I have just concluded my reading of “Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America” by Dan Balz. After reading it, I have a very different conclusion about what happened in 2012 than the conventional wisdom.
The conventional wisdom, even amongst most conservatives is that the nation has turned a corner; that the nation no longer enjoys a conservative majority. There is nothing ahead but continued liberalization. I disagree, I think what we saw in 2012 was the deep divisions with the the Republican party, between fiscal/national security conservatives and social conservatives, costing the Republicans the election. These divisions when in play, give liberals the majority, but the nation as a whole is not majority liberal.
The press does not want to discuss it this way. Whether they are ideologically liberal or simply want to be the ones to report “historic, sweeping changes,” they have a vested interest in presenting a narrative that says the nation has truly shifted. Balz himself did not discuss it this way, yet the data is present in his book.
Consider the primary campaign to which Balz dedicates a large portion of the book. The primary was really a story of “not Romney” after “not Romney” rising and falling, some rising again. From Herman Cain to Rick Perry to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum, it was clear there was a large portion of the Republican electorate that did not want Mitt Romney as the nominee. They kept looking for someone else and they kept getting let down. Of the “not Romney’s” only Perry and Santorum had the actual chops to hold the office and of those two only Perry came close to having the organization to win the primaries. But Perry got in too late and could not crystallize that organization in time to overcome his liabilities as a candidate, most notably his awful debate performances in a primary season dominated by debates.
So where the division inside the Republican party? Balz starts the book discussing the fact that Romney has a “flip-flop” problem dating from ’08. But we learned in ’08 that “flip-flop” was often code for “Mormon.” By the end of discussing the primaries Balz drew the distinctions that we quoted at length in our last post and quote more succinctly here:
If evangelical Christians accounted for more than 50 percent of the primary or caucus electorate, Romney lost the state. If they accounted for fewer than 50 percent, he won.
Then there is the data that we looked at on this blog not long after the general election. Socially conservative ballot propositions significantly out-polled Romney.
You put this data together and you see not a nation that is majority liberal, but a nation where the conservative majority is divided upon itself, giving the liberals the functional majority. And to repeat the point – this is not the narrative the MSM want to discuss for it indicates that if Republicans can repair the rift, power quickly flows back to them. And so they tell the story of a corner turned. And so many I talk to on our side of the fence seem to be buying it. Hammered, in the wake of the election, with Supreme Court decisions that seem to favor same-sex marriage, we hang our heads and figure we have to take what is coming to us. I read stories and blog posts every day about and from Evangelical leaders discussing how to remain true to faith in a nation that does not share our faith – giving the liberal minority exactly what they want.
And yet this evidence indicates that there is a great deal of self-fulfilling prophecy going on here. If one equates social conservatives with Evangelicals, a reasonable generalization, one soon sees that such schism lies at the heart of Evangelicalism in it modern expressions. It is a faith virtually defined by schism. It is a faith built on church shopping in the pews and running off and building new churches at the first sign of conflict within a congregation. The mega church is largely born of people leaving the traditional denominations as they liberalized rather than stay and fight the liberalization.
Evangelicals are quick to counter that the nation has continued to socially liberalize even with Republicans in power. This seems undeniably true. But the pace of liberalization is always greatly slowed and there is often a “two steps forward one step back” effect when Republicans are at the reins. And as we have discussed on this blog countless times, for Republicans to take things further in the political/governance arena, the churches have to do a much better job of gripping the hearts and minds of Americans in other arenas.
It must always be remembered that our political system is designed to be a mirror. But like all mirrors, there is much interpretation involved in understanding the image.
So the question for Republicans moving forward is less about technology gaps, ethnic demographics and the other factors that Balz chooses to emphasize and more about healing the division between social and fiscal/national security conservatives. Romney, with his Mormon faith, clearly exacerbated this division – to the shame of Evangelicals for the cost of such, as we currently see in the abhorrently feckless Middle East policies of the current administration, is exorbitant.
What I see in the Evangelical community at the moment is that no candidate can close the gap because Evangelicals are simply retreating. Again, this is shameful as their faith should serve to embolden them. Not to mention give them higher. not lower, levels of tolerance for disagreement.
But if there is hope, I think it starts with not allowing the MSM to get away with the corner turning narrative. As distasteful as it is to discuss this, as much as it risks sending away social conservatives, if we let the corner turning narrative stand unchallenged, it carries the day. So the first question in how to bridge the intra-party gap is how to discuss it without alienating one side or the other. And we better figure out how fast.