Read an Excerpt
So it has come to this. Barack Obama is a two-term president. A president who in his first term presided over one of the worst economies in American history, whose foreign policy was utterly incomprehensible, a leader who expressed contempt for the foundations of our free-enterprise, capitalist system now has three more years in which to either further America’s decline under his stewardship or truly reverse direction in his policies, as many of us expected he would in his first term.
It’s clear we can no longer truthfully say that each presidential election is the most important in our recent history. That would leave out some awfully important elections—midterm elections. Had not the Republicans won decisively in 2010, it is likely things would have been woefully different. Only the Tea Party in 2010 stood between this president and the full implementation of what I believe would have been disastrous consequences for the nation. Even though President Obama won a historic victory (yes, another one) in 2012, a Republican Congress also prevailed and has managed to blunt at least some of President Obama’s initiatives to expand without limit the size and power of our federal government. And, of course, 2012 lived up to its billing as the most important election in our history, although at times it seems Governor Mitt Romney had no idea how important the election was to him and to our nation. It mattered a lot. Mr. Obama’s victory put in place for the next four years:
• A government hostile to business
• A government hostile to free enterprise and innovation
• A government hostile to state and local governance
• A government enormously hostile to individual rights
Obamacare is a Frankenstein creation of a statist, socialist administration intent on raising taxes—taxes increasing now on those with higher income levels as well as small business owners. The national debt is rising, even as our rivals and enemies take unfair strategic advantage of a president and administration that seemingly do not understand economics, domestic public policy, or how to effectively pursue our national interests in a difficult, complex, and dangerous world.
It may be comforting to Republicans to consider Mr. Obama’s victory another “fluke.” But his 2012 victory was no fluke. Nor was it a stolen election. Were the polls “skewed”? It seems only the losers’ polls were skewed. Let’s be clear. Only the losers had the numbers wrong. Think about this number:
That is how many Americans decided to re-elect this president—about 51 percent of those who cast ballots across the country. Barack Obama was the first Democrat since FDR to win two popular majorities in a row. Mr. Obama won in places like Virginia and Florida, Nevada and Colorado, all critical swing states that might have gone for a Republican candidate. He dominated all of New England, and came closer than expected in Mississippi and South Carolina, where he won 43 percent and 44 percent of the vote respectively. The president won 71 percent of Hispanic voters, 93 percent of African-Americans, and 50 percent of Catholics. Adding insult to injury, Democrats picked up an improbable two seats in the United States Senate and eight seats in the House of Representatives.
The 2012 election wasn’t all that close. There was a lot of talk about the “enthusiasm gap” favoring Republicans, and somehow the GOP did manage to nominate a candidate who received almost one million more votes than John McCain in 2008. Obama had three and a half million fewer votes than in 2008. Sadly for Republicans, whatever enthusiasm gap there was, wasn’t sufficient to bridge the vote gap. Few in either party were enthusiastic about going to the polls and pulling the lever for their candidate. Given the mediocrity of the choices, who can blame them? What made the difference was a well-conceived, well-organized, well-managed campaign on one side and an unmitigated mess on the other.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. And Republicans had better hope that their party does exactly that. President Obama, David Axelrod, and David Plouffe turned out to be every bit as smart as they told us they were. Their campaign outstrategized, outorganized, outworked, and outclassed the Republicans at every turn. That’s the first unpleasant reality with which the Republicans have to come to terms. They need to grow their party. They need to get out the vote, and to do that, Washington Republicans had better get out of town as much as they can and get to know a lot of soon-to-be Republicans. This midterm will be all about hard work, reaching out to new GOP voters and getting them so excited they actually vote.
If Republicans haven’t been looking for and recruiting a dozen David Axelrods by now, people who know how to energize a base and get out their vote, then Republicans will see the same devastating results in 2014, and in 2016, as they did in 2012. I’m reluctantly complimenting the Democrats and I’m hoping Republicans have the humility and street smarts to do the same. Because the GOP must emulate Democratic success if they are to win anytime soon. Repeating one’s mistakes, one’s own stupidity, and ignoring cause and effect, is a sure path to even greater Republican frustration and continued failure.
