From The Art of War by Sun Tzu:
All warfare is based upon deception. If your enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate him, If equally matched, then fight him. If not–split and re-evaluate.
Politics is warfare and all politics is based upon deception, as well as perception. And right now, the perception of the Republican Party is that we are a bunch of clowns. Don’t believe me? Well, Chris Cilliza and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post have the numbers, and as my old college calculus professor used to say, “The numbers don’t lie”. According to the numbers, Mitt Romney out-performed eleven out of fifteen of the Republican Senatorial candidates, and the four that he didn’t out-perform were from very blue states that Republicans never win. In fact, I’ll let Mr. Blake fill you in on all of the details below:
The blame, as it often is, has been thrust on the candidates. And, at least in this case, for good reason. After all, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin essentially gave away seats with their comments on rape and pregnancy.
But the trouble for the GOP wasn’t just in Indiana and Missouri.
In fact, as the chart below details, Republican Senate candidates under-performed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in most of the important races of 2012.
In five races, the GOP candidate under-performed Romney by at least nine points. This includes Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who both lost in states that Romney carried by at least 13 points. (Maine is a bit of a special case, since there was a third-party candidate in the Senate race.)
Meanwhile, the only Republican Senate candidates who out-performed Romney were four people running in very Democratic states that Republicans weren’t going to win anyway: Connecticut, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Hawaii. (Obama won all four states by double digits.)
Democrats did have more help from incumbency than Republicans, which makes the GOP’s under-performance in states like Ohio, Florida, Montana and Michigan more understandable.
In other words, if the problem was that Romney was a weak candidate (and the Republican brand was in good shape), then those numbers would be flipped the other way around. What the numbers tell us is that Mitt Romney performed well in those states in spite of the Republican brand–not because of it (people who came out to vote against Akin still voted for Romney).
Furthermore, as Robert Stacy McCain points out, Mitt Romney turned out to be a darn good candidate. Let’s face facts–he is an awesome debater, he drew very large, enthusiastic crowds, he didn’t make many big gaffes (other than the secretly taped 47% remark, which was similar to Obama’s secretly taped “bitter clingers” remark), he chose an excellent running mate in Paul Ryan and he’s extremely telegenic.
Moreover, even The New York Times concedes that Obama ran a very small and negative campaign, and that he’s a mediocre debater at best. In a nutshell, Obama’s entire campaign strategy was to paint Romney as The Devil, instead of putting forth an agenda that was larger than a pamphlet. (I thought that Romney won the third debate when he said, “Attacking me is not an agenda”, but I digress.)
However, even though Mr. Romney obviously gave this presidential race his all, many of his fellow Republicans continued to step on his message–and even sabotage his campaign–with their extreme lack of self-discipline, and frankly clownish behavior.
In order to really understand how the Republican Party evolved into The Clown College, one must first harken back to the Republican Primary. First of all, Barack Obama had a HUGE structural advantage going into this election cycle. He had no primary challenger (so he could focus immediately on the general election), he already had an excellent ground game in place from the 2008 election, he had the media in his back pocket, he had the advantage of incumbency as well as the ability to raise a ton of money, he has disciples who could care less about policy and would vote for him no matter what (even if he literally gave them the finger), and as Allahpundit recently pointed out, the electoral college lately seems to favor the Democrats. Therefore, Republicans had absolutely no room for error, lack of self-discipline or tomfoolery of any kind. I realize that this isn’t fair, but life isn’t fair. You have to accept the world how it is, not how you want it to be.
Now, given the the fact that President Obama was a superior enemy at the beginning of this race due to his many structural advantages, the best thing we Republicans could have done was to take Sun Tzu’s advice and evade him–i.e., focus like a laser and wrap up the Republican primary as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible so as not to draw attention to our nominee’s weaknesses. Furthermore, the quicker we wrap up the primary, the sooner our nominee can get in a position of strength by immediately raising money and setting up his or her ground game in the battleground states.
