Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on where things stand following the 2012 election cycle. Part 2 will focus on where we stand spiritually. Part 1 is about where we stand politically.New York Yankees great Yogi Berra once famously observed, “When you come to a fork in the road—take it.”
And that is exactly what the conservative movement, as well as the Republican Party, is now forced to do. The only question following yet another election loss to Barack Obama is which one?
The very same people that have shoved Mitt McDoles down our throats for decades now will re-emerge from the ruling class to tell us that Mitt Romney was too conservative (I know, I laughed out loud, too), so we have to abandon whatever shred of conservatism actually still exists within the Republican Party leadership to win.
Yet we now know that is a pernicious lie.
Romney did everything the cynical Karl Rove wing of the party says Republicans have to do to win. He abandoned his base when he said the grassroots uprising standing up for Chick-fil-a was “not a part of my campaign,” and he joined the liberal dog pile on Todd Akin. He played it safe and didn’t offer any major tax or entitlement reform ideas to avoid the fiscal cliff out of fear being demagogued. He ran on platitudes and talked more about how bad Obama is rather than what plans for the future he had. He even became the first Republican presidential nominee to run pro-choice television ads, which aired in battleground states like Virginia, Ohio and Iowa. Romney won independents in key battleground states as well.
And he still lost.
What we need to do is make a list of everyone in the alleged “conservative media” that peddles this tripe, or went on Fox News guaranteeing a Romney victory and told us how skewed all the mainstream media polls were (when in the last three presidential elections they’ve been exactly right), and resolve never to trust these people again.
Frankly, we should’ve known better than to trust them in the first place. During the past two primary cycles didn’t we watch many of these same people tell us Mike Huckabee was a Christian socialist, Ron Paul was a nut-case, Rick Santorum was a pro-life statist, and Newt Gingrich opposed the very Reagan Revolution he was a foot soldier in?
You can agree or disagree with any of the men I just mentioned and I certainly have disagreements with all of them. But that’s not the point. The point is the very same people trashing and slandering non-establishment candidates in primaries are the very same people that tell conservatives we have to be team players (see that as stand for nothing). And yet they attack us like they would never attack liberals. Perhaps if Romney had gone after the president in the final two debates on Benghazi the way he went after Gingrich and Santorum in the primary, he wouldn’t have lost the election.
But now it’s time to move forward.
I recently spoke to a group of grassroots conservative activists at the Institute on the Constitution in Baltimore, and shared with them that I believe we are a movement in a generational transition. On one hand there is the Reagan generation, and my generation on the other.
The Reagan generation sees how much freedom and liberty has been lost since Reagan, and are trying to do whatever they can to hold on to whatever is left before it’s completely lost. The hope is that if we hold on long enough and defeat Democrats with any Republican, we can create another perfect storm that gave rise to Reagan in the first place and it will be “morning in America” again.
My generation doesn’t have that nostalgia for the Reagan era, because we were growing up and not really paying attention or weren’t even born at all. Now that we are paying attention, we don’t see the country in the context of what has been lost but rather how much ground needs to be gained. We are not seeing this purely in the context of the next election cycle. We’re seeing this in a generational cycle, which is why we oppose compromises on important issues like life and the debt ceiling. We don’t really care what the ruling class and its brigade of hand-wringers masquerading as pundits and pollsters think, because we’re the ones that will pick up the long-term tab for the financial, moral, and spiritual brokenness of the country.
We’re looking at the next 40 years, not just the next four.
Ironically, though we may not be a part of the Reagan generation, we have the same perspective Reagan had in 1976 when he said the Republican Party ought to stand for something other than becoming more like Democrats, and there should be no more “pale pastels” but “bold colors” instead.
Eventually my generation is going to get its chance to lead because we have time on our side. Nobody lives forever. When we do get our chance to lead, and it may be sooner rather than later, we need to learn the lessons of recent failures lest we fail our children and grandchildren.
