It should be a time for soul-searching rather than finger-pointing for conservatives. They should be examining everything they have been doing wrong for the past five years (at least) and starting to recalibrate their tactics, their presentation, and maybe even their core beliefs. Instead, across the spectrum of right wing world, from pundits to “journalists” to politicians, there have been declarations since the reelection of the President that it was time to double down on their failed strategies. Of course, there are some exceptions, from conservatives like Andrew Sullivan in his piece, “Enough,” where he rhetorically crushes the Republican Party for their extremism and failure of leadership to Hans Bader at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who bemoaned the Republican’s failure to nominate moderate candidates and reform some of its policies. Of course, David Frum has been vocally critiquing the Republican Party for over a year, and again made the rounds after the election to call out the “conservative entertainment complex” for lying to conservatives. However, one place where conservatives could exercise their much needed discernment skills to reflect on their place in American politics was on a political cruise sponsored by the National Review. Joe Hagan had the dubious honor of accompanying approximately 600 dedicated conservatives in their jaunt around the Caribbean as they licked their wounds, and schemed and plotted their political comeback, after which he wrote about the experience for New York Magazine. What he witnessed perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with the Republican Party today.
Before addressing Mr. Hagen’s observations, it is useful to examine what, by and large, conservatives across the country were quick to say was the reason Romney lost the Presidential election (and apparently the reason Republicans lost down ballot elections as well), and that is the stunning claim that Romney was “not conservative enough.” Pundits like Laura Ingraham, Michele Malkin, Erick Erickson, Robert Costa and others advised conservatives that Romney and the rest of the Republicans who lost needed to be more conservative next time, needed to be more partisan, and needed to harp more on issues like Benghazi or Obamacare. They honestly believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars in advertisements that endlessly nagged Americans about the evils of Obamacare were insufficient. These same people are adamant that what the Republicans need is a “just a little more tea party” in their system. Perhaps that’s what inspired people like perennial failed prognosticator, Dick Morris, to say on the day after the election, “We need to stand up against this socialist agenda and stop him [Obama] from fundamentally changing the United States.” A pundit for the Daily Caller proclaimed that the Republicans need “modernization, not moderation.” So, being too far right isn’t a concept that crossed his mind.
Instead of seeking insight, conservative pundits who were doing the postmortem after the election were mired in the same old thinking that turned off many voters. According to Michael Calderone,
“Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft mentioned Benghazi — along with Fox News-heavy topics like food stamps and socialized medicine — in his gloomy, post-election piece, ‘The Day America Changed.’ The piece included a jarring image of an eagle pulling a tattered American flag away from a Soviet hammer and sickle, adorned with a swastika. ‘America was once the land of the free,’ Hoft wrote. ‘Now we want to be told what to do. More government is good. We want stuff.'”
His sentiments were no different from the nonsense spewed by the likes of O’Reilly, Limbaugh, or the talking heads at Breitbart’s site. All of them were throwing out accusations that Americans who voted for Obama were seeking handouts from government. In truth, their words were no different than variations on Romney’s screed on the 47%. Instead of learning their lesson that perhaps a sizeable portion of America is sick of rhetoric that blames them for using government programs when they need them, they embraced their usual bombast.
The National Review Post-Election 2012 Cruise was pre-planned regardless of the outcome of the election. The shipmates could have been celebrating a Romney victory. Instead, the mood was apparently morose. The National Review invites many of the Who’s Who of Conservative World like Jonah Goldberg or Ralph Reed to give speeches, mingle with the guests, and lead breakout sessions. The hundreds of “ordinary” people who embark on these cruises are overwhelmingly, blindingly white (about 7 out of 600 were not white), no doubt upper middle class, and generous with giving their money to Republican candidates. This time, they wanted answers about why they didn’t win. Rasmussen, of polling company fame, explained that exit poll data “create a negative brand image of the Republican Party as a party that only cares about white people.” Two of the cruisers perfectly exemplified exactly why the Republicans will continue to retain that image. One male conservative noted that the workers on the ship were not white, except the managers, which he promptly said was “the way it should be.” Another conservative, Melissa O’Sullivan, wife of a National Review columnist, relayed a story about being addressed by an Australian nun about inner city racism in the United States. What this conservative woman wished she had said to the nun was: “Pardon me, madam, but I have been in your country of Australia for ten days and the only Aborigines I’ve seen have been drunk on the street, and at least if we were in my country they would be serving the drinks at this conference!” This same woman warned cruise attendees not to “water down the purity” of the conservative agenda to “placate minorities.” She’s clearly unaware that large chunks of the “conservative agenda” are steeped in maintaining the dominance of whites in the economic and social systems of the country, so perhaps minorities would find that agenda noxious.
Hagan’s portrait reveals clueless conservatives grappling with their losses, struggling to understand why they aren’t reaching minority voters even as unexamined white privilege and racism exudes from every pore. But most of all, they are consumed by fear of bogeymen of their own creation (e.g. socialism, fascism, the need for revolution, etc.). What he doesn’t present is a conservative movement with any insight into why so many Americans consider them extremists living in the distant past.
As of January 1st, at least three billboards along Highway 52 in Southern Minnesota continue to appeal to passersby to “Vote Romney on November 6th!” Some are sponsored by the Tea Party Express. Others by the county Republicans, etc. It seems metaphorical for a party that can’t let go of the past. But one has to wonder if they will ever try to take their party out of its death spiral, or if they will recognize once and for all that the country’s demographics are changing, so they have to change too, if they want to stay alive. Perhaps, it would be most useful if they never get it.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.