However, when the Republican Primary got underway, instead of focused, self-disciplined candidates, we seemed to have an endless clown car full of crazy. There was Donald Trump who wouldn’t shut-up about the “birth certificate”, Michele Bachmann claiming that the Gardisil vaccine caused “mental retardation”, Ron Paul who is…well, Ron Paul, and the charismatic Herman Cain whose entire economic plan seemed to be “999″ (well, at least it wasn’t 666), and who seemed to have never ending sex scandals.
And when voters saw poor Mitt Romney standing on stage–repeatedly–next to these clowns (there were way too many debates), they mentally associated him with them.
Then, there was Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich who were in a class all by themselves. When Rick Perry first entered the race, he accused Ben Bernake of “treason” and said that he should face “Texas Justice”. (This is the same Rick Perry who a few years before had suggested that Texas should secede from the union, but now he wants to be president…go figure.) Furthermore, I have seen sixth graders who were better debaters than “Governor Oops”. It was physically painful to watch him debate. In fact, I still haven’t completely forgiven him for making me suffer through that agony.
Now, Newt Gingrich has more baggage than a Louis Vuitton store, but he still decided to run for president anyway. Let’s see, there was the Clinton impeachment (yeah, that went over well with the country…rolls eyes), the fact that he’s on his third wife who looks younger than his daughters, not to mention, the fact that he left his two previous wives when both of them were ill. Oh, and his second wife claims that he wanted her to “share him” with other women. This dude would go over with women voters like a lead balloon–especially since he looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and thinks that good debating is yelling at the moderators (something suburban women would find boorish and clownish).
[On a side note, Newt Gingrich endorsed Dede Scozzafava who later endorsed the Democrat in the race when she lost her primary--and he also referred to Paul Ryan's entitlement reform plan as "right wing social engineering"--so I never really understood why people were fooled into thinking that Gingrich was a grass roots/anti-establishment candidate in the first place.]
By the third or fourth debate it was painfully obvious that Rick Perry was not presidential timber–and Newt Gingrich never had a chance in hell of winning–and yet they still hung around sucking up donor money to run ads against the guy who, after his win in the FL primary, was most likely going to be the Republican nominee. (Furthermore, a prominent FL blogger, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that Perry really cooked his goose with many Republicans when he hired members of Charlie Crist’s old staff.)
Pundit after pundit has been on TV stating that Romney lost because, during February and March of 2012, Barack Obama and David Axelrod were able to run countless ads in battleground states like OH attacking his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital by painting him as a “vulture capitalist”. (BTW, it’s kind of pathetic that David Axelrod knew who our nominee was going to be before we did.) Well, actually Romney had already been “defined” as an evil corporate raider very early on in the GOP Primary. In fact it was Rick Perry who first referred to Romney as a “vulture capitalist” during the SC primary (see the videos below), and Newt Gingrich who first stated that “Bain Capital looted companies” during the NH primary (and Gingrich even went so far as to make a thirty minute video titled “King of Bain” where he called Romney a “corporate raider”).
It should be noted that Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich were so successful in “defining” Romney with their left wing attacks, that the Obama campaign even used quotes from Perry and Gingrich in their own anti-Romney ads. Furthermore, the liberal blog Think Progress even made a list of ten different anti-Bain Capital quotes that both Perry and Gingrich made that Democrats could use against Mitt Romney in the general election. Instead of ending the Republican primary strengthened with the wind at his back, Romney ended the primary in a weakened state and very short on cash so that he was unable to immediately combat the slew of negative attack ads from Team Obama (that were originally written with the help of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich).
Look, I completely understand that at the beginning of a primary there is going to be infighting and that most people aren’t going to all initially agree on one candidate in particular (that’s why we have primaries). I, myself, was initially for Tim Pawlenty until the second debate when I came to the realization that he is a mediocre debater and has all of the charisma of vanilla pudding. Throughout the GOP Primary, it is a great thing to have a healthy, productive debate about who would be the best nominee, and everyone should advocate strongly and vociferously for the candidate of his or her choice. However, by the time the FL primary has wrapped up and there’s been over six or seven debates, a well disciplined party usually has an idea of who most likely is going to be its nominee, so continuing to demonize him or her (instead of just continuing to advocate for your candidate of choice)–particularly with left wing attacks that, literally, sound like they could have been written by bloggers over at Think Progress–is extremely counterproductive. It was almost impossible for Romney to set up an early ground game and concentrate on countering Obama’s attacks in OH back in February when he had to spend all of his time and money in February fighting off left wing attacks from his own side (and from guys who had no real shot at winning the primary)!!