This election provided by plenty of hard lessons, but also a useful road map of how to win the future:
1. The truth still sets us free.
Yes, the mainstream media favors liberals, but just giving our yin to their yang doesn’t produce truth—it just produces another echo chamber. I couldn’t believe how many conservatives I know and trust who really thought Romney was going to win, and win convincingly, despite the fact several polling models with a 96% accuracy rate in the past two presidential elections said otherwise. Our version of propaganda is no more true than their version of propaganda. We are dangerously close to becoming the magically thinking, virtual reality-living creatures we accuse the Democrat base of being. If we want to advance truth, we need to believe the truth ourselves—even when it’s inconvenient. And the truth is we are no longer the dominant view in the culture, and we have some work to do to change that.
2. Hypocrisy doesn’t sell.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen says the single most unpopular piece of legislation in recent American history was the TARP bailout of 2008. Yet we nominated a candidate who was for it. Good luck going to Toledo and telling Ohioans making $15/hour and think their job was saved by the auto industry bailout that they didn’t deserve a government handout, but Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs did.
3. Cast a vision.
After the Democrats lost an election in 2004 they probably shouldn’t have lost, the more principled-progressive wing of the party took over. The result was an anti-Bush liberal uprising in 2006 similar to the anti-Obama Tea Party uprising of 2010. Next, the new progressives defeated the more pragmatic Clintons head-to-head in a presidential primary. Obama ran for president promising his base he would move the ball down the field for them with their crown jewel legislation—Obamacare. He then went right back to that base in 2012 and worked the exact same get out the vote model that worked in 2008.
He embraced his base, even on social issues, both in the White House and at his convention. While we were scoffing at him for never moderating, Obama was energizing his base all along in preparation for a tough re-election. The progressives cast a vision that took more than one election cycle, followed it through, and won. They never detoured no matter what the facts were on the ground because they have a courage of their conviction their vision is what’s best for the country. They wanted to win to govern. The Republican ruling class wants to govern to win. The Democrats want to run a country. The Republican ruling class wants to run a party.
4. Stop demonizing our neighbors.
We called Bill Clinton every name in the book and even impeached him, and that didn’t work. We called Obama every name in the book, and all we did was help him to portray his failures as Bush’s fault and energize his base all the more. We called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and all we did was scare even more skittish advertisers away from conservative talk radio.
Yes, there is a double standard here. You should see some of the Tweets I receive after appearing on MSNBC, like when someone tweeted after I defended Richard Mourdock he hoped my daughters would get raped. We watch homosexual activists glitter bomb conservatives and can only imagine what would happen if we returned such fire. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.
I am as fiery as the next guy, and at times have not been able to hold my tongue, especially when it’s fun not to. But I’ve learned that while we don’t need to moderate our principles we do need to temper our approach. Ann Coulter shrillness may sell books to the already-converted, but it’s losing the culture at-large. We no longer have a country that accepts many of our premises, so we have to go into evangelism mode. That requires a relationship and trust, and it’s hard to build that rapport with people while demonizing them. Pardon the cliché, but we need happy warriors. As the late D.L. Moody once said, “When you’re winsome you win some.”
Most of our neighbors we are angry with for voting the way they did don’t go to church and were taught things about this country in public schools that are contrary to this nation’s actual history. How should we expect them to vote given those circumstances? We’re not a silent majority anymore. We’re a plurality in danger of becoming a minority. If you want our neighbors to vote differently, then we have to change their worldview.
5. We need solutions – not just values.
Obama won young voters again despite the fact they’re the group hardest hit by his policies. They will be saddled with all the debt we’re tacking on, and live in a more dangerous world in the long run with the emergence of the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and a nuclear Iran.
We are losing them by trying to win them over to values that make freedom possible – Judeo-Christian morality, personal responsibility, limited government, etc. – yet they have been educated in an environment that makes these values foreign to them. It will only get harder to win them over as they get older.
For example, they don’t see the Second Amendment as a requirement to keep freedom secure from government tyranny, but rather gun control as a means of stopping little children from being killed by gang violence or gun accidents. See, they’re not looking for values, they’re looking for solutions.
