Tuesday night, the conservative movement took a beating at the ballot box.
The fundamental reason is that our economic policies no longer connect with the fears and concerns of the American middle class.
No election in modern Republican history was so singly focused on the issue of economic competence and ballooning federal deficits.
Nearly a billion was spent by the Republican Party and its Super PAC allies to make the case against President Obama’s economic failures and Governor Romney’s plan to reduce deficits, regulation and taxes on job creators.
The electorate decided by a small (but decisive) margin that they preferred to give the Obama policies a second chance.
The crucial question is: Why?
What the middle class suffers from is massive underemployment, and a steadily declining standard of living. They know that these are tied to government overspending. But they are wedded to the entitlement programs that are at the center of increased federal government spending.
Young voters and single women stuck with President Obama, for much the same reason that people rally around the president in the midst of war or natural disaster. They feel at the mercy of larger, powerful forces they cannot control. They have done everything they’ve been told to do, graduated from high school or college, but are in an economy where working hard doesn’t seem to mean getting ahead. This election cycle, they clung to the hope that the guy with the power in Washington can somehow help them. The Republican economic message did not resonate.
In short, we’ve tried to convince people that we can cut taxes for job creators, i.e. small businesses and high-net worth individuals, and can get a handle on the budget through legislative action. The election proves this is not a winning argument.
We need to shift to the unmentioned portion of the Reagan economic agenda, and look to a re-linking of paper money to gold.
In reality, and politically, only a program of monetary reform can cut through these various dimensions and provide a plausible case that government spending can be brought under control; that the political class will not accept the passive taxation of inflation brought on by out-of-control deficits; that wage-earners will not continue to fall behind and American families see their real income erode; and that steady and consistent growth will not be undermined by the fiscal policies of government.
We at APP have been making this argument for the last three years. I believe the election results confirm that a return to a gold-linked dollar is not only the most constitutionally sound economically prudent course of action, but it is politically necessary for the survival of the conservative movement.
No other mechanism provides the discipline to deliver to middle class voters the relief they are seeking from economic policies that encourage a chronic inflation that picks their pockets and reduces economic growth.
A second problem revealed by last night’s election results is purely demographic. Obama lost the white vote by 20 points, 1 point more than Dukakis did in 1988. But Obama won a landslide in the electoral college, because 28 percent of the voters in yesterday’s election were not white.
A significant portion of the nonwhite electorate are Latinos, which are ten percent of the electorate and growing. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote. McCain won 31 percent. Romney garnered only 27 percent.
This statistic alone spells the end of the conservative movement if we do not find a way to respond.
It is not enough to speak a few words of Spanglish at election time; Romney’s strategy of appealing to Latinos solely through conventional economic issues failed. Conservatives need to take the lead on delivering immigration relief for Latinos.
We need comprehensive immigration reform that extracts a penalty for lawbreaking (to affirm the rule of law) but creates a clear pathway to citizenship. We need to follow the lead of Marco Rubio and the new rising star of the conservative movement Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz to support the educational aspirations of children of illegal aliens, who came with their parents, were raised as Americans, and now find themselves with no country to call home. (Maggie Gallagher argues in National Review that religious conservatives in particular need to take the lead on this effort.)
Neutralizing the immigration question gives Republicans the opportunity to make conservative arguments to Hispanics based on life, marriage, religious liberty, entrepreneurship and the ideals of freedom which, like every immigrant community that the Republicans have absorbed, Latinos believe in overwhelming numbers.
The third major problem for conservative movement revealed by this election is that the GOP has decided to have the singularly most ineffective conceivable strategy on the social issues.
Republicans have essentially adopted the pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious liberty positions, but have declared to voters we will neither defend them nor promote them.
This enables liberals to define the terms of the public debate on social issues, to peel off and make us fight to defend our weakest ground.
Because Republicans made no arguments on abortion, the only aspect of abortion that became national news or indeed part of any political campaign was the question of exceptions for rape. The overwhelming electoral distaste for sex-selection, late-term and government- financed abortion went unmentioned and was invisible, even when Democrats declared their support for any and all abortions for everyone to see at their convention.
Under the “truce” strategy, conservatives act as if there are no voters who may not embrace the Republican position on economics but who stand firmly with the conservative movement on values issues.
This could not possibly be further from the truth. The magnet for Reagan Democrats was an integrated conservatism that put values issues front and center.
The result of this ineffectual “truce” strategy is we argue the social issues on our weakest political ground and therefore take a political hit, while reaping none of the political benefits the social issues have in attracting new voters into the coalition, especially in the battleground states.
There’s an incredible irony in calling social issues “divisive.”
The marriage issue, for example, took an unusual beating last night in four deep blue states—but it still scores by an average of 13 points above the Republican and conservative candidates who refuse to mention it.
In the deep blue states in this election that rejected marriage, they did so by 3 points (Maryland), 5 points (Maine), 5 points (Minnesota), and 4 points (Washington state). These same states rejected Governor Romney by 25, 25, 7 and 12 percent.
It seems that our inability to defend marriage divides us from a significant portion of the electorate that we are not currently bringing into our coalition.
Addressing these three holes revealed by last night’s election are precisely the reason I helped found the American Principles Project. Developing the arguments and strategies that can market these issues effectively and win in the public square is APP’s reason for being, and as last night revealed, the need is urgent.
As we all did, I felt a degree of devastation at the loss last night, and the prospect of facing four more years of President Obama.
But that disappointment will extend for many more years into the future if we do get these three main pieces correct.
We need an economic policy that speaks directly to the concerns of the declining middle class, an inclusion of our natural allies in Latino voters, and an offensive and effective strategy on social issues that convinces people of faith that we are not only with them in word, but in deed.
This is what APP is born to do.
The founding principles of the American experiment are the pathway for the conservative movement moving forward.
And not only for political success, but for the good of our beloved country.
Now we get to work.