In other words, at a certain point, anyone writing checks to Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich should have just cut out the middle man and sent their checks directly to David Axelrod because those guys were basically writing Obama’s talking points for him.
Oh, and if any of you think that, for one minute, during the 2008 Democratic Primary that the Democrats would have put up with two guys polling in the single digits (one who had won no states and one who had only won one state), repeatedly attacking Barack Obama (their likely nominee) with ads full of right wing talking points, then I’ve got a blind bird dog and some underwater real-estate to sell you. No, those guys would have quickly gotten a very nasty and threatening visit from Rahm Emanuel telling them shut up ASAP.
Furthermore, the lack of GOP self-discipline didn’t end when Republican Primary wrapped up and Mitt Romney secured the nomination. Next came Rush Limbaugh acting like a loudmouth by stupidly calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” sometime in mid May, which got Romney extremely off message. In a piece that I wrote last summer titled, If You’re Going to Play the Game of Politics, Play to Win, I wrote the following regarding the whole Fluke brouhaha:
The MSM is extremely biased and they will downplay flat out vile comments by liberal pundits and comedians, but will pounce like a hungry cheetah stalking a gazelle on the slightest infraction by any conservative–even random people on Twitter. Sandra Fluke should have been known as a law student who (while testifying in front of a fake congressional hearing) displayed a shocking lack of knowledge of the US constitution when she demanded that the government pay for her birth control. Instead, she was made a martyr by the MSM simply because Rush Limbaugh used a very poor choice or words.
So, the Democrats imaginary “War on Women” was born. (“Quick, run ladies–those evil Republicans are going to knock down your doors and confiscate your birth control pills if they get elected!”) However, even Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers admitted that the Democrats overplayed their hand in their “War on Women” campaign when they had Sandra Fluke speak at the Democratic National Convention and claim that people were trying to “silence her”. (Hello? She was SPEAKING at a convention. Who is trying to silence her?)
But then, Representative Todd Akin (who was running in the MO Senate race) had to open his big mouth in late August and play amateur gynecologist by claiming that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant. (Facepalm.) The “War on Women” was officially back in business.
However, then came the three presidential debates in early October and Mitt Romney finally caught a break. Even though the MSM had been extremely biased against him, almost half of the conservative blogosphere and some Tea Party members were still dumping on him (even after he picked Paul Ryan) and other Republicans were perpetually stepping on his message, Romney gave excellent performances in all three of the presidential debates–particularly in the first and third debates. In the first debate on the economy, he was more than equally matched with Obama–he was superior–so he fought him hard and clearly won. In the third debate, Obama was angry because of his poor performance in the first debate and because Romney was surging: so Romney irritated him and even The New York Times thought that Obama appeared petty and truculent. It was two weeks before the election, and the Gallup polls showed that Romney was surging and pundits started to believe that it was Romney’s race to lose.
Then, on October 23rd, less than two weeks before the election, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Murdock just had to open his big mouth and blurt out the following:
I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I just struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
Now mind you, this was after the Akin comment and the Limbaugh comment–and hanging in the backdrop somewhere was the fact that the VA House of Representatives had tried back in February to pass a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound law for women seeking an abortion. The cumulative effect of all of this creepiness was just too much for young single women to handle. Women didn’t vote against the Republicans because they honestly believed that they were going to take away their birth control pills–they voted against them because older men talking about “legitimate rape” and transvaginal ultrasounds grosses them out.
And if the Murdock/Akin/Limbaugh craziness wasn’t enough, Donald Trump decided to revisit the birth certificate issue again and was seen pretty much on every cable news channel–and again, this was happening with the presidential election less than two weeks away.
