by Todd Jackson
By now, we know that Mitt Romney went into Election Day feeling certain about his victory. Internal polling in the Romney campaign showed him well-situated to become the 45th American President. In this, he wasn’t alone. Most Republican voters felt much the same. Anne Romney cries for us all.
Our “internal polling” was brought to us by Rasmussen and Gallup, and by the air of downright certainty on Dick Morris’ and Michael Barone’s faces. We all bought into it, even though we’d seen the Democrats make the same mistake in ’00 and ’04. Part of it was that what we thought the polls reflected was just patented common sense on the American people’s part. Of course the people wouldn’t reelect a President in this economy. Of course people couldn’t be that stupid. Well they were that stupid, and we turned pretty stupid to trust they’d be otherwise. But above all, we – a group that includes Mitt Romney – were stupid to trust the polling.
That trust led conservatism away from itself. Romney went rope-a-dope right after the first debate, a blow from which Pres. Obama should not have recovered. It turns out that the voices critical of Romney’s passive, me-too approach in the third debate were right, and we who looked into that passivity and found deeper strategies, or Romney’s “statesmanship,” or who like Glenn Beck thought Romney was under directions from God, were all wrong. Some other God sent a hurricane instead.
Don’t let the peanut butter fool you. Mitt Romney has it in him to hit below the belt and when your back is turned at the same time. Ask Newt Gingrich. It is most likely that when Romney smiled benignly through the third debate Not Saying Benghazi, he thought he was being open and inclusive toward opponents whose defeat was inevitable. He was already being President For All The People.
In retrospect, the first sign of complacency was the absence of any voice, in that heady week after debate one, saying Now let’s push for the Senate. (And look how that worked out for us.)
While we’re playing Woulda-Shoulda:
We underestimated how difficult it is to defeat a sitting President.
We underestimated that long marinating in anti-Romney ads that all the swing states enduring throughout the summer.
We underestimated the significance of the Ohio unemployment rate’s being significantly lower than the national. That set off a dynamic in which Romney expounds on economic failure and Ohio shrugs.
We underestimated how many Americans really do not like rich people, and how many don’t have such an animus per se but just do not approve of Bain Capital’s brand of capitalism.
We overestimated the American people. This is the one that hurts. In accepting this economy, they accepted less than what many of us would like to believe they should be willing to accept. It was clear there have always been such people. Only now was it clear that it had become most of the people. One felt the horizons being lowered. It wasn’t just another defeat. People started talking about the United States having had its two centuries. Petition drives started up, most prominently in Texas, but the sentiment was widely and spontaneously shared. Sometimes it was free-market Makers revolting against the Takers. Sometimes it really was whites revolting against majority-minorities, just like the Democrats have been saying it is, and reducing it to.
Of course it was bitterness talking, but it means something important for the future. Secession talk means that conservatives aren’t going to be giving up their principles, just because the United States has. For many on the right, the United States has become just what it has always been to the left, which when sufficiently aggrieved has always felt itself willing to replace the “c” in America with a “k.”
A few more weeks and there’ll be talk about not just ’14 but ’16, and the candidate that can crack through. If the economy is the story, there’s no reason Mitt Romney might not actually run yet again. Newt Gingrich has expressed an interest, which I welcome because win or lose, his presence will make the primary race better. People are talking about Marco Rubio, who might well make a fine candidate even though they’re talking about him for all the wrong reasons. Rick Santorum has reason to believe that with a bit more funding this time around, it could be his year, and besides, he’s got nothing else to do. I’m keeping my eye on Scott Walker, because the Wisconsin of the past four years is a preview to the America of the next four, the moment we do begin looking at entitlements, and he has some experience with that.
However, it should not be enough simply to brush off the dust, get up, and rally ourselves to better Presidents in the future. To do so would be dishonest to this defeat, which did not and does not feel like an ordinary defeat, but a change of season.
Because part of the problem with our letting the polls make us overconfident is that we’ve gotten much too concerned about the Presidential politics. The stakes are too high, every four years. The President is too much with us.
Especially this President. Yesterday a young woman passed me by wearing a light sweater on which was emblazoned a giant picture of Barack Obama, his noble pose emblazoned with “President of the United States.” Sometimes it someone passing on a message from the Facebook Group “I Like It When I Wake Up Knowing Barack Obama is President.” There is the revelation by Jamie Foxx that Mr. Obama is not merely his President, but his Lord and Savior.
When I see people who indulge in this, my thought is I am not a citizen the way you are a citizen; you are more of a recruit, or a subject.
Something came through in the ad wars this time. We really don’t like each other very much. It’s more than a disagreement about policy matters. It’s more the process by which one people grows foreign to the other.
A robust Federalism should become a principle part of the GOP agenda. Let more of Republican candidates’ rhetoric be about how little the Federal Government should do – not just how much debt it should cut – before moving on to the urgent topic of how little they themselveswill do if elected. (Don’t you immediately like better a Barack Obama who’d straightforwardly say, “My biggest priority for ’13 is to work on my golf game”?)
Maybe it’s time to move to reduce the number of days Congress meets. Let them make all the trouble they’re going to make in three months’ time. Let the Supreme Court meet rarely, maybe once every few years. It would be news that we’re having to sweep the cobwebs out of the fine old building. Their meetings should always be met with a certain disgust: has it really come to this?
It’s time to recognize that from time to time, Democratic Presidents will be elected. Instead of going through all this every four years, it’s time to build firewalls against the Presidency, against the Federal Government generally.
Time to focus on the State Houses, to build on the conversations between Republican Governors. Time to build on the conversations many of those Governors must have been having about deciding not to accept Obamacare exchanges, or indeed about suing and being sued by the Federal Government.
One of the quietly remarked political phenomenae of recent years is the drift toward Statewide unanimous rule by party. Build on that. We might not need to wait for ’16. Much can be won with just the right act of concerted defiance. With this President, the provocations will be numerous.