The 2012 election wasn’t about the Democrats. It was supposed to be, of course. But it turned out to be about the Republicans and their failures of imagination and courage, and their reliance on an old-guard cadre of greedy strategists and fund-raisers who filled their pockets as they floated more empty rhetoric and broke more Republican hearts. The Republicans did all this to themselves in 2012, and will soon find out if they’ve done it again in 2014. And so will America.
The country needs a loyal opposition to the Democratic Party, a countervailing political organization to the Democrats, one that will stand in the way of the Democrats’ inexhaustible appetite for ever-bigger government, higher taxes, and less respect for the individual and his or her rights.
Republicans in Washington have often seemed to be as eager for tax hikes, bailouts, and corporate welfare as Democrats.
Herewith a short primer for Republicans who want to be something more than Democrat-lite coupled with lower taxes for corporations, lower taxes and fewer regulations for businesses:
In the private sector, if you run a business into the ground, you don’t tend to get rewarded with another CEO job. But not so in the Republican Party. Many of the people guiding Mitt Romney to defeat were the same people who in 2008 had helped John McCain run one of the worst imaginable presidential campaigns ever. Many of them had helped George W. Bush leave office with the lowest approval rating of any president in our history. You might have thought that these geniuses would be run out of Washington on a rail. Instead they’ve shown up again and again in the Republican Party. Why? One can only assume that it suits the Republican power elite to keep fools around who will do their bidding and forswear intellectual energy, originality, and political independence and integrity.
The Republicans are particularly gifted when it comes to recycling. By “recycling” I mean recycling the same leaders, the same consultants, the same pollsters, the same media advisors, and the same fundraisers election cycle after election cycle. It’s insanity. Pure insanity. A manager at your local 7-Eleven has a better track record of hiring responsible, competent people than some of these multimillion-dollar political campaigns.
Even the choice of Republican candidates presented to the GOP electorate was symptomatic of a lack of imagination. And what a study in recycling! Most of the candidates on the stage in 2012 had been in politics for years, some for decades. Yet the Republican Party struggled to convince voters that any of them was a candidate in the tradition of the Republican Party, or would prevail in the national contest with Barack Obama. And yet it was from this group of candidates that the party chose the one candidate who lost the last time to the guy who lost to Obama the first time. I realize that’s a tortured way to say that the Republicans selected Mitt Romney to challenge Barack Obama after Barack Obama had beaten the daylights out of John McCain, who had easily beaten Romney in the race for the 2008 Republican nomination. Somehow Republicans convinced themselves that Romney was a really good idea.
Washington doesn’t make a lot of sense to the rest of the country. But even by Washington standards, Republicans have to be considered particularly screwball. Going into the most important election in our history, which is always by definition the next election, how can it be that Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain appear on Sunday talk shows and cable news networks more than any other senators or congressmen? How is it that the Republicans who raised the most money in 2008 and lost were the ones who raised the most money in 2012, and yes, lost again? So I want to propose a rule for the Republicans to consider. Henceforth and forevermore Republicans will not invite back members of campaign teams, or candidates, who make careers out of losing. Is the Republican Party so agonizingly and pitifully bereft of talent that there is no one in their ranks who is original or fresh or new or deserving of the party’s support? I can think of a dozen likely candidates right now. I may not agree with all that any one of these candidates has to offer, but there is no question that Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Trey Gowdy, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, and Dr. Benjamin Carson are just a few names that the Republican Party should embrace.
Take a look at this number, this very big, Republican number:
That is how much money Republican-affiliated groups raised for the 2012 election. I’m talking about the Romney campaign, the Republican Party, and Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future Super PAC combined. When you add in the numbers of the six largest Super PACs and outside funders, here’s what you get.
