There are two easy answers. Neither of them is correct. The first answer is advanced by proponents of liberalism. They say that the 2012 election was an ideological election, the seminal, long-awaited decision of the American public to fully embrace their inner socialists. This argument posits that Mitt Romney was an extreme conservative, Barack Obama was an extreme liberal, and the American people cast their lot with the liberal.
That argument is incorrect. As the left correctly argued during the last few weeks of the election cycle, Mitt Romney's rhetoric shifted significantly to the left as the race went on, to the point where he could plausibly be accused of me-tooism during the final presidential debate. And as the right correctly argued throughout the election cycle, President Obama posed as a fiscal moderate, a tax cutter for 95 percent of Americans, a deficit hawk and a foreign policy hardliner who brought death to Osama Bin Laden and justice to al-Qaida. Both candidates, in other words, were of the center. No matter who won the election, a significant portion of the electorate would have been bamboozled by the actual policies enacted in the wake of the election.
The second answer is a more troubling one. This answer was infamously suggested by Mitt Romney himself: the 47 percent explanation. The takers, the argument goes, now outnumber the makers in this country. More Americans are dependent on government philosophically than wish for independence from the government. If this is true, we might as well throw in the towel now; American conservatism is done until the populace, Wile E. Coyote-like, realizes they're standing over the edge of a cliff. Which isn't likely to happen soon.
So, why did Republicans really lose?
The Coalition. Exit polls showed that Republicans were outpolled again in this election cycle. In the wave election of 2008, 39 percent of the electorate was registered Democrat, compared with 32 percent Republican. The independents split for Barack Obama. In this election cycle, Republicans counted on far heavier base turnout. Instead, 38 percent of the electorate was Democrat, and 32 percent was again Republican. The Republicans have hit their roof on their coalition.
Democrats, by contrast, have cobbled together an issue-by-issue coalition with bailouts, payoffs and pointillist positions. Free birth control and abortion buy single women. Same-sex marriage buys the gay community. Food stamps buy the low-income community. Auto bailouts buy the Rust Belt states. While Republicans campaigned on big ideas, it was Obama's small ideas that counted. As it turns out, using the government coffers as a piggy bank to fund your political bribery is a winning strategy.
Republicans, by contrast, were relegated to the white population. That population is shrinking, not growing. Republicans must begin to broaden their coalition. And the best place to start would be with a comprehensive immigration plan that takes the illegal immigration issue off the table for Democrats. Once that issue is no longer relevant to the Latino community, traditional values become a big winner among Latino Catholics. And that means victory.
The Ground Game. The Obama camp claimed that they had the world's best ground game. They were right, largely because they are allied with the world's most powerful labor unions, which spend mandatory dues money on political candidates of their choosing. Even in California, where voters had an opportunity to end this perverse process, the unions simply spent enough cash (some $70 million) and knocked on enough doors to shut it down. Wisconsin's backlash against public sector unions is a rarity. Nationally -- and especially in states like Ohio and Nevada -- the unions are the Democrats' ground game. And they're great at it. Republicans, by contrast, have a ground game comprised of volunteers. That's a loser.
The RNC. Yes, our candidate was a moderate. Yes, he was a blue blood. Yes, he appeared to be inarticulate on a regular basis about fundamental freedom and liberty issues. And yes, he did not represent the conservative base. The RNC must be purged. It has been run by coastal elites for far too long -- and that's why Republicans, who will never win the coasts, are losing in states they should win like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The Reagan coalition still exists. But the Republicans have to embrace it. And they have to embrace candidates who embrace it, rather than shunning social conservatives and Tea Partiers.
2012 was not the end of the world. It was a reminder of just how polarized our politics have become. The only way to break the impasse is for Republicans to broaden their appeal and strengthen their message. And that will require real change -- and real determination by conservatives to make that change happen.