How Reagan, not Romney, lost this election

Okay, so here we are.

Despite a weak incumbent hampered by an economic hangover of unprecedented proportions and four years of single-minded obstructionism intended to cripple his leadership, despite deliberate attempts at voter disenfranchisement and over a billion dollars of negative advertising that ranged from deceptive to downright libelous, Obama won.

Wait, “won” understates it. Obama won the popular vote. He won the electoral vote. Most importantly, though, the Republicans lost ground in every single segment of the population that is growing—youth, Latino, urban. Obama won nine of 10 swing states. Not only that, he pulled the entire ticket to victory, with gains in both the Senate and House. In a word, he stomped the living crap out of the Republican Party. He beat them so bad that Fox News was the first to call it, and pulled the plug on their own analyst when he tried to bluster.

The more rational Republicans see this for what it is. The Republicans have become a regional party. Not quite the same as the old Dixiecrats of the ’50s, but pretty darn close—the South plus rural areas. It is the party of angry old whites. The good news, I suppose, is that it is diverse angry whites—racists and paranoiacs, Catholics and Evangelicals, heterosexual adulterers and closet homosexuals.

Reagan’s big tent strategy, like pretty much every other Reagan strategy, has been an abject failure. Nixon, and then Reagan, both planned to bolster the ranks of historically small Republican Party by recruiting the recalcitrant reactionaries and rabid racists of the recidivist right (yes, that was a shout out to Spiro Agnew).

The problem is that when those people are invited into the tent, other people leave. People of decency do not want to spend a single minute in this tent with these people. It’s like a college party I was once at in Nacodoches where someone had the bright idea to give the address to the local biker gang. Within fifteen minutes the only ones left were the bikers and a dog. Even the host bolted.

Which is exactly what happened on Tuesday. Romney bolted the tent at the first opportunity. Obama’s election night party was held in McCormick Place and included a throng representing every age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Romney’s was a small group of rich whites wearing ties in an exclusive hotel in Boston. Now that he is not obliged to hang out inside Reagan’s big tent to shake hands and beg for votes, he wants to get as far away from it as possible. Hey tentistas, don’t get your feelings hurt now. You’ve known all along that Romney has houses in Massachusetts and California, not Mississippi and Arizona. His friends own NASCAR teams, not NASCAR tee-shirts.

So what is the right answer for the Republicans? Simple, pull up the pegs and move the tent. There are plenty of centrist democrats, like me, who are pro-business and wary of government and who could be wooed in. But not as long as the tent has those assholes over in the corner at the table with the Confederate flag telling racist jokes, or as long as there’s that group of morons standing next to the iced tea insisting that biology, physics and now mathematics are opinions rather than facts. Get them out, and you might get me in. Turn Republicans back into a centrist party focused on small government, individual responsibility and fiscal prudence, instead of an alliance of those who believe in imperialism, racism, societal totalitarianism and greed, and I (and my checkbook) are on the way.

And what is the chance they will go for it? That question was like rhetorical, because the answer is: None. (Or nada if you live in Arizona.)

Here’s the way the process will work.

First, they will contort the numbers in some way to convince themselves they really didn’t lose. They will adjust for the ACORN Effect and the Sandy Effect (which hit Democratic areas, but no matter) and the Media Bias Effect and the Some-other-effect-we-haven’t-thought-of-yet Effect.

Second, they will convince themselves that if they did lose, which they didn’t, it was all Romney’s fault. (Not completely untrue by the way. As I wrote almost a year ago, this guy had no chance.) The best strategy is to put forward a rabid ideologue who will inevitably say truly stupid shit that will scare independents to death: Come on down, Paul Ryan!

And finally, they will continue to tell themselves that they can lure youth, Latinos, women and blacks into the party with traps baited with tokens like Mario Rubio and Michael Steele, and that once these people are in the trap they will sit there and happily vote as their old white betters tell them.

It sounds ridiculous. Because it is.

I think we need a strong second party. We do not want to drift into socialism, which let’s be honest, is a possibility (not a certainty as Republicans argue, but a possibility) under unfettered Democratic dominance. But we are not going to get one, because Reagan’s tent is full of yahoos, and they’re not going home until all the shrimp are eaten and the beer is gone.

