Frank Luntz recently had an article in the Washington Post about five myths regarding conservative voters. This may very well be a starting point for a winning strategy for Romney in this year's general election campaign if he can accurately and forcefully articulate the message. In short, he has to delineate a vision, based on pragmatic conservative ideology, that separates him and the Republican Party from the Democrats and Obama. No matter how one views anything, this country was, is and shall continue to be a right-of-center country. This does not infer that the country is the embodiment of the Liberal caricature of the conservative voter. Those views from the left, best exemplified by ignorant comments like people "clinging to their Bibles and guns," is the traditional view of conservatives held by Liberals. Certainly, there may in fact be a segment that does "cling to Bibles and guns," but even at that, why should it be the source of mockery?
Instead, the true conservative voter, as the unofficial polling by Luntz suggests, is more pragmatic than ideological. Originally, I was researching an article on the evangelical vote and it became evident early that the traditional view that evangelical voters are like bleating sheep following a Republican leader was itself a myth. Clearly, the fundamentalist voter is more apt to vote Republican, but to state that Republicans can take for granted the evangelical vote every four years is false. The same is true of conservatives. Even in 2008, some 20% of self-described conservatives voted for Obama, up from the 15% of that vote that went to Kerry in 2004.
There is so much talk about the establishment versus the Tea Party or insurgent candidates. In fact, they should be working together towards a common goal, the first of which is getting Obama out of office. The "enemy" is Obama and his liberal policies. He can no longer run on a campaign theme of "hope and change." He is not some blank slate unknown with a silver tongue. He has a record now upon which he must run and one which he must defend. The fact he was resorted to a campaign of divide and conquer is indicative of the fact that this record cannot be defended. Being your typical liberal, he has resorted to diversionary tactics. One week, we have the "war on women," the next the "war on the poor," followed by the "war on youth," etc. Inevitably, we will have the "war on senior citizens." He takes advantage of the angst over income inequality by pitting Wall Street against Main Street.
Some amongst the conservative ranks have resorted to bombastic remarks and policy proposals, but they are few and far between. Some have called for the absolute abolition of the Department of Education, or Energy, or the EPA. I, as a conservative and Republican, have problems with these entities also. In past articles, I have not called for the abolition of the Department of Education, but a reform of it whereby they get out of K-12 education and leave that to state and local governments where it was for years without federal intervention with greater outcomes. The Energy Department clearly is in need of reform, yet there has to be a national entity to coordinate national priorities when it comes to energy policy. However, they should not be picking the winners and losers when it comes to energy exploitation or sources. The EPA should be forced, through changes to the laws that formed that agency, to do cost/benefit analysis when making regulations, something they are not required to do by law as it stands now.
This is the first area to look at when it comes to the Luntz article: the myth that conservative voters care most about the size of the federal government. The current size of the government is a reflection of the regulatory state. Years and years ago, Alexis de Toqueville noted that bureaucracy was the greatest threat to the emerging American democracy. To read the Constitution- a guide to the role of the federal government- one would expect only a Defense, State, Treasury, and Justice Department. Instead, we have numerous executive departments, agencies, commissions, authorities, and boards. Unfortunately, the growth of the federal bureaucracy and the regulatory state is not unique to liberals and Democrats as Republicans have been guilty of the practice. The only difference is that Democrats and Obama in particular have taken it to a gross new level.
Instead, most conservatives want a government that works better with less waste. Dating back to at least 1964, implicit in the Democratic agenda is that local and parochial interests should be subordinated to the national interest. Although never totally subordinated, it did come to the center of politics and the result to breaking gridlock that inevitably occurs was not through compromise as the Constitution dictates, but through legislative deal making: "I'll support your crop subsidy if you support my beach replenishment project." An unpaved road in Mississippi becomes a national problem when you have a national Transportation Department. Urban blight in Detroit or Newark becomes a national problem when you have a HUD. Low SAT scores in Alabama become a national problem when you have a Department of Education.
In 1995, the GAO discovered that over $350 billion was wasted on duplicate programs yet that same state of affairs exists today. In 1879, the US Geological Service was created to map the nation's natural resources. Some 133 years and over 300,000 maps later, I think they have done their job. Today, they are tasked with establishing stations to monitor global warming despite those maintained by private interests, academia and numerous thermometers on back porches throughout America. We have 14 programs for foreign study abroad, 17 offender re-entry programs run by five different agencies, over 20 programs to identify and eradicate invasive plant and animal species and nine programs spending over $300 million annually on biofuels. It is estimated that the federal bureaucracy spends over $400 million every year producing reports, studies, files and forms. The GAO reports we spend over $123 billion annually on programs with no effect on the targeted populations. And the Defense Department is perhaps the poster child of government waste and abuse.
Citing these facts and taking action are two different things. Once the bureaucracy is formed, it is almost impossible to get rid of it. But, three facts remain. First, a more efficient, less wasteful government will require political fortitude, someone willing to to make the tough decisions and follow through on those decisions to the end. Whether Romney is that person, we really do not know. We can surmise all we want from his business record, or leader of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee, or Governor of Massachusetts. But we do know one thing: Barack Obama is not that person and that is something we can all rally around. Second, there will undoubtedly be hardships along the way that will be exploited by liberals and their allies in the media. But it should also be remembered that liberals will be the flies in the ointment regardless. They are an innocuous (and obnoxious) minority of the electorate. Third, a more efficient and less wasteful federal government will necessarily result in a smaller government. Hence, it is incumbent upon conservatives to hold Romney's feet to the fire. I also venture that this basic philosophy will appeal to the equally important moderate/independent voters.
A winning strategy will be to highlight the shortcomings of the Obama Administration in this area. Despite his assertions of cleaning up waste and abuse in the federal bureaucracy on the one hand, he expands the bureaucratic state on the other hand through nonsense like a run-amok EPA, Obamacare and Frank-Dodd, among other acts. Despite protestations to the contrary, we have the examples of the GSA scandal, Fast and Furious, and the Secret Service scandal occurring on his watch. They are merely symptoms of a broader problem with government in general. No one said it better than Mitch Daniels, the outgoing Governor or Indiana who turned a budget deficit into a surplus while lowering taxes and decreasing the state bureaucracy: "You'd be surprised how much people really don't need the government."