Of all the sad, mistaken and unsubstantiated points made by angry conservatives in attempts to distort the clear-cut election results, the easiest to rebut is the claim that "six million Republicans who backed Bush last time didn't show up for McCain."
This is statistical and analytical nonsense, pure and simple.
Yes, McCain got about six million fewer votes than Bush....BUT THAT'S BECAUSE HE LOST THE VOTE OF SELF DESCRIBED INDEPENDENTS, not because fewer Republicans showed up. As a matter of fact, almost exactly the same number of Republicans voted in 2008 as in 2004, providing a similar base for Bush and McCain. Using figures from American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, 36,600,000 voters identified as Republicans in 2004, and this year between 36,305,000 and 36,880,000 of those who cast ballots described themselves as Republicans in 2008.
The difference was that Bush supplemented that base with a majority of independents, and McCain lost the independents badly.
Check out my blog for Thursday night....about the missing 26 million voters. With a very similar turnout in 2004 and 2008, 28.7% of all voters called themselves Republicans this year, compared to a nearly identical 30.0% in 2004. This means, with a very slight increase in overall turnout, the raw number of REPUBLICANS who showed up this year was virtually the same, or perhaps even slightly higher than in 2004.
There’s no evidence whatever to suggest that Conservatives stayed home, or voted for Bob Barr (who did no better than the pathetic Libertarian standard bearer of four years ago, drawing less than 0.4% of the vote). Republicans were energized by the McCain-Palin ticket and came out to vote in big and honorable numbers --- and need not blame each other or launch finger-pointing blame-games against their fellow members of the GOP.
But the fact is that with the GOP representing just 30% of overall voters (in the victorious race of 2004 as well as this year’s big loss), and with self-identified “conservatives” only 34% of overall voters (exactly the same percentage as 2004), you simply can't win by appealing only to "conservatives" or "Republicans." You need to win a majority of "independents" (40% of voters this year) and self-described "moderates", or somehow persuade substantial numbers of Democrats and liberals to vote for you, in order to win elections.
Reagan, the first President Bush, and George W. Bush all managed to appeal to moderates and independents by running to the center. Reagan (who chose George H.W. Bush as his running mate and made a big push to attract moderates in both ’80 and ’84) never attacked his intra-party opponents as “RINOs” or “phony conservatives” or offered long-check lists to assure conservative purity. He probably wouldn’t pass muster with today’s right wingers because the greatest conservative of them all was anything but a hardliner on immigration (he signed a massive amnesty bill, remember?) and even agreed to several major tax increases (which George W, Bush and John McCain NEVER did, by the way). If we fail to follow Reagan’s pragmatic and inclusive example, and connect with independent and moderate-minded voters, it's sheerest fantasy to believe that the GOP could ever win anything, anywhere, with conservatives alone.
Again, my whole point in the original post was that McCain actually won more votes than "stalwart conservatives" who appeared on the ballot alongside him. The only GOP candidates who fared better than McCain in any states with hotly contested battles in this election were those (like Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, Lindsey Graham, Gordon Smith) who were perceived as at least as "independent" and "moderate" as McCain.
If anyone cares to name one "true conservative" statewide candidate, anywhere in America, who ran ahead of McCain, I would appreciate it if you'd give me that name.
Go ahead, make my day.
Frankly, I can't find any example to prove that "running on principle" and ignoring independents and moderates actually brought political success this year.
Meanwhile, no one -- not me, and not John McCain, for that matter -- ever called for abandoning principle or changing conservative commitments on human life, runaway federal spending, smaller government, second amendment rights, or anything else.
As I made abundantly clear at the end of my previous piece, what needs to change isn't substance, it's style. You can't reach the American majority (which is a center-right majority, not a right-right majority) with anger, nastiness, smugness, or fratricidal warfare.
That's why the jerks who have turned on Sarah Palin are so lamentable, so loathsome. She was a fine candidate, and she is an honorable American and strong public servant that I've consistently defended.
But it's no less hateful and stupid to turn on McCain -- who freely admitted his own mistakes (and yes, there were plenty of 'em) but still ran a strong and energetic race in the midst of overwhelmingly unfavorable circumstances.