Americans for Prosperity
American Future Fund
Winning Our Future
Americans for Job Security
More than a billion dollars—a number that defies comprehension. It is also incomprehensible how much of that money was simply wasted. Television ads telling you why you shouldn’t vote for Barack Obama and why Mitt Romney was the bee’s knees. Now this is what Republicans across the country received in return for all that investment of big money, and lots of television time:
All that money bought nothing. The 2012 Republican campaign seemed at times utterly mindless. The Romney campaign was about money, invective, fear, and almost no discussion of ideas. The Romney campaign, and all who were making so much money from his candidacy, was bereft of imagination, and of new ideas. Ideas still matter in politics. Romney and his strategists, tacticians, and fundraisers had none. Not a single new idea with which to capture the attention and the hopes of Republican voters. Romney’s television ads, the Republican Party’s commercials, were all about full immersion. But the candidate himself was not only not immersed in the politics and the contest, his interest at times seemed to amount to no more than an infrequent furtive glance at a body politic who would have eagerly responded to a candidate with bright ideas and better promises. Even Obama’s tired rhetoric seemed to brighten when compared to Romney’s tiresome clichés and his lack of passion.
The 2012 presidential campaign was one of the dirtiest in recent memory. It was also one of the most disappointing and least interesting campaigns. None of this bothers the strategists and media buyers and consultants running Republican campaigns. They made millions off this losing campaign, just as they did in 2008. They may have left Republicans with nothing to show for it but smoldering ruins where the GOP once stood, but they walked off with millions of dollars in their own pockets. Why should they bother with ideas to appeal to the electorate when they and their friends can just air boilerplate attack ads and walk off with hefty checks, regardless of whether they win or lose?
The Democratic Party is a functioning coalition. The Republican Party is a fund-raising organization. The Democratic Party has members, while the Republican Party has visitors. You take the money away from the Democrats and they still have a group of followers committed to a set of ideas. Terrible ideas, but still ideas. You take away money and the other functions of the Republican Party apparatus and you have an empty tent. The Republican Party doesn’t stand for much because most of all, they are the party of big business, working hard to cut corporate taxes as they quietly collaborated with Democrats to raise income taxes and payroll taxes. They have caved on taxes. They have caved on spending. The Republican Party has sent Americans abroad to do nation-building when the party promised they would not. The Republicans will do no better in the 2014 midterm elections than they did in 2012 if they continue to merely oppose what Democrats stand for, oppose anything Barack Obama proposes. And Paul Ryan talking about budget deficits and corporate taxes will not win the day. It’s time for a Republican vision, it’s time for Republicans to talk about values, and to demonstrate that the Republican Party is smart, and bold, and the party to lead us to a bright American future, the party of the American dream. And to prevail, the GOP must be recognized by voters as the party of ideas, and ideals.
As Hurricane Sandy bore down on America’s East Coast, a comedian wrote this headline on his website: “Romney Calls for Emergency Tax Cuts.” It was funny because Romney and the Republicans had been talking about tax cuts as a solution to almost everything. The headline was almost believable. Republicans have been harping on a few simplistic approaches to most big issues. To spur economic growth, cut tax rates, cut regulations, cut unions, and trim government: prosperity to follow. I don’t argue with those ideas. In most cases they are sound economic policy. But as a prescription for all that ails us, they’re simply inadequate, insufficient, and hackneyed beyond tolerance.
Republicans need to first admit those ideas won’t resolve or fix the complex challenges we face in this economy and society. If Republicans are to hold their majority in the House, or perhaps enlarge it, they will have to ask Paul Ryan to forgo his obvious delight in being both the “Budget Man” and the self-appointed arbiter of Republican values as he’s become increasingly Republican-lite, suddenly eager it seems to appease and accommodate Democrats on a host of issues, including immigration. His early embrace of the Senate Gang of Eight immigration and border security sham could well have led to disaster for the Republican Party. Republicans, led by Congressman Bob Good-latte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Trey Gowdy, and the House leadership, all discovered in the summer of 2013 that they could seize national leadership and responsibility for any issue, including immigration, border security, and farm policy, and win.
One of the reasons that Republicans did so poorly in the 2012 presidential election is simple. Republicans of all stripes and kinds shared two qualities: there was a lack of enthusiasm for the nominee, and the only detectable energy in the entire campaign was that of those being paid obscenely to strategize and consult the various candidates and the nominee, and of those raising obscene amounts of money, much of which ended up in their own pockets, and as best I can tell, accomplished next to nothing on behalf of the party or the nominee.
