back after a dreadful first debate performance. More than that, his position on issues held more of the fractured American electorate than Romney’s did. Obamacare turned out to be more asset than handicap. Obama’s stewardship of the economy neutralized Romney’s business-guy advantage. Democrats held approximately as many House and Senate seats as before the election. Equal-marriage ballot initiatives seem at this hour to have carried in Maryland, Minnesota, Washington and Maine. Voters in Washington and Colorado supported the decriminalization of marijuana. Republicans tempted to congratulate themselves for winning the white vote should be told, gently, that on top of being a distasteful way to apportion legitimacy in a democracy, the analysis is radically unhelpful: the white share of the electorate has fallen 15 points since 1980. Jacques Parizeau is a poor role model for Republicans who actually want to win something.

But this election will be dead easy for conservative Republicans to rationalize. Earlier tonight I assumed they would hide behind Hurricane Sandy for a few days before shifting to the real target, Mitt Romney, who would be adjudged too moderate to have any traction. It turns out Sandy’s services won’t be needed. Before midnight GOP commentators were already writing Romney off as a Massachussetts wet whose post-convention “Etch-a-Sketch” shift to the centre erased anything he could have used to gain traction against Obama. In 2016 Paul Ryan or somebody like him will head the ticket instead of decorating its undercard. Republicans can be Republicans again. It will be a cinch.

And if a candidate can run well to the right of the Romney/Ryan ’12 ticket and close the voter gaps that killed it among Hispanic, female and younger voters, then it’ll work a charm. If not, not. I’m surprised to see Canadian Conservatives who have worked for Stephen Harper tempted by this argument. Harper has grown his advantage since 2006 through aggressive, methodical outreach to minority and immigrant populations. He has passed nothing resembling the income-tax cuts, favouring the most well-off voters, that Ryan championed (although Harper’s margin of manoeuvre benefited from the way he inherited a strong fisc from his predecessors, as Obama didn’t, Romney/Ryan wouldn’t have, and the GOP’s ’16 nominee probably won’t).

But no matter. I come not to debate the GOP conservatives, but to diagnose them. A few apostate Republicans — David Frum, maybe Ross Douthat — will hope for a chastened GOP eager to radically rethink its tenets. They’re already out of luck.




‘I come not to debate GOP conservatives, but to diagnose them’

  1. So they’re thinking if we work really really hard and move crazy-right we can have a candidate as popular as Romney before the first debate?

    • Yep, I think they should go with that plan. Sounds awesome.

  2. Both positions are simplistic and empty-headed. I’ve been predicting since 2011 that Romney would lose the election – not because he’s too moderate or too conservative, but because he’s a really lousy campaigner.

    Romney is wildly uninspiring to the base, comes off as insincere and phony to swing voters, and generates a seemingly endless series of gaffes. He got a sudden boost after the first debate, which was more Obama’s failure than Romney’s success, and then gradually slid back to normal. (Although I must admit that he did better in the final tally than I thought he would through most of the campaign.)

    It’s worth noting, though, that the Republicans picked the designated “moderate” candidate in 2008 and 2012, and lost both times. Would a “conservative” have done better? We’ll never know.

    • No, more conservative would have been a bigger landslide for the Dems.

      The country is not nearly as conservative as they have been led to believe.The GOP have fooled themselves to believe that their positions on taxation, military and social issues are the popular positions. When they are not.

  3. Johnson in 1964 and Nixon in 1972 both won with more than 60 per cent of the popular vote — but those days seem long gone now

    No need to go that far back : In 1984, Reagan won a decisive victory with just under 60% of the popular vote.

  4. Everyone knew Obama would win the minute they saw the pack of crazies that Republicans put forth as contenders.

    White, ‘exceptionalism’, inequality and a big stick don’t work anymore….never did actually, but now more people know it.

    • It was never such a sure thing. Romney had a real chance, especially after that first debate. The original field of GOP candidates was an absolute gong show, but I don’t see that happening next time around. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to, but I think that maybe someone learned a lesson last night, and they might begin fielding more mainstream candidates from here on in. Or maybe they will double down on crazy? Who knows?

      • Yeah it was, but claiming it was close brought in lots of advertising bucks and ensured more people turned out to vote on a just-in-case basis.

        Even the debate performance brought in more people determined to vote.

        ‘There are no coincidences in politics’–FDR

        Will the Repubs learn anything… or double down on crazy? Well some Repubs appear to have figured it out….but today Ari Fleischer said the Republican Party will never embrace LGBT and women’s rights. They aren’t big on Hispanics either. Or really, the 21st century. Repubs are stuck in the 1950s

        And that…..the power they perceive themselves as entitled to….is more important to them than their country, or their children’s future.

        • I agree with you on everything except for it being a sure thing. When unemployment is near 8%, and the president’s a black guy, he can lose. Based on the “conventional wisdom” he should have. Thank God/Allah/Yahweh/Buddha/secular replacement for the divine that the GOP absolutely sh*t the bed this time around. I’m a big fan of Barry, but he was the most beatable incumbent in my entire lifetime.

          • But most people don’t vote on that basis. They vote on general direction, and they didn’t like Romneys/Repubs.

            There is more than one gender, more than one colour, more than one religion, more than one way to do things….people have recognized that and moved away from group-think now…so ‘conventional wisdom’ doesn’t apply anymore because it came from the 50s, and we ain’t there anymore.

          • Barry? You trying to turn him into a white guy?

  5. You have to give Harper credit (Yikes). He saw this narrowing base Conservatives were relying on and knew he had broaden it and reach out to minorities and immigrants as Wells notes. Will Republicans be smart enough to look north or will they dig deeper into a racist, fundamentalist Tea Party base and circle the wagons. Does it mean Canadian style splits on the American right, then finally uniting again?

    • I can’t stand Stephen Harper, but he’s an excellent politician and strategist. Had the Conservatives adopted a Republican style strategy, they would not have lasted beyond that first minority government. While I think he harbours views far to the right of most Canadians, he’s far too much of a pragmatist to act on them, for fear of spooking the electorate (or at least I hope so).

  6. Well, whatever the party did at the representative level worked. The House of Representatives will be Republican for the next two years.

  7. Hah! I was waiting for someone to cry…it was money and the ethnic vote.

    I don’t follow US politics nearly as closely as many here @macleans, but i did notice Krauthammer[ Canadian right?] has already doubled down on crazy…good luck with that.

    I can’t wait to hear what that other ex pat Ferguson has to say. He seems to have succumbed to something in the air since settling in the US, or maybe he always was that loopy, it just didn’t particularly stand out in the old country?

  8. Voters in Washington and Colorado supported the decriminalization of marijuana.

    I’m not sure about Washington, but Colorado voters supported the LEGALIZATION of marijuana didn’t they?

  9. The American election: Heads, the banksters and plutocrats win. Tails, the banksters and plutocrats win. A six billion dollar exercise is faux political theatre designed to fool the masses.

    The Democratic and Republicans are the two heads of the bankster and plutocrat party.

    • People are capable of holding more than one viewpoint or opinion in their heads at one time; there are other differences between the two parties that obviously mattered in the end.

  10. To paraphrase Edward G. Robinson from The Ten Commandments, “Where’s you Reihan Salam now?”

  11. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.