I wrote that if Mitt Romney wins conservatism would lose. Michael Medved has taken to the Wall Street Journal to prove my point, as well as call out both Rush Limbaugh and me. Through his various straw men, Michael Medved does two things.First, he claims that the GOP will win by being centrist, not conservative.Second, he claims “electability” cannot be an argument against Mitt Romney.Let me deal with the second point first. It is the one Medved danced around and the one that gets to the heart of Romney’s flaw. He has lost every single race he has ever run in except one and then could not run for re-election in 2006 because he was sure to lose and couldn’t take getting to the Republican Presidential primary field having his immediate prior election count as a loss.On Medved’s second point, he posits as proof the GOP must reject conservatism in favor of centrism with the fact that McCain ran ahead of Republicans at the state and congressional level. Two can play that game. On Romney’s electability, an argument Medved must necessarily gloss over to prove his guy is the guy who can win, consider Jonathan Last’s point:
Romney was preceded by Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci, and Bill Weld.Weld was elected in 1990 with 50.19 percent of the vote. He won reelection in 1994 with 70.85 percent.Cellucci, who stepped in for Weld, won his own term in 1998 with 50.81 percent of the vote.Swift, who stepped into office for Cellucci, did not run because the state party pushed her aside for Romney in 2002.I’m not suggesting that a Republican winning the governorship of Massachusetts isn’t impressive–it is! But it’s worth understanding that Romney’s 49.77 percent of the vote in 2002–a generally very good year for Republicans nationally–was the worst showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state in a decade.
So in a very good year for Republicans, Romney’s win was “the worst showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state in a decade” and in the best year for the GOP in 40 years, 1994, Mitt Romney was 17 points behind Ted Kennedy.If past performance is the best indicator of future success, Mitt Romney will not be very successful.But let’s deal with Medved’s first point — that conservatives have to give up conservatism to win.
I’d note that Medved’s argument shows exactly why we cannot nominate Mitt Romney. I reject that we will lose with a more conservative candidate, but I flat out know and this piece confirms that if Romney gets the nomination his supporters will sell out conservatism convinced doing so is necessary to win. How much damage will Mitt Romney do to conservatism if he is the nominee? Consider Medved.
Rush Limbaugh’s favorite slogan, “Conservatism wins every time,” is more a statement of wishful thinking than an accurate summary of electoral experience. It’s true that Ronald Reagan’s inspiring, comprehensive conservatism brought two sweeping victories (in 1980 and ’84). But the same supremely gifted candidate lost two prior runs for the presidency (in 1968 and 1976) to two charismatically challenged, moderate rivals, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Yeah, damn that Ronald Reagan. He should have sold out and he’d have been more successful. That is, in fact, what Medved seems to advocate — selling out.
The notion that ideologically pure conservative candidates can win by disregarding centrists and magically producing previously undiscovered legions of true-believer voters remains a fantasy. It is not a strategy.
I don’t know anyone who has actually made that argument. What I and other conservatives advocate is that we must draw a contrast with Obama. Conservatism sells itself in such a contrast. We woo centrists, moderates, and independents on our ideas. When Reagan won in 1980 he moderated his tone, but he did not moderate his positions.Medved points to Goldwater as proof that conservatism gets rejected by voters. Well, Goldwater sold conservatism as destroying the welfare state, cutting off social security checks, etc. Goldwater ran as a bomb thrower. It was not Goldwater’s positions, but his willful selling of his positions as proudly turning out the poor and elderly that allowed Johnson to build a wedge against Goldwater.Michael Medved, though, uses turnout data in 2008 to try to make his case:
Moreover, in the general election Mr. McCain ran ahead of the Republican ticket in every region of the country. He drew 7,750,000 more votes than did GOP candidates for the House of Representatives, winning 45.7% compared to 42.5% for his GOP running mates. Mr. McCain captured 49 congressional districts where the Republican candidates who ran alongside him lost. If GOP nominees had performed as well as Mr. McCain in those districts, the Republicans would have won a House majority of 227 and John Boehner would have become speaker two years earlier.Contested statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate seats told a similar story, with Mr. McCain running ahead of the Republican ticket in 61% (28 of 46). In most of the few cases where statewide candidates outperformed Mr. McCain, the GOP ran veteran office holders (Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Susan Collins in Maine, Jon Huntsman in Utah, Jim Douglas in Vermont) with even more pragmatic, centrist reputations than Mr. McCain. Across the country, his performance justified the main practical rationale for his nomination as he won literally millions of votes that other more stridently conservative candidates failed to get.
Just as a short cut to the larger point, I think Medved is mixing apples and oranges. 2008 was a terribly bad year for the GOP across the board, following up on a terribly bad year in 2006.It is true that McCain ran ahead of many, many Republicans in many other races, but let’s also not forget that he had to put Sarah Palin on the ballot to get conservatives to even take him seriously.Let’s also not forget he was running against Barack Obama. No one else was. McCain picked up Democrats and independents who might just have voted for Hillary Clinton, but could not stomach Barack Obama. Let’s also not forget that as people go further down the ballot, voting falls off. In many cases in most years votes fall off from the top race on the ballot to those of House races. In states across the country, state wide races are typically listed ahead of other races. House races, not being state wide, are below President, Governor, and others. Likewise, some people do just go vote for President. It is a consistent pattern. Saying McCain drew 3.2% more votes compared to U.S. House candidates may be because he was less conservative or it could be fall off in voting or it could be Sarah Palin.We’re talking 3.2% in an otherwise terrible year for Republicans. But Medved notes McCain also ran ahead of statewide Republicans in 61% of races with only Republicans with “pragmatic, centrist reputations” running ahead of McCain. The word Medved explicitly did not use was “incumbents.” The people he explicitly cites were incumbents. In other words, people with higher name identification did better than people with lesser name identification. Moreso, the Republican nominee for President of the United States did better than the Republican nominee for Governor of various states up for re-election. That does not mean that John McCain’s centrist positions won. That means John McCain was running for President of the United States as opposed to Public Service Commissioner for District 4 or some such.But back to Medved’s specific point — the GOP needs to abandon its conservatism and go with centrism. I’d point out that McCain bounced after the GOP convention and with Palin’s addition, both of which energized conservatives. Then there is the point Medved does not make and kind of throws a wrench in his argument.In 2008, Rudy Giuliani led John McCain headed into primary season. So you had the two guys perceived as “not conservative” leading in a party dominated by conservatives (putting aside that John McCain is and has always been pro-life, unlike Mitt Romney). Why? Because the primary and general election in 2008, at least for Republicans and a significant number of independent voters, continued to be about the future conduct of America in the War on Terror. Those races where McCain ran ahead of other Republicans? Forget ballot drop off, incumbency, etc. None of those people were actually on the ballot to be Commander-in-Chief. John McCain was.Michael Medved posits that moderation or centrism wins. I reject that and I don’t think Medved makes a very persuasive case. The Republican Party won 1988 as Reagan’s third term and the nation rejected George H. W. Bush and his moderate tax hikes in 1992 for a guy who ran proclaiming the era of big government over. If you look at the history of Republican candidates in just the past few decades, the GOP nominated George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain. Only two of them ran as conservatives and won and when George H. W. Bush rejected that, he lost.Conservatives are not out to run ideology pure candidates who blow off the center. They are out to run a candidate who will sell conservatism in a way that draws in the middle. The GOP will not win with Mitt Romney, who starts by blowing off the Republican base and its values to begin with.But good for Michael Medved giving the party line. And thanks for pointing out just who ready and willing Romney supporters are to throw conservatism under the bus.