Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Huddle - What Happened

This election drubbing for Republicans is a learning experience in the best and worst sense of the word. The losses that the Republicans had down the ballot for the most part started from the top, so it's wise to focus on the McCain/Palin v Obama/Biden race. To put it another way, Obama had coattails. Here's how the popular vote shifted from 2004 to 2008 (preliminary 2008 numbers, they may shift):

Preliminary 2004-2008 vote comparisons:
Year Total Republicans Democrats
2008 118,226,000 55,543000 62,683,000
2004 121,068,000 62,040,000 59,028,000
Totals -2,842,000 -6,497,000 3,655,000

The GOP lost 6 million votes from 2004, the Democrats gained 3 million to 62 million.

As part of the "What happened and why" we have to consider these factors:
  1. The Bush legacy. How Bush performed in office - the war against terror, the economy, etc., and how it was perceived. Bush was in the past year not very popular, in a large part due to his own base having a disappointed view of him, and that translating into a drag on the ticket. It's genesis was from Katrina, Harriet Miers, Iraq war fatigue, immigration, conservative issues with spending, etc. Note to next GOP President (whenever that comes): Dont screw up a war; Dont spend like drunken sailor; Dont PO your base; Dont let a financial crisis hit 6 weeks before an election on your watch.
  2. How the Republicans in power have met or not met their stated agenda items. Did we have 'agenda exhaustion' or are there agenda items left undone? A lot is tied to #1, and the view from conservatives' perspective is that Republicans didn't govern as conservatively as they promised. The faultlines are particularly sharp on elites-vs-populists items like immigration, .
  3. John McCain - the candidate and the campaign, and Sarah Palin. I commented on a forum to this effect - "I dont think critiquing McCain would help. Given his money disadvantage and the media bias, he ran as good a campaign as you could expect. OTOH, there were serious technology deficiencies on MCCain side and advantages on Obama side that need to be corrected." I got this reply:
    McCain ran a terrible campaign. I can personally attest to that having been a volunteer for his campaign in VA makiing telephone calls and handing out sample ballots. The Obama campaign was much more organized and prepared. I can't tell you how many times this campaign resembled the Keystone cops. We didn't have poll watchers or a presence in many places. And there was no cohesive message. Again, Obama, his experience and his associations, should have been the issue and focus from day one. In many respects, the issues were tangential. And because McCain was the candidate we couldn't go after Obama on immigration issues such as amnesty, drivers licenses, etc. and global warming. Immigration was, and continues to be a big issue in NoVA. Coal is big in SW VA. And McCain has a difficult time in debating. He is not quick on his feet." In the end, the lack of a clear message - here's why you need to vote for me and run screaming away from the other guy - doomed McCain. "Country First" was a great slogan, but it somehow got lost in the muddle of the focus on the economy, and meanwhile, Obama stuck to his "Me=change, McCain=Bush" simplistic but consistent message.
  4. The strengths and weaknesses of Obama and the Democrat lineup. $600 million dollars and a friendly media covers up many sins. Obama was able to take advantage of his unique background (that made him a 'celeb' candidate that few first term Senators could achieve) and suffer few if any negative consequences for having radical associations. This is partly due to McCain's reticence to press the Rev Wright issue home. But a more important lacking element was Obama's left-liberal views on social issues - not put on the table.
One factor stands out: The financial crisis factor. Prior to the financial meltdown in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy on September 15th, McCain was leading Obama slightly. Once that happened, polls turned to Obama, and McCain never was ahead since. It was an election gift to Obama, that made the economy the #1 issue and made it easy for him to run against the status quo. (Never mind that to me, Obama is a greater threat to my 401k than anyone else out there.) But McCain's decision to support the bailout bill, as did Obama, muted differences in approach on the crisis. What might have been:
"With all due respect to Sen. McCain for his service above and beyond the call of duty to his country, he represents the GOP's past. He is well known for standing up for what he believes is right, but sometimes what he believes is best turns out to be wrong. He missed a golden opportunity of his own when he reacted to the financial storm that hit this county. Had he stood up against the taxpayer-funded bailout of the same financial houses which were part and parcel of the problem, he would have demonstrated that he really is the maverick he never failed to tell us he was. But he didn't. He opted instead for an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the private sector. That may well have cost him the election. John McCain, God bless him, is the Republican Party's failed past. Young Turks such as Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and LtC. Allen West aret its future." - Josh Painter, RedState
Now that the election is done, I'd like to analyze the challenges that we face on four levels:
  1. The nuts-and-bolts election-level. What did the Democrats do better in candidates, campaigns, technology, outreach, organization, GOTV, messaging etc. in appealing to voters and getting them to the polls? What should we emulate or not?
  2. The challenge in the immediate political future of how to leverage what little influence the conservative and Republican side has, and how to defeat the threats they will pose to freedom. How to "Stop Obama's Socialism", and stopping the "Fairness Doctrine".
  3. The challenge of rebuilding the Republican party, improving the brand, and getting ready for the next election cycles. How do we fix what's wrong with the party?
  4. The challenge to the conservative movement and to conservatives in the grassroots, in the media, in the think tanks. We will have to rethink - what part of the agenda is still viable? We even have contenders for redefining what consevatism is, as well as the Reagan stalwarts who want the tried and true formula.
I separate the challenges into these four categories because I see too much analysis that mixes up the four distinct challenges. I will address them in followup posts in coming days.