The 2014 midterm elections are an extraordinary opportunity for the Republican Party, and the last best chance to save this nation. President Obama has presented this opportunity on a political silver platter. And you and I both know that the Republican Party is altogether capable of absolutely missing the moment and blowing the opportunity. After losing the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee studied their mistakes, in all fairness tried to overcome their penchant for denial of reality, and came out with a report that can best be described as a modest exercise in self-flagellation. They even referred to the report as “the autopsy.” Publicly. Time and time again. “The autopsy” basically concluded that the Republican Party wasn’t enough like the Democratic Party and therefore failed in the election. (If the GOP brings similar analytical skills and deductive ability to this year’s elections, their postelection report this year will be titled “Autopsy II.”)
One of the astonishing stories of election night 2012 was the display of disbelief by Republican pundits, exemplified by Karl Rove, that they could have been so wrong as they watched, through the evening, the vote overwhelm their nominee. Rove and other party savants, Republican true believers, insisted that leading up to the elections the polls were wildly skewed in favor of Democrats, that Obama wouldn’t win the black vote as he had in 2008, that the “silent majority” would go to the polls in massive numbers and rescue Romney. And reality bit, and bit hard. And I suspect all of them carry the scars of those bites from that night. I hope so, and that those scars will remind them not to indulge in a favorite Republican pastime of the past several election cycles—namely, ignoring inconvenient truths and indulging in the farcical belief that big money raised is better than big numbers voting at the polls.
Republicans still have the opportunity to engage voters all over the country, and to get reacquainted with grassroots politics. Big money buys a lot, but the Republican Party has the opportunity to shape the political reality this year, with an energetic and expansive grassroots campaign. It has the opportunity to do so with compelling ideas, and with great energy exerted in the national interest, and to make certain, this time, that in this year’s elections, the Republican reality bites the Democrats and the Obama White House.
I realize a lot of Republicans want to forget the 2012 election. But to win, the leaders of the Republican Party have got to recall vividly their mistakes and failures. And chief among those failures was permitting themselves to become the party of privilege, to favor corporatism over dynamic entrepreneurialism, and to all but ignore the needs and concerns of the middle class.
I told my audience at the outset of the 2012 campaign that the party that best communicated its concerns for middle America, that talked to them directly and honestly, would win the election. Good God, Mitt Romney didn’t even try to be an aspirational candidate. Obama tried everything possible to win the election. Despite his policy failures and his failures of leadership, Obama did speak to the middle class. Obama even picked up some of my language, using a phrase I first wrote in my book The War on the Middle Class, back in 2006, in which I referred to “the middle class and those who aspire to join it.” That phrase I’ve used relentlessly ever since. Maybe he read my material. More likely his political advisors and writers did. It’s for sure the Republicans didn’t. It was as if in 2012 the Republican Party lost all connection to the people who make this country work, day in and day out.
In some ways, Mitt Romney can’t be blamed for the yawning gap between his campaign and the middle class. He had a successful career in finance, but he hadn’t worked a day in his life alongside a blue-collar worker. He was far more at home in the cushy cliff-top mansions of La Jolla overlooking the Pacific than walking the floor of a steel mill in eastern Ohio or riding a tractor in rural Wisconsin. And it showed every time his campaign staged photo ops alongside factory workers and farmers.
Throughout the campaign, there wasn’t a Republican running for a major statewide or national office who didn’t shuffle his or her way, hand outstretched, along the Wall Street cocktail circuit. The checks amassed from a single event at a Plaza Hotel conference room full of private equity financiers and hedge fund gurus beat a year’s worth of campaign events back home. And we wonder why Republicans vote for billion-dollar bailouts to the banking industry? If you don’t know any middle-class people and don’t spend any substantive time with them, except as props in a camera shot, how can you expect to speak to them? In return for massive contributions to campaign committees and PACs and Super PACs, politicians end up fashioning policies that transfer hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to these corporations in the form of subsidies, loan guarantees, and tax breaks.
Say what you will about Bill Clinton, one of his greatest accomplishments was reforming welfare. The example of the single mother with six kids collecting welfare checks in perpetuity always suffered from exaggeration, but to the extent welfare queens did exist, Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress kicked them off the rolls in 1996. What hasn’t ended is our government’s doling out billions of dollars in support to well-connected companies.
