It's Never the Voter's Fault That Your Side Lost
Did we deserve to win?
(*** Before we get started, I’m just going to note that this column is offering up some tough love and anyone who isn’t doing that right now in the Republican Party is just telling people what they want to hear. Sure, we did take the House back and it’s still POSSIBLE that we could win the Senate, but anyone who tells you that we didn’t underperform is kidding themselves. Whenever that happens, a political party needs to search its soul, figure out what went wrong, and make changes. This column is going to be talking about one of the changes the Republican party needs to make. ***)
From the second they took off, I have always despised these memes:
Do you know why I find these memes so annoying? Because they have it EXACTLY BACKWARD. Because if the public is really so annoyed by mean tweets that they’re willing to vote you out of office despite the fact that your agenda has been really good for the country, then you STOP DOING THE MEAN TWEETS. You don’t argue with the public about something that’s essentially irrelevant. You don’t say, “Gee, you guys are dumb for not being willing to put up with this.” You do what they want. This is basic, basic stuff. It’s also not new.
That doesn’t mean you should be weak or spineless. Note the “principle” part of Jefferson’s quote. However, it does mean political parties should point the fingers at themselves, not the public if people aren’t buying what they’re selling.
It all goes back to the three cardinal rules of politics:
1) Make your base happy without irritating Independents.
2) Cater to Independents without irritating your base.
3) Find ways to appeal to groups that didn't vote for you in the last election without irritating your base or Independents.
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Notice that all of these principles focus on winning over the public, not insisting that the public cater to what you want. That’s how it has to be because to get your principles implemented, you have to win. If you don’t win, you don’t get to implement your principles. This ties into the abortion debate. I wrote about this back in May after we found out which way Roe vs. Wade was going:
As this issue moves back to the states, for the first time in 50 years, legislators are going to have to balance those moral concerns with political concerns while coming up with policies. Finding that proper equilibrium probably won’t happen overnight, either. Even many Republican states probably won’t ultimately end up with a maximalist position that makes abortion illegal even in the case of rape and incest. Furthermore, for good or ill, abortion will go from being a largely abstract debate (the Supreme Court has taken it out of our hands, what can we do) to something much more real and personal for people, like the debate over slavery. The abortion debate PROBABLY won’t lead to the kind of violence that a morally similar debate did, but it is likely to sharpen the differences between red and blue America.
Many Republican states DID try to immediately move towards a maximalist position on abortion and that was a mistake. It hasn’t been definitively shown as of yet, but you can’t help but think that it probably has an awful lot to do with why the numbers look like this with unmarried women:
Abortion isn’t just a moral question, it’s a political question as well – and guess what? If you don’t win the political debate and get into power, then the people who think there’s no such thing as too many abortions get to be the ones making the political decisions about the issue.
If the American people aren’t where conservatives think they should be on the issue – and they’re actually somewhere between the maximalist positions of the Left and the Right – it’s up to conservatives to go as far as we can without turning off the electorate and then start making our case to the public. Remember persuasion? It’s still a thing. The other two options are a civil war, which is the way the country went with slavery, or losing a lot of elections and letting the “sacrifice your baby to Moloch for prosperity” crowd make all the decisions about the issue.
Similarly, there have been lots of comments like this since the election:
Trust me, I get it. In fact, this is what I wrote about Fetterman in the middle of October:
Fetterman dresses like a big, sloppy kid, sponged off of his parents until he was 49, and had a stroke that has greatly impacted his ability to talk and think. This is a man who would have a great deal of difficulty holding down any kind of normal job and if elected, he would be the single least impressive person ever to make it into the Senate. Fetterman is barely a step up from Caligula's Horse…
However, it’s also worth noting that Republican Pat Toomey currently holds that seat, so it was definitely winnable. Yet, we chose a mediocre candidate, who ran a terrible campaign, and, in the end, he might as well have lost to Mr. Potato Head. Instead of saying, “How did the people of Pennsylvania vote for this guy,” we should be asking, “How in the world did we LOSE TO THIS GUY?”
Candidate quality matters and the Republican Party chose an awful lot of bad candidates all across the country. Why? Because we asked dumb questions like, “Who’s most loyal to Trump?” and “Who’s willing to publicly say that the 2020 election was stolen?” instead of questions like, “Okay, I like this candidate, but can he get elected?” or “Is this candidate likable?”
After years of country club Republicans insisting that anyone to the right of Susan Collins is too conservative to win (Remember when the Republican establishment united behind Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio, Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey, and David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz? I sure do.), it’s almost understandable that people are going completely in the other direction, but the truth is somewhere in the middle. Susan Collins is a great fit for Maine and Ted Cruz is a great fit for Texas. If you reversed the states both of them are running in, both of them would lose. It’s about catering to the voters and every voter isn’t one of us. I wish they were because it would be a better world, but as the late, great Donald Rumsfeld said:
As a party, we’re not doing everything wrong. Whatever you think of Donald Trump, the GOP is doing a better job of appealing to minorities in part because of his outreach as president. Fighting for parents’ rights? Being against CRT and grooming children? Those are winning issues. Opposing endless war in Ukraine? Being for law and order? Calling for more drilling? Those are all good issues and they’re only going to get better for us over time.
Everything is still in place for us to have a dynamite 2024. The small Republican majority in the House should be able to block the worst ideas of the Democrats and we’ll be perfectly positioned to hold the House, take, or dramatically add to our margin in the Senate, and win back the presidency.
Know what would be great to see after that? If we could break the cycle of American politics over the last few years. The one where Americans elect Democrats, get reminded of why they hate them so much, elect Republicans, get reminded of why they hate them so much, elect Democrats, get reminded of why they hate them so much, etc., etc., to infinity and beyond.
But, to do that, we have to get out of the mentality that says everyone has to adapt to us and instead adapt to the world. We need to live up to our brand as the “responsible adult party” again. We need to start PERSUADING people again. We need to start taking responsibility for our failures again and react to the world as it is instead of demanding that the world be as we wish it to be. There are plenty of strong conservative leaders who did exactly that and won all across the country. The whole party needs to look at those people, learn from them, and start listening again.