I will not proclaim to be smart enough to know what makes American politics tick at the level others do. Yet there are certain rules I generally live by, and it was those rules that told me early on that Mitt Romney would be a losing presidential candidate. It was the Establishment's insistence that it was his turn, the belittling of the conservative alternatives that cropped up, and the aversion to the Tea Party that had my Spidey-sense going off. The epitome of this is Jennifer Rubin, but there are scores of others. They tell us we need to "modernize" in order to have a "broader appeal." In reality, they are just embarrassed to have to defend their party to their friends. That is not to say the GOP's overreliance on issues like Planned Parenthood, gay marriage, and strident anti-immigration rhetoric hasn't hurt. But we can solve that issue more in finding smarter and better candidates than changing what the party believes in. Freedom nationally and values locally is a phrase I heard somewhere and I really like.
So I've been looking at the 2012 election results with wonder. Barack Obama lost close to 8 million votes from four years before and Mitt Romney won both married women and independent voters. Yet, he underperformed McCain-Palin by 3 million votes and lost Hispanic votes that had helped George W. Bush carry Nevada, Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico eight years earlier. He also lost the entire election. How did that happen? The problem goes back to two incidents over the last four years that set the GOP on this course of disaster. It was the Establishment's shunning of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry. And by extension, both the grassroots and thoughtful conservatism
That's right. First, Palin. I think about those 3 million votes that Romney-Ryan trailed McCain-Palin by. I know for a fact that the Romney Campaign had more money, more resources, and a much better organization than the haphazard embarrassment that was the Steve Schmidt-led McCain campaign (and we let Schmidt tell us what's wrong with the party!). The difference was Sarah Palin. Its revisionist history by asshats like Schmidt that pin the blame for 2008 on Palin claiming she embarrassed the campaign that started the narrative of her being a joke and ended with her becoming a celebrity. But I think 2012 has proven that Palin might be the greatest vote-getting VP nominee in history. Those 3 million votes were Palin voters. She connected with the conservative base on a visceral and emotional level that I've never seen before. The Romney-Ryan ticket did not have that connection with the base that Palin did (and Bush did before her). I saw it with my own eyes how Palin energized the party, it is only because of the terrible operation and campaign set up by Schmidt that that energy could not be harnessed. Palin was a true game-changer and ALMOST saved the country from Barack Obama.
Now, to Rick Perry. This is not a post to argue whether Rick Perry could have beaten Barack Obama or not. Instead, Romney and the Establishment's glee it painting Perry as a cross between Yosemite Sam and the governor from Blazing Saddles (harumph!) obscured a deeper political message Perry could have provided to Hispanic voters. Romney took glee in attacking Perry's positions on Hispanics and the Texas DREAM Act, which allowed in-state tuition for kids of illegal immigrants. It was the hokey Perry, not the debonoir Romney, that understood the costs of continuing the Republicans stridency on this issue. For Perry, it migth be as cynical as just needing Hispanic votes in Texas to become governor, but it also showed that Perry had an understanding of how conservatism can help solve this problem rather than keeping these people in the shadows, as they say. In the cast of Perry vs. Romney, it turns out the simple Texas governor's message was deeper and more nuanced (a favorite word of the Establishment) while it was the urbane and moderate Mitt Romney that had the black and white harsh rhetoric that paints the party in a bad light to Hispanic voters. Romney lost the election when he demagogued Rick Perry on immigration.
The lessons from Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are what needs to be applied to the GOP moving forward. Ignore the Establishment who say we need to modernize and moderate, they have had those candidates in McCain and Romney, and they have lost. Americans won't vote for a watered down conservatism. We need to find young and exciting candidates that connect with the base like Palin and have a deeper understanding of all Americans than what just polls like Perry. I know some of my more liberal friends might not understand or believe that someone like Perry has any deep thinking. I bet he does, he has run a very diverse state that has blacks, whites, hispanics; it has urban, suburban, exurban, and rural areas; it also has a border with a foreign country. Perry had much better understanding of how to get elected and how to massage issues that are troublesome for the party but shouldn't be run away from. Perry's views on immigration aren't liberal, he simply understands that a fence is a joke and we can't waste the time and money we have invested in these young kids just because their parents brought them here. Perry gets that we need to capture the talent we have taught those kids and keep that talent here in America. That isn't amnesty, and Romney probably sunk his chances the minute he attacked Perry for taking a responsible approach. The irony is that it is oftentimes the Establishment that demagogues more than the grassroots. Is it any coincidence that the caricatures of both Palin and Perry that have now all but defined them were instigated not by the left but by Establishment Republicans?
My advice, for whatever its worth, is to embrace conservatism and not hide from who conservatives are like Palin. Yet we should also be willing have a deeper conversation about thorny issues like immigration and find solutions that fit our principles the way Perry did. We cannot allow the Establishment define who's electable anymore. Because for people like Jennifer Rubin, its about who doesn't embarrass them on the cocktail party circuit. For all the gifts Romney might have, I would bet that both Rick Perry and Sarah Palin have a much better understanding of the needs of the average folks out there and know best how to talk to them and find solutions in conservatism. For Palin and Perry, conservatism is not a second language that you really don't know how to speak so you just pander. Palin and Perry understand how you can apply conservatism to the every-day issues of the day and connect and maximize our base. It is THIS combination that will win us the presidency, not some smushy Establishment hack who spends as much time lecturing the base as they do anything else. We don't need to run campaigns to line the pockets of consultants or make Jenn Rubin happy, we need to run campaigns that connects to every citizen. Palin and Perry understand this and it is in this model we should find our candidate and run in 2016.