Throughout the campaign, Republicans made no effort to distance themselves from handouts to big business or recklessness on Wall Street. They attacked Obama boondoggles like loan guarantees to green energy company Solyndra, but said nothing about their favored giveaways to big businesses like rural broadband, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Export-Import Bank.
I don’t know what the Republicans’ message will be this year. If I did, I could probably tell you whether they will win or not, whether they will hold their majority in the House, whether they will take the Senate. Forecasting Republican ingenuity, innovation, boldness, and energy is a hazardous proposition, so I’ll refrain. Instead I’ll just cross my fingers and hope they come up with a message for these midterms. I do have a few message suggestions for the Republicans. While personally I love the Gadsden flag declaration “Don’t tread on me,” I realize we need something a little warmer, a little fuzzier, for these modern times. So how about “America Works,” or “Building Dreams”?
Republican candidates all across the country need catchy slogans and strong messages. Remember what happened in the 2012 election campaign. Even those who didn’t pay attention to the campaign could tell you what Obama’s re-election slogan was. It was “Forward.” What the Obama campaign left out was that a second term would push America forward to the edge of a financial cliff. But it was nonetheless an effective branding strategy. The Democratic convention had thousands of participants clutching light blue signs with “Forward” printed on them.
No one except for Romney’s campaign spinmeisters can tell you what Mitt Romney’s slogan was. He didn’t have one. Nearly every attempt at messaging involved inverting and criticizing something catchy that Obama said. You couldn’t watch a speech at the Republican National Convention without hearing some critique of the phrase “You didn’t build that,” which Obama infamously said about business owners who relied on government services and investments like police and roads. Obama’s statement was among the more revealing things he said on the campaign trail, and he did deserve criticism for it, but criticism is not the same thing as fashioning a message. And while most voters remember even now Obama’s “You didn’t build that” and how it rankled, voters also have no memory of the Republican riposte because there wasn’t one. I hope every Republican candidate this year has a banner with a big elephant that reads “Building America’s Future.”
This is the year for Republicans to reach out, to branch out, and to shatter the stereotypes that Democratic attack ads have burned into the mind space of millions of voters. The party should seek greater ethnic and racial diversity, without question. But it should seek a broader diversity, a diversity of occupation, a diversity of educational backgrounds. I would urge Republicans to bring into the fold more carpenters, plumbers, electricians, city and state workers, teachers, and policemen. And to do so without pandering to any one of the groups, but to maintain intellectual integrity and political ideals, and to be the party of the highest possible standards of conduct, ethics, and morality. And by whatever measure, Republicans should achieve concurrently solidarity and unity among all party members in support of American ideals and interests. They should seek to unify the party, and never seek to divide the electorate. Leave division to Democrats, call it their thing.
Like the McCain campaign before it, and the Bush presidency before that, the Romney team decided that the way to win the election was to divide the electorate. To talk to only those groups of people who could get Romney to 50.1 percent. Republicans never used to think like that. Ronald Reagan didn’t. He spoke to everyone. He didn’t lead with numbers and percentages, but with ideas. Today’s GOP has utterly lost its way.
Consider this number:
That was the figure infamously cited by Mitt Romney in that private fundraiser where he basically wrote off half the country as beyond his reach. Ironically, it was also the percentage of the popular vote he received in 2012.
There was no reason for a candidate for the presidency to accuse 47 percent of Americans of being dependents on the federal government. There was no reason to think of military retirees, people who are temporarily out of a job, or senior citizens as parasites. They are not. For the most part, the American people want a hand up, not a handout. That statement betrayed a lack of judgment about the people Romney was asking to represent. There are those who are dependent on government support—senior citizens and the disabled, for example. But that doesn’t mean they can’t vote for the Republican candidate.
What the GOP leadership has to understand is that the party’s current predicament is the direct result of its failure to advocate and explain its own ideals and what have been historically traditional American values—that a free-enterprise capitalist economy creates jobs and drives growth. Republican leaders cluck sanctimoniously at everyone else in a tone of superiority. Yet from the last Republican administration on to its present leadership, the party of Reagan has lost all intellectual integrity and the capacity to adhere to its own values. That’s what Republicans must say and demonstrate if the Republican Party is going to regain its credibility with the electorate.
