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What’s Up With the GOP?

November 17, 2008

A lot of soul-searching is going on in the GOP since the election. The losers are asking themselves what the heck they’ve done wrong.

Some voices among the conservative talking heads have been calling for their fellow conservatives to be less conservative, claiming that this would be the only way to (re-)attract voters. Those were also the guys who greeted the nomination of McCain as the GOP’s presidential candidate, saying that the reach-across-the-aisle maverick would be the only one who would at least have a chance in this year’s election because of the political winds blowing in favour of the Democrats.

We will, of course, never know whether a different Republican candidate would have won against Obama. In a year were all the odds were against the GOP’s candidate McCain did actually pretty well. And this is even though many people were scratching their heads over some of the tactics and strategies of his campaign.

So what to make of McCain’s success and/or failure in this election? There are at least two questions that can be asked and the answers would indicate how the new game plan for the GOP should look like:

1. Was McCain doing surprisingly well because he is a moderate or because the American people actually like conservatism but Obama’s newness and coolness just trumped reason this time?

2. Did McCain lose the election because he was the Republican candidate and the electorate just about had it with those guys or because he wasn’t conservative enough and his own party base wasn’t really convinced and sat the election out?

As to the first question, the answer is probably that McCain was less of a risk than Obama. People knew or learned that McCain is a war hero and long-term senator and that Obama is a newby with little experience and – as even the AP told us right after the election – something of an “enigma.” In this sense, many voters are conservative. But in the end the lust for Change – ie in this case change from the known to the enigmatic, exciting, fill-in-your-dream-here Unknown – was more attractive to more voters than the risk-averse vote for McCain.

It is unlikely that McCain won many voters from the middle because he was perceived as a less conservative GOP candidate than, say, a Mitt Romney would have been. Voters who wanted an unconservative conservative were going for Obama.

As to the second question, the answer is probably ‘a bit of both.’ Voters from the middle were simply more likely to go for the Democrat in this election, telling themselves that voting as far away from Bush as possible will make all evils of the world disappear. (The only exception were probably some of the more ardent Hillary voters after she lost the nomination.) On the other hand, many conservatives weren’t exactly enthused about McCain and one of his favourite words being “bipartisanship”. Getting Sarah Palin on the ticket certainly helped. But it wasn’t enough.

At the end of the day (the 4th of November in this case), McCain lost because he ran as a “centrist”. With Obama sliding over time from the far left to the centre right of the political spectrum, he hauled up the voters in his way like a vacuum cleaner.

The suggested strategy of ‘reforming’ the GOP by repeating McCain’s ‘centrism’ mistake is an idea that lacks logic. Why try to make the GOP into a me-too product and practically say that the Democrats were right all the time? It’s especially obvious that this cannot be the right path because McCain was, in the eyes of many voters, an as unconservative conservative as it can get and he still lost the election.

What would the GOP slogans be when the ‘me-too’ approach would be tried? “Hey, sorry if you really didn’t want government to run your health care. You can still vote for the Libertarians!”? Or “OK, on second thought protecting the unborn isn’t really that important after all”? Or “Vote for the GOP – Because we try to imitate the Democrats”?

Here is a suggestion: if you want to reform the GOP then

1. kick out the pseudo conservatives. (Many have already been sorted out by running over to Obama’s side when it became pretty unlikely that McCain would win.)

2. kick out your corrupt members. The left is painting you as the evil guys anyway. Don’t let them be right.

3. kick yourself for having denied your own President if you have done so. If a party can’t stand up for or even stand by their own President then who the heck is supposed to vote for them? It is partly your fault that Bush has such a bad reputation and look how this has helped you.

4. kick-start your engine and run on your core principles: small government, fiscal discipline, social conservatism. See to it that by voting for you people vote to keep it the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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