Two recent articles provided explanations as to why Mitt Romney failed to win the presidency.
In The GOP and the City Edward Glaeser writes:
After the presidential election in November, New York Times exit polls found that Republican candidate Mitt Romney had received only 29 percent of the big-city vote to President Obama’s 69 percent. That gap prompted Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, to conclude that it was “the turnout especially in urban areas” that “gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.” Ryan was right: the GOP has an urban problem. And it’s partly a self-created one. The party, nationally and even locally, has focused on winning suburban and rural votes and has stopped reaching out to city dwellers.
The cities-as-foreign-territory approach is bad politics for the Republicans: after all, successful cities like New York and Houston surge with ambitious strivers and entrepreneurs, who should instinctively sympathize with the GOP’s faith in private industry. The Republican move away from the cities is also bad for the cities themselves, which have hugely benefited—and could benefit a lot more—from right-of-center ideas.
Glaeser argues that there are issues for which Republicans are better suited to address the problems of city dwellers. Most notably he argues that Republicans with their ideas about school choice are likely champions of urban residents whose children are trapped in poor schools. He also offers market based solutions to problems such as housing and traffic congestion.
The problem is that this is all easier said than done. In Baltimore, for example, Republicans might make up 10% of the population. There hasn’t been a single Republican – even on the city council – in decades. In other words, there’s no infrastructure to produce a successful city wide candidate. The only options are where a candidate would be a successful prosecutor, like Rudy Giuliani in New York, or businessman like Bret Schundler in Jersey City. Republicans might have better ideas for solving cities’ myriad problems, but there just are not enough of them in many cities to produce a candidate.
Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.
The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.
Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.
The problem, of course, is then how do you convey that message. It’s easier to say “I care for you” if part of that message is also “I will take of you” and not “so I will let you take care of yourself.”
Towards the end Brooks writes:
By making the vulnerable a primary focus, conservatives will be better able to confront some common blind spots. Corporate cronyism should be decried as every bit as noxious as statism, because it unfairly rewards the powerful and well-connected at the expense of ordinary citizens. Entrepreneurship should not to be extolled as a path to accumulating wealth but as a celebration of everyday men and women who want to build their own lives, whether they start a business and make a lot of money or not. And conservatives should instinctively welcome the immigrants who want to earn their success in America.
The problem is that still doesn’t address how to convey that giving a man an opportunity shows greater concern than actually taking care of him. That fact is complicated because our political culture promotes that premise too.
While Glaesar and Brooks certainly identify difficulties Republicans face in national elections, it isn’t clear that either provides a solution for overcoming those difficulties.
But since I don’t want to leave you on a pessimistic note, consider a recent report in Politico, Conservative geeks want a wired GOP.
But a blast of cheerful California sunshine may be starting to light the way in the form of an underground gang of young, conservative hackers in the Valley assembling via a communal Google Document to brainstorm about what they can do to save the party from the clutches of tech-phobic leaders.
“There’s this myth that there aren’t any Republicans out here who are willing to drop everything to help the way Democratic hackers have,” said Aaron Ginn, who with Garrett Johnson have dubbed their nascent brain trust the Republican Stealth Mob. “We’re out here, and we want to help.”
Although the Mob exists almost entirely online, Ginn said more than 50 programmers and other techies are ready to help build new tools to modernize the party’s widely panned digital infrastructure. Many of those on the list are secret conservatives at top companies fearful of “coming out” in the über-liberal Bay Area, Ginn said.
Cheering them along are the likes of Ruffini, the Webmaster for the 2004 Bush reelection campaign and RNC eCampaign director from 2005 to 2007.
Ruffini, who was involved with digital efforts for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 election and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s upset in 2010, views Ginn and his cadres as “the real deal.”
“It’s very refreshing to talk to folks like that, who aren’t necessarily all gloom and doom and are trying to take matters into their own hands,” said Ruffini, owner of the GOP campaign consultancy Engage LLC. “There’s going to have to be some kind of outside force that takes the lead on this.”
After all the bad news I just delivered, we can hope, can’t we?