Facts are our friends. Even the hard facts, like a $17 trillion debt. Like most Americans, I hope that this year will see congressmen elected and re-elected who will fight for prudent, responsible government, and yes, efficient and imaginative government as well. But such a government requires a renaissance in our economy, a restoration of our national values, tradition, and vision, and a new age of intellectual and political integrity and a reverence on the part of Republicans for public debate on the principles and the facts as we find them, not as we wish them to be. This year we have an opportunity to elect those who can truly serve the nation by committing to solving great national issues, rather than just continuing the bipartisan political process of deferring real action. Instead of confronting challenges, respecting the facts as we find them, our political representatives spend far more precious time trying to avoid consequences rather than eliminating the causes that create those consequences.
The voting public is content to watch mind-numbing television ads and endless so-called debates filled with meaningless pabulum and poses. The emptiness of the campaign discussion of major issues showed, for example, in the insistence, in 2012, of both presidential candidates on talking about abortion, an issue over which the president has almost no influence. Democrats easily distract the Republican Party and its candidates with one word. They shout “abortion.” And Republicans react with “If you’re not pro-life, then you’re not welcome in the party,” and by so doing, dismiss millions of Americans as immoral human beings, and lose millions of people who otherwise would potentially be Republicans. I know there are hardcore religious conservatives who find my words particularly upsetting, but I hope they will listen to both reason and reality. Consider this number:
That is the percentage of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal, at least in some circumstances.2 That’s more than three-quarters of the country who accept abortion whether as a matter of solid pro-choice principles or only in the cases of rape, incest, or to protect the health of the mother. It is clear that Republicans often insist on electoral suicide by taking on the wedge issue of abortion, over which they have no political influence, whether running for president or mayor.
To enlarge the party, Republicans have to accept that “Good Republicans” can differ on many subjects, and do. I’m pro-life, but I also understand the views and positions of those who are pro-choice. I believe it is an issue of conscience, personal belief, and religion, and I believe every American woman has the right to have absolute control over her body, her life, her right, her conscience. I don’t believe it is a matter for government, federal or state. But no matter what, Republicans who, as a matter of their religious beliefs and their personal views, are determined to roll back the rights of abortion should do so with a campaign of education on the issue. But the Republican Party cannot afford to be, as a party, distracted by wedge issues such as abortion, or, for that matter, gay marriage.
Republicans are too often excited by gay people. I don’t know why, when many American families have someone who’s LGBT, or have friends or coworkers who are LGBT. Same for every neighborhood and every community.
That’s the percentage of Americans who are LGBT, according to most surveys. And that 4 percent has a disproportionate voice and political influence relative to the number of voters, so Republicans do have a pragmatic political motivation to just get over themselves on this issue. Again, I understand religious objection, matters of conscience, and individual preference. That’s what makes America great. But I don’t understand discrimination, and I don’t think most Republicans do either. And we all understand equal rights. If you happen to be one of those people who believe that homosexual marriage is a threat to heterosexual marriage for whatever reason, then let’s be really honest. You have a far different understanding of physics and biology than most of us. As the saying goes, “It just doesn’t work that way.” And it makes no sense on any level, especially when there are so many perceptible, demonstrable threats to marriage in our society. Among the leading causes of divorce are infidelity (that is, heterosexual-on-heterosexual infidelity), marrying too young, unequal responsibilities, abuse, and financial strains. You will notice that homosexual marriage is conspicuous by its absence on that list. I’m begging the Republican Party to put aside cultural, social, and religious issues in favor of focusing on the important, even determinate issues that will shape our national future, maintain our standard of living, and ensure our quality of life. I’m asking all Republicans and independents to think about what matters most to us. In my opinion, nearly every wedge issue is best left to the conscience of the individual and the community standard is always highest when we recognize and preserve the individual rights of all citizens.
This year is the great test for the Republican Party, which should be committed to the greatest registration effort in its history, and making certain that Republican voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections is by far the largest in its history. That means Republicans have to understand, clearly and unequivocally, that wedge issues have consequences, and that if 2014 is to be a consequential election, in which the Republican Party holds power in the House and takes control of the Senate, then wedge issues must be set aside for the good of the party, and for the good of the nation.