In one of the great flubs in American politics, President Ronald Reagan told delegates at the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans that “facts are stupid things.” He quickly recovered to say he meant facts are “stubborn things,” but all too often ideologues on the far right and far left embrace the stumble instead of the correction. Often it seems to them that facts are stupid things.
Take some of the most outspoken conservatives in the Republican Party. They have formed a verbal chorus line to argue that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. A more conservative nominee, they seem to suggest, would have defeated President Barack Obama. Just fine-tune the message a little and don’t forget to show some empathy.
“When you have someone who can articulate a clear, convincing conservative message, they win,” Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, said in The Washington Post.
We can expect to hear more of this during the next couple of years. The conservatives and the moderates in the party are in a struggle for control of the Republican brand name.
The problem for conservatives to overcome is the accumulated evidence suggests that Americans know perfectly well what the Republican Party stands for. They just did not seem to like it.
It would be difficult to find many voters who didn’t realize that Romney and vice presidential running Paul Ryan opposed new taxes, opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, opposed abortion rights, opposed tough gun laws and opposed the new health-care law. Had Romney swerved any further to the right, he would have tumbled into the Atlantic Ocean.
Romney may have been a flawed candidate, but he was the strongest Republican this year to run for president. Democrats would have been delighted to have the GOP nominate any of Romney’s rivals, such as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Back in February, former Democratic congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky of Philadelphia joked that “there are prayer breakfasts every morning held by the Democrats — on their knees — hoping that Santorum is the nominee. He really would have a terrible time convincing people that he is reasonable and moderate. And that’s what people are looking for — reasonable and moderate.”
Facts show exactly what happens when a party drifts too far to the right or left. In just the past two years, social conservatives or economic conservatives have used their considerable primary clout to eviscerate established Republicans in Senate races they were favored to win in Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, Delaware and Indiana. The conservative candidates who won those primaries then lost every one of those races, costing Republicans control of the Senate and a chance to block the tax increases conservatives say they so abhor.
In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill was Dead Woman Walking. Just about any Republican would have easily defeated her. But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and social conservatives rallied behind Rep. Todd Akin in a three-way Republican primary and the only Republican who could not defeat McCaskill emerged as the nominee.
Then there was Indiana where Sen. Richard Lugar was seeking re-election. It would be difficult to find a Republican as conservative as Lugar. But he also developed a reputation as a reasonable person who could work with Senate Democrats. The Club for Growth and Freedom Works — another conservative organization — pounced, spending millions of dollars and helping Richard Mourdock win the primary.
“Richard Mourdock’s victory truly sends a message to the liberals in the Republican Party,” Chocola said on primary night.
It did send a message all right: Vote for the Democratic candidate.