I’ve seen quite a few opinion pieces lately examining the election’s outcome. The blame of Romney’s loss (notice I didn’t say Obama’s win; I’ll examine that in a little bit) range from too extremely conservative to not conservative enough. From not buying enough votes to not buying enough votes in the right places. From Romney’s flip-flopping to not being flexible enough. From his maligning of the 47% to his being too rich. From his purported hypocrisy of wanting a bailout while he was managing the 2000 Olympics to his not wanting to bailout the automotive industry. There is even an opinion piece in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette stating that there were too many “buffoons" that ran in the Republican primaries. “Banish the buffoons," the piece states, or “demography will reduce the Republican Party to regional influence and national irrelevance in the not-too-distant future."
Well, you get the idea. Opinions range on the reasons why Romney came up short. And while they make for interesting reading, the fact remains that more people in the right places chose to believe in another four years of hope and change than people who chose to believe in reality. However, I would like to put in my two cents’ worth on whether being “too” conservative was what sank the Romney campaign.
There is a trilogy of non-fiction books by Robert Greene that I highly recommend. They are entitled The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, and The 33 Strategies of War. Each has quotations and other interesting tidbits that illustrate lessons that the author is trying to convey. They are available at any bookstore or online.
The following selection comes from The 33 Strategies of War, and is the very first strategy, “Declare War On Your Enemies - The Polarity Strategy”. The author gives a little background on the former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, noting that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party had come to resemble one another. Then Thatcher was proposed as leader of the Conservative Party, which she took when the party was split.
In the winter of 1978-79, she linked the public-sector unions strike with the Labour Party and Prime Minister James Callaghan. Greene notes:
This was bold, divisive talk, good for making the evening news - but not for winning elections. You had to be gentle with the voters, reassure them, not frighten them. At least that was the conventional wisdom.
In 1979, the Labour Party called a general election, and Thatcher kept the attack up, even intensifying it. She categorized the election as a crusade against socialism and as Great Britian’s last chance to modernize. (Sound familiar?) Callaghan fired back, and Thatcher’s popularity numbers fell.
her rhetoric polarized the electorate, which could finally see the sharp difference between the parties. Dividing the public into left and right, she charged into the breach, sucking in attention and attracting the undecided. She won a sizable victory.
Thatcher had bowled over the voters, but now, as prime minister, she would have to moderate her tone, heal the wounds - according to the polls, at any rate that was what the public wanted. But Thatcher as usual did the opposite, enacting budget cuts that went even deeper than she had proposed during the campaign....
She seemed bent on pushing everyone away; her legion of enemies was growing, her poll numbers slipping still lower. Surely the next election would be her last.
Then, in 1982, Argentina decided that the time was right to claim the Falkland Islands, which they had a historical claim to possess. Argentina felt sure that the British were too busy with their own troubles and too distant from their territory to contest their claim. Many in Thatcher’s party thought that a war to reclaim the islands would be pointless and be much too costly. Thatcher thought differently, however, and sent a naval task force the 8,000 miles to retake the islands.
...now saw her qualities, which had seemed so irritating, in a new light: her obstinacy became courage, nobility. Compared to the dithering, pantywaisted, careerist men around her, Thatcher seemed resolute and confident. The British successfully won back the Falklands, and Thatcher stood taller than ever. Suddenly the country’s economic and social problems were forgotten. Thatcher now dominated the scene, and in the next two elections she crushed Labour.”
Margaret Thatcher came to power as an outsider: a middle-class woman, a right-wing radical. The first instinct of most outsiders who attain power is to become insiders -life on the outside is hard- but in doing so they lose their identity, their difference, the thing that makes them stand out in the public eye. If Thatcher had become like the men around her, she would simply have been replaced by yet another man. Her instinct was to stay an outsider. In fact, she pushed being an outsider as far as it could go: she set herself up as one woman against an army of men.
At every step of the way, to give her the contrast she needed, Thatcher marked out an opponent: the socialists, the wets [men of her own party who questioned her abilities], the Argentinians. These enemies helped to define her image as determined, powerful, self-sacrificing. Thatcher was not seduced by popularity, which is ephemeral and superficial. Pundits might obsess over popularity numbers, but in the mind of the voter -which, for a politician, is the field of battle- a dominating presence has more pull than does likability. Let some of the public hate you; you cannot please everyone. Your enemies, those you stand sharply against, will help you forge a support base that will not desert you. Do not crowd into the center, where everyone else is; there is no room to fight in a crowd. Polarize people, drive some of them away, and create space for battle.
Everything in life conspires to push you into the center, and not just politically. The center is the realm of compromise. Getting along with other people is an important skill to have, but it comes with a danger: by always seeking the path of least resistance, the path of conciliation, you forget who you are, and you sink into the center with everyone else. Instead see yourself as a fighter, an outsider surrounded by enemies. Constant battle will keep you strong and alert. It will help to define what you believe in, both for yourself and for others. Do not worry about antagonizing people; without antagonism there is no battle, and without battle, there is no chance of victory. Do not be lured by the need to be liked: better to be respected, even feared. Victory over your enemies will bring you a more lasting popularity. [all emphasis mine]
The only thing that I can add to that is that whenever you compromise, you give away a part of yourself. Too much compromise, and you will have given too much of yourself away.
We as conservatives need to stick to our principles. To Hell with the people who hate us; they'll never like us, no matter what we do. They have proven their enmity to us, and they will never be our friends. Why continue to reach out to them when we know that they will bite us like a rabid dog?
Was Romney a good candidate? I'll answer with, "Good enough". Definitely better than the alternative, but that's a pretty low bar to be jumping over.
Did he run a good campaign? Ah, now, that's a different question. Some of the things that happened, I didn't personally agree with, but I could see the thinking behind it. The ultimate answer, however, is "not good enough".
We need to start working on winning the midterms in 2014, and blocking what we can legislatively, turning Obama into the lamest duck in American history.