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November 15, 2012

Karl Rove Cannot See the Elephant in the Living Room

Writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Turnout dropped by 7.9 million voters, falling to 123.6 million this year from 131.5 million in 2008. This is the first decline in a presidential election in 16 years. Only 51.3% of the voting-age population went to the polls.

While the Democratic "ground game" was effective, President Barack Obama received 90.1% of his 2008 total while Gov. Mitt Romney received 98.6% of Sen. John McCain's vote.

(Emphasis mine.) Rove then goes on to list tactical reasons for the failure.


  • Republicans must re-examine their 72-hour ground game.
  • Republicans must emulate the Democrats 50-state strategy.
  • Republicans must erase the Democrats' data advantage and add to the voter rolls likely Republican voters.
  • Frame the issues better to resonate with middle-class families. This one is interesting, because Rove identifies it as a strategic concern but then immediately attributes it to a tactical failure:
  • "One reason the GOP didn't do better with its pro-growth agenda was that Mr. Romney's character and record were undermined by early, relentless personal attacks that went largely unanswered."
  • Republicans must do better with Hispanics and millennials.
  • "Republicans need not jettison their principles." Note: This is Karl Rove talking about Republican principles. Presumably that means principles like the Medicare prescription drug benefit (the largest new entitlement program since the 1960's), No Child Left Behind (the federalization of K-12 education), and the Patriot Act (including TSA nude-o-scopes, airport body rub-downs, and a shocking weakening of the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement). Are those Republican principles? Of course not. But the fact that Republicans like Karl Rove think they are sheds light on why we've been losing elections.
  • Republicans must reduce the destructiveness of the primaries.
  • Hold the convention earlier.

What is missing from Rove's list? Hint: The GOP has won only one popular vote since George H.W. Bush rode in on Ronald Reagan's coattails in 1988. What is similar about every candidate since Reagan? What did Bush-41, Bush-43, Dole, McCain, and Romney all have in common? This is indeed an "elephant in the living room" question, because what Rove refuses to see is that the Republican party hasn't run a conservative since 1984. Since then, we have had a never-ending stream of big government, establishment, Rockefeller Republicans--people who think we can out-Democrat the Democrats and in some cases out-bid them for votes. These are people who think government is just fine, that it's only there to help, and that the important thing is not to limit it but to be in control of it.

These are people who say things like "kinder, gentler nation" (ceding an aspect of Democrat bigotry: that Republicans are somehow cruel) and "compassionate conservatism" (Was Ronald Reagan cruel? Did he lack compassion?). These are people whose knee-jerk reaction last week was to argue--once again--for moderation. In fact, you could feel them dying to argue Mitt Romney ran as a conservative. But that argument didn't quite fit. Romney ran as a pro-government intervention corporatist. His passing mention of "government-centered society" on a few occasions did not make him a conservative.

We cannot buy votes. "Kinder, gentler" didn't purchase a thing for George H.W. Bush, for example. Establishment Republicans should be required to put two and two together correctly for a change. We need a conservative candidate who can make the case for limited government and federalism. (Note that "federalize" and "federalism" are two different things.)

Establishment Republicans have had their chance, repeatedly, and they have blown it, repeatedly. Let me suggest a strategy that will sweep away all of Karl Rove's tactical concerns: Our next nominee should be a limited government constitutional conservative, someone who will dust off Reagan's winning playbook and use it to motivate the base while picking up independents and blue-dog Democrats along the way. Just like Ronald Reagan did.

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posted by rdbrewer at 07:00 PM

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