Anonymous said...

The 'no cohesive message' flaw was exposed here as well:

In other words, complete the sentence. "Vote for McCain because ..."

There wasn't a core central theme like Obama had.

55 million people voted for McCain, and that's impressive, but they likely did it for many different reasons.

Anonymous said...

Let me add this point too made on another blog...

"The reaction by Democrats to the nomination of Gov. Palin for vice president is instructive. They panicked at the response by focus groups who stated “she is one of us.”

Think about that folks. During the Democrat primaries, Hillary made major gains when she changed her persona to being one of the gals who was throwing Boilermakers down in the bar with Joe Sixpack and his friends. She became the populist to Obama’s “hope and change.”

Gov. Palin won the vice presidential debate hands down. Oh, she may not have won with the intellectual conservatives. But she won the debate with average Americans. Much like the reaction by the Democrat focus groups.

Incidentally, President Reagan was not a favorite amongst the Rockefeller Republicans either."

Good points. We have to remember that both the Democrats and the Republicans have a combination of elites and a base.

The Democrat elites are all pointy-headed latte-sipping liberals, enamored of the same intellectual rubbish that obama spouts (ie they *agreed* with Obama's "clinging to God and guns"). They want to get rid of God in the public square and hate those bourgoisie McMansion Republicans, etc.

But they dont win elections. Only 20% of the electorate in the 2008 election were self-identified liberals. They NEED to down-scale workers, the Joe the Plumbers, the single Moms, the waitresses, and they also need the skittish suburban white collar workers and soccer Moms. This electorate is not liberal. Some in fact are 'conservative Democrats' who vote not for liberal but for the populism of a party thats 'for the little guy'. This is why the Democrats are always bashing the Republicans "tax cuts for the rich", never mind that Bush's tax cut was for every single person paying income tax - the Democrats have to keep the illusion up that they are for the little guy.

Palin, with her union-dues paying hubbie, her soccer/hockey Mom persona, and her down-to-earth faith and common-sense statements. Palin was the only person in the 4 debates who mentioned the need for individual responsibility. She's the only one on the ticket whose lifestyle has not been wrapped around politics for most of her life. (Although give McCain credit for his military career).

Had McCain realized this *AND* figured out that Obama's radical associations were ALL ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE IS AN ELITIST LEFT-LIBERAL out of touch with the real needs of real working Americans ... they could have run and won with it.

It tells me also that Palin was a much better VP pick than Romney. However, that's all about positioning to voters. The more I think about it, the more I believe a Romney/Palin ticket would have won with the right campaign, one that focussed on winning on the economy issue and addressing the real issues for working Americans.