Then, the week of the election, Hurricane Sandy hit and NJ Governor Chris Christie–the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention–decided to basically endorse President Obama by effusively praising him, refusing to appear with Romney for an hour at a rally in PA that was twenty minutes away from Trenton, NJ, getting teary eyed that Obama got Bruce Springsteen to call him and seeming to diss Romney on Fox and Friends. Ramesh Ponuru hit it out of the park when he wrote the following:
Yes, he (Christie) helped himself in New Jersey. I think he harmed himself pretty badly with Republicans nationally — not because he said kind words about Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, but because he was so fulsome, because he didn’t take any opportunity to loudly reiterate his support for Romney and because he talked about crying after his hero Springsteen talked to him on the phone. The first two, Republicans will hold against him as partisans; the last one, as adults.
So, in the last two weeks of the election, Romney went from surging to losing all because a bunch of blowhards couldn’t keep their big mouths shut. People forgot all about Romney’s great debate performances and promises to be more bipartisan than Obama was (Christie undercut that whole argument for him), and instead were inundated with creepy conversations about “legitimate rape” and were reminded of what a spectacle the birthers made out of themselves. Man, with “friends” like these who needs enemies?
Now don’t get me wrong–I’m all for being passionate about an issue whether your pro-life, pro-low taxes, pro smaller government (no free birth control), or feel that it’s important for people to work well together after a natural disaster (in fact, I’m all of these things). I just think that it’s completely possible to speak passionately about something that you believe in deeply without sounding like a complete and total dumbass.
However, what’s really scary is that my good friend Robert Stacy McCain informed me that this undisciplined, clownish “I gotta be me, so I can say whatever the hell I want–consequences be damned” attitude seemed pervasive at many of the rallies and Tea Parties that he attended as well. In other words, this utter lack of self discipline had seemed to spread like a disease throughout the entire party–from the elite to the grass-roots. To be specific, Stacy (who gave me permission to quote him) told me that he saw a lot of “selfishness masquerading as populism”, and that people weren’t “task oriented or mission focused”–i.e., they were only thinking of themselves and their particular pet issue instead of the big picture which is winning the White House. (Me,me,me…what about me?!)
In a recent column, Kathleen Parker nails down perfectly the self-indulgent, undisciplined and frankly clownish behavior that seemed pervasive in the Republican party this year:
Some Republicans stubbornly insist, of course, that the problem was that Romney wasn’t conservative enough. Really?
The real problem is the Republican Party, which would not be recognizable to its patron saint, Ronald Reagan. The party doesn’t need a poll or a focus group. It needs a mirror.
The truth is, Romney was better than the GOP deserved. Party nitwits undermined him, and the self-righteous tried to bring him down. The nitwits are well-enough known at this point — those farthest-right social conservatives who couldn’t find it in their hearts to keep their traps shut. No abortion for rape or incest? Sit down. Legitimate rape? Put on your clown suit and go play in the street.
Equally damaging were the primary leeches who embarrassed the party and wouldn’t leave the stage.
Did they have a right to persist in their own fantasies? Sure. But not if they were serious about getting a Republican in the White House. Thus, for months and months, Romney had to spend his energy and, as important, his money to prevail in the primaries against opponents who had no chance and who ultimately hurt him. During that same precious time, Obama’s campaign was busy pinpointing specific voters, practically learning the names of their dogs, and buying ads in niche markets.
Now, some people will blame Mitt Romney for losing this election, (even though the numbers clearly show that the problem was with the Republican party), because they don’t want to admit that their own vanity, recklessness and lack of self-discipline cost us this election. Victory has many fathers and defeat is an orphan. No one wants to believe that they had anything to do with their party’s loss–”It’s all the candidate’s fault”. However, as my good friend Amy Miller wisely pointed out to me in a recent conversation (she gave me permission to quote her), “If it was strictly the candidate’s fault, we wouldn’t hire consultants, staff, use the party apparatus and we wouldn’t take partial responsibility for the message by blogging, Tweeting, posting on Facebook and volunteering. The candidate can’t win if his party and support system is constantly stepping on his message and getting in his way.” In other words, a football team might have a great quarterback, but if the receivers consistently drop the passes and his offensive line doesn’t block for him, the team still loses the game.