17 replies »

  1. Drift into socialism? Now you’re just trolling.

    Yeah, we could drift into socialism, but in order to do so we’d have to stop drifting directly AWAY from socialism, turn the carrier around and then drift back through the past 40 years or so. Get me to where we were in the late ’60s and we’ll talk.

    Remember, as Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, Nixon was our last liberal president.

    Otherwise, great post. I, like you, am looking forward to seeing how the GOP can move even further to the right than they already are. Because yeah, that’s what’s going to happen.

  2. OBAMA WON the election only because there was no right person to challenge him with right agendas and right tone. Mitt Romney was good looking white male but beyond that he has no right platform, no real agendas, no compassion, feelings and hope for the 60% America. More importantly, the Bush has crippled the backbone of America to a such an extent, people did not forget him and his unaccounted wars and tax cuts even after 4 years. Majority of Americans have rightly excused Obama for the economical condition, unemployment and the gridlock. And rather accepting the empty promises of Romney, which were not only similar but more extreme than G. Bush; decided to live with the lesser EVIL.

  3. As for your description of the way the Republicans will delude themselves – spot on. The local free newspaper described the election as a “GOP Sweep” – of course, they then discussed only the local county commissioner contest. So, self delusion is their stock in trade – and I don;t see them changing that.

    As for the number of parties we need, I’m guessing 3-4 would be good, 6-8 better. Would give us more room in the center while allowing the extremes to blather away without doing the damage to our republic they are currently able to do (see Party, Tea)….

  4. Sam–no, the line pointing out Mitt lives in two blue states was trolling. the socialism comment was just mathematical playfulness.

    Booth–pdf the paper. It’s worth a drive by.

    John–who would the ideal candidate have been? –Otherwise

  5. Conservatives are delusional in general (but particularly in America). It’s almost like the actual electorate is a bit of an inconvenience……….

    This is just psychological. People don’t pick ideologies randomly. It’s based on experience. The vast majority of Conservatives are the type of people who weren’t the best academically, and were told so by teachers, but still made money and had success. So they grow up hating authority, the state, and people telling them what to do – and with a sense that they know better than anyone else.

    This has its benefits. But also lots of negatives. As in, being completely out of touch with the world, and how it changes.

  6. A good example of delusion is people saying “we need Reagan” and “Reagan would have won”, “Reagan conservatism”etc etc.

    RR only polled 50% of the popular vote in 1980. He only polled 13% of African Americans, only 30% of Hispanics, and only 20% of single women.

    What I’m saying is, there’s no chance he’d have won in 2012 either. He’d have maybe picked up 230 electoral college votes. Romney did better than him, in many ways

  7. “The vast majority of Conservatives are the type of people who weren’t the best academically…” I’m not even sure how to respond to that. Probably because I’m a drooling idiot.

    • I hate to say this, but they did a study in Britain which supports this, although Mr. Mooney did overstate the case a bit. The difference in intelligence is very small and therefore there’s no reason to expect large gaps in academic performance. So less intelligent, demonstrably true, less accomplished academically, maybe.

      Although Mooney’s point on Reagan is excellent. I wish I’d thought of it that way.

      Still, I think the real driver is, as Krugman says, racism. White males have lost a lot of stature in the last 60 years relative to women and blacks and it has made many angry and resentful.

  8. Intelligence and academic achievement are related, of course, but hardly the same thing. Rural kids attending rural schools (as I did) are often less challenged that suburban kids attending suburban schools. I know the suburban kids were far better educated than I when I went off to college.

  9. Unlike you, Otherwise, I’m not for “small” government. I’m for rightsized government. I believe government is simply what we, the people, do for ourselves, and that government does some things better than the private sector and does some things worse.

    What does government do better? Here are just some examples.

    1. The military. There are some very limited examples of mercenary units performing better than government-sponsored ones, but they tend to be during times when the government-sponsored ones were ill-trained peasant armies. The profit motive during battle tends to make mercenary units seek to conserve assets (like soldiers), and withdraw from fighting too early if it appears that those assets are at risk.

    2. Health care. Private health care is characterized by providers who get to determine how much product/service their customers use, because their customers know little or nothing about those products and services and have a fairly inelastic demand for health and life if they are insured. It’s a system that will pay virtually any amount for any product, even if it’s a few extra days of heartbeat for a brain-dead body at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per day. The rest of the developed world tends to get better health results at a fraction of the cost we pay for our lesser results, and all the rest of the world has government-paid/sponsored health care. Clearly, this is something government does much better than the private sector.

