Let me begin by saying that I was as devastated by election night as most of you were. So this post is not an attempt to sugarcoat what happened. My goal is to put the election in a historical context and point our way ahead.
The 2012 election was simply a repeat of the 1936 election. In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, FDR ran for a second term. The Republicans chose Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas as their nominee and standard bearer. Landon was a liberal republican, a former Bull Moose Progressive, and a supporter of New Deal legislation. Instead of presenting a clear alternative to Roosevelt, the Republicans felt their best option was to run someone ideologically similar to the President. To further cloud the issues surrounding the election, the Republican party platform denounced the New Deal even though the party nominee supported it. In the end, the voters rejected the mixed messaging and overwhelmingly chose Roosevelt. He won the popular vote with 28 million to 17 million and an electoral landslide of 523 to 8. In addition, the Democrats increased their dominance of Congress: Senate (77 to 19) and House (328 to 107).
In 2012 the Republicans faced a similar situation with an incumbent President running for a second term in the midst of an economic slump. Like their counterparts seventy-six years earlier, they chose to not present a bold contrast and nominated a moderate / liberal Republican. Like Landon, Romney and the Republican Party presented a mixed message. Romney defiantly stood by his support of Romneycare in Massachusetts while the party officially rejected the national version of Romneycare – Obamacare. In the end, the voters once again rejected the mixed messaging. Luckily for us, the rejection did not extend to Congress where the Republican still hold the House of Representatives.
The conclusion many are drawing from the 2012 election is that the Republican Party and conservatism are doomed. Yet, politically and economically we are in much better shape than we were in 1936. The true lesson learned is that the Republican party must be bold in what they stand for and draw sharp distinctions. The American people like an alternative not an echo. From 1936 until 1980, the Republican Party presented itself as Democratic Lite and, when in power, actually presided over the expansion of the New Deal. It was not until Ronald Reagan that the Republicans became a legitimate alternative to big government. Since Reagan, we have continually moved back to being Democratic Lite. The defeat of Romney shows the futility of trying to shadow the Democratic Party.
The safest course for the Republicans in the House of Representatives is to oppose Obama’s leftist agenda at every turn. The House may be only be one-half of one-third of the federal government but it holds immense power. The House holds the purse strings and control of the purse strings can bring down the mightiest monarchs – just ask Charles I. The House can also bottle up any nonsense out of the Senate. What do we have to lose by being the party of “my way or the highway”? After all, I thought we were only passing what Obama wanted to help get Romney elected. We sure do not have to worry about that any more.