Furthermore, Amy’s words ring particularly true because, in this election cycle, the Democrats had the self-discipline of Buddhist monks. They had the far worse candidate with a terrible record on jobs and the economy, who had a recent scandal/cover up in Benghazi and who had broken every campaign promise that he ever made to them with regard to closing down Gitmo or going through the budget line by line and being “transparent”. And yet, they completely circled the wagons around him. You didn’t see half of the liberal blogosphere trashing him throughout the election–in fact, they supported him 110%. No one in his party ran right wing attack ads against him or said a negative word about him. But most importantly, there wasn’t this constant stream of lunacy…this cacophony of crazy coming from their side. No Democrats were going on TV demanding to see Mitt Romney’s marriage license to prove that he wasn’t a polygamist, or saying that vaccines cause mental retardation. And most importantly, no Democrats were talking about rape!! (Oh, I’ve got a great idea–let’s talk about rape two weeks before the presidential election!)
And what’s more, we had a far superior candidate who is an extremely accomplished business man (he was WAY more accomplished than Obama was when he ran for president), and he is an excellent debater who had great hair and was extremely telegenic. Not to mention, he is extremely devoted to his family, has a squeaky clean personal life, and as John Hawkins points out, is an extremely kind and generous person. And what did we do with our candidate? Did we appreciate him or really try to help out his campaign–no, not really until he wowed us in the debates. Instead we formed a circular firing squad and relentlessly bitched about his weaknesses instead of focusing on his strengths because we were waiting for the mythical perfect candidate to come along who doesn’t exist. What’s more, we let third string candidates and retreads turn our primary into a circus and tear him down during the primary–after it was clear that he was going to be the nominee–and weaken him causing him to waste time and money. Furthermore, that primary made the entire party look bad. If we put on a circus, you can’t blame people for thinking that we’re clowns.
Our candidate deserved to win, but our party deserved to lose. This election cycle, the Democrats were far more self-disciplined than us and managed to stay on message most of the time, while we behaved like undisciplined clowns by constantly stepping on our candidate’s message. Mitt Romney wasn’t a rock star, but he was a good solid candidate who gave it his all. He deserved better than us.
Don’t get me wrong–the Democrats have way more than their fair share of crazies whom I have written about in the past in great detail. However, throughout this election cycle, the Democrats kept their clowns under lock and key, while we put ours on the front porch for all to see.
So in conclusion, I would like to leave you all with a stern lecture full of wise words, but I’m not really the stern type; therefore, I’m going to rip off Tywin Lannister from my favorite show Game of Thrones.
First, I’ll write out the lines pertinent to this post from the video below, so that you can skip the video if you like. Then, I’m going to re-write the exact same phrases, only I’m going to change the word “Lannister” to “conservatives”:
–Lannisters don’t act like fools.
–You want to say something clever? Go on, say something clever.
–I should be grateful that your vanity got in the way of your recklessness.
–It’s the family name that lives on, not your personal glory.
–You are blessed with abilities that few men possess. What have you done with your blessings?
–I need you to become the man that you were always meant to be–not next year, not tomorrow, now!
–Conservatives don’t act like fools.
–In this past election cycle, both our vanity and our recklessness got in the way of us winning the election. This would have been a winnable election if our party had even shown a modicum of self-discipline.
–It’s the conservative cause that lives on, not your personal glory, not your cause de jour, or any axe that you may have to grind. It’s not personal, it’s business.
–We were blessed with a really strong and competent candidate–minus the failed ORCA get out the vote experiment, which wouldn’t have been as necessary had we been with him all along, and had clowns not sabotaged him two weeks before the election. And what did we do with the good and capable candidate who really showed what he is made of in the debates? Did we rally around him early on–no, we formed a circular firing squad instead and then paraded out the clown of the week throughout the primary.
–We need to become the party we were always meant to be and used to be–not next year, not tomorrow, now!
You want to say something clever? Go on, say something clever. In fact you can call me names, call me a RINO, tell me you hate me–heck, you can say anything as nasty as you want if it makes you feel good. I don’t ask that you agree with me, or even for your courtesy. I just ask that the next time you do anything that represents the Republican Party, that you leave the bright red nose and big floppy shoes at home.
This is cross-posted at The Minority Report.