    3. Basic research in areas that have slow or uncertain capital payback terms. Much of our profit-making technology is built upon basic research that could never have been funded by private capital because profits from it would take too long, cost too much, and were too uncertain.

    4. Criminal justice enforcement and administration. I don’t think there are too many of us who would want our fates decided by police who have a financial stake in arresting us, prosecutors and judges who have a financial stake in convicting us, and prisons that have a financial stake in incarcerating us for as long as possible. Already, we have some very iffy situations in which prosecutors have gone on to become elected judges based on their conviction records, only to find that one or more of their convictions was of an innocent man or woman. Financial incentives would only exacerbate this situation, as in the case of Conahan and Ciavarella in Pennsylvania (the “cash for kids” scandal).

    This is just a sampling. We do some things for ourselves, through our government, that the private sector just doesn’t do as well. And doing those things is, to me, rightsized government. Not small. Not large. Just right.

  10. I think it’s important to look at the question of “right size,” and think maybe in these terms: it’s not a question of big vs. small, but the “right size.” But the problem then becomes figuring out what the right size is.

    The good thing about the private sector, in my opinion, is that organizations in a reasonably free and competitive marketplace, cannot become large and maintain themselves at that larger size unless its operational efficiency, market size, and strategy enable it to make a profit at these larger sizes. Why is the number of large companies, i.e. in the list of the Fortune 500, so much smaller than the total number of businesses of any size, when it is a given fact that any small business owner would wish to grow his business from small to medium to big, as this naturally means greater wealth for himself? The answer is pretty obvious, of course, and it is that the standards that a business must meet to operate at a profit at a large size are much more stringent, and hence much rarer, than those that must be met by a small business, small and large being relative terms.

    If a business could require by law payments from its “customers,” like governments do so from its citizens and constituents, there would be no need for a small business to become large by improving its own internal efficiency and doing things better, smarter, and cheaper than other competing businesses. It could simply become larger by collecting the required payments from its captured customers.

    In other words, when you look at a business in a (truly) competitive market that is very large, it got that way, at least initially, by being more efficient, seeing opportunities that others didn’t or were slower to, by having the best and most motivated workforce and management, etc. But a business in a non-competitive and strictly regulated market need not be efficient, exemplary, etc. at all. It might be wasting societal resources by enormous amounts each year.

  11. Well, as a U of Chicago guy, I certainly realize there’s truth in what you say. However, I have also spent most of my life working for the Fortune 500, and I can also guarantee that there are drivers of size independent of efficiency. Access to finance–SBC took over the far more efficient Ameritech; elimination of competition, by fair and unfair means as the EU believes Microsoft has done; law-breaking, as the Koch Brothers have been caught doing numerous times; cronyism, e.g., Halliburton; and unethical behavior, as Goldman Sachs has demonstrated.

    Also, there are many cases where the private sector does a demonstrably worse job than the public–care for the mentally ill, military support, etc.

    So yes, as a general principle the market rewards efficiency and as a general principle competition and the private sector create superior solutions, e.g., our telecoms industry before competition and after. But as you clearly know from the quality of your post, it is not universally so.

    There is a point at which government participation crowds out private investment and produces sub-par results. I see absolutely no reason for government to be in the radio (NPR) or arts business. It is ridiculous that the government subsidizes Ira Glass to inflict his pomposity on innocent people. However, as Sammy points out, since 1968 we have gone in the opposite direction to such an extent that we are a long way from having to worry about becoming England or New Zealand 1960.

    By the way, take a look at total govt outlays as a percent of GDP. Most civilized nations are within a relatively narrow range, suggesting that there is some sort of market force working to right size governments across countries.

    Nice post, Jay.

    • There have been periods in American history where the government was much more hands-off business than it is today, and the results included railroad robber barons, the Standard Oil monopoly, the AT&T monopoly, and other anti-competitive structures. We also had miners that were virtually enslaved to their employers due to their being paid in corporate scrip instead of US dollars, child labor, egregiously unsafe working environments, workers forced to work themselves to death with 80+ hour work weeks, unhealthy levels of air pollution, carcinogenic and heavy metal-tainted drinking water, and so on.

      History shows us what happens when the government isn’t strong enough to break up monopolies and protect workers.

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