For better or for worse, there is one Republican who has been attracting younger voters in the past two presidential primaries, and that’s Ron Paul. Granted, some are those whose only goal is to legalize marijuana, but that’s also a lazy stereotype. Many of them are young people who don’t understand why it’s their responsibility to pay for the lack of fiscal discipline of their forefathers, and why they have to die in foreign lands nation-building when our nation is declining here. Paul is offering them solutions to these problems and not just values. I don’t agree with all of Paul’s solutions, but I do think we could learn from this approach.
Do we have a solution for these young voters to their problems? Furthermore, do we have solutions to the problems with healthcare and job creation that middle class voters think much more about than they do the deeper moral crisis in the country? Changing worldviews is a long-term goal, but in the short-term we can still win elections by coming up with real conservative solutions to people’s problems as opposed to a general discussion of values.
Working class whites in Ohio who typically vote Republican and voted for Obama don’t see him as a Marxist putting us on the road to Greece. They see Obama as the guy that saved daddy’s job at the Chrysler plant and thus kept food on the family’s table.
Solutions trump values every time because people always vote out of vested interest.
6. We’re too white. African-Americans routinely vote with us on issues like marriage, yet there is almost never any Republican Party follow-up with them after they do. Latinos are one of the more socially conservative subcultures in America, and Romney did worse with them in 2012 than John McCain did in 2008. The reality is the country is becoming less white, so we’re going to have to come up with ways to apply our principles to the needs of non-whites like never before.
It doesn’t mean we have to pander to them or try to out amnesty the Democrats, but it may mean we may need to take a more incremental approach on some hot-button issues.
How can we demand that minorities stop seeing government as the primary vehicle to access the American dream when Republicans in the corporate class do it all the time? To ask African-Americans to totally abandon programs like affirmative-action, and to ask Latinos to look the other way while we mass deport some of their family members and friends is unrealistic when at the same time we allow Republicrats to get away with using government for their purposes all the time. Sometimes it’s like we’re writing the Democrats’ campaign commercials for them.
Look at Texas, one of the most Republican and conservative states in the country. About 38% of the state’s population is Latino, so how are conservatives making gains in a state with such a huge Latino population and can it be modeled nationally? No one would accuse Texas of being a moderate state—far from it. Most of us consider it conservative Valhalla, so why not follow its lead?
7. Pro-lifers are losing.
Please stop quoting polls telling me the country is more pro-life than ever before. When Richard Mourdock loses a U.S. Senate seat in a very Republican state for saying that all life, regardless of how it’s conceived, is a gift from God and deserves to be protected, then that means again we need to be honest with ourselves and stop believing our own fundraising propaganda.
Pro-lifers are the largest and most loyal voting bloc the GOP has, yet we have almost nothing to show for it except the carcass of Todd Akin abandoned on the side of the road by the GOP establishment. Akin is not a victim for his own mangled remarks, but we were victimized by a party establishment who decided three months ago they’d rather have Harry Reid as Majority Leader than a good man with a 96% American Conservative Union rating in the U.S. Senate. There was plenty of time to rehabilitate Akin in a very Republican state, but the ruling class piled on him instead.
If 40 years after Roe v. Wade the culture doesn’t believe my own family line conceived in horrific and traumatic circumstances has the right to live, then we have lost the most crucial moral debate of this age and need to completely re-evaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
I remain optimistic. God is still on the throne. My Savior lives. More and more patriots are waking up. This is still the greatest nation on earth. Providence has allowed us to live in a nation where we can control our own destiny, and we can do so again if we have the same courage of conviction demonstrated by past generations that gave us the freedom and liberty we currently enjoy.
They that have ears to hear, let them hear.
Steve Deace's nationally-syndicated radio show airs coast-to-coast each weeknight from 9-Midnight eastern, including many of the Salem Radio Network's top conservative talk stations in markets like New York City, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Minneapolis. His radio program has been featured in major media such as Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Weekly Standard, and National Review among others. In 2013 he wrote the second-most shared column of the year for USA Today, defending "Duck Dynasty" and traditional American values. In addition to being a contributor for Town Hall.com, Deace is also a columnist for The Washington Times. He is also the author of the new book Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again, which includes a foreword by David Limbaugh and is endorsed by a who's who of conservative leaders. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.