Republicans lost and they lost big on Tuesday, November 6. The White House remains in the hands of perhaps the most liberal president in our history and GOP dreams of taking control of the Senate were dashed.
There is some good news and one consolation. Republicans have kept their majority in the House of Representatives, sustaining the rebuke voters gave to the Obama and Pelosi Democrats when they passed ObamaCare without a single Republican vote. Furthermore, Obama ran on no real second-term agenda and therefore has no mandate.
The consolation is that in the United States and almost every other English-speaking democracy, when executive power switches to a different party, as it did in 2008 when Obama was first elected, that party almost always gets two terms in power. We have had plenty of one-term presidents, but they usually follow predecessors of the same party.
The sole exception in the last century was Jimmy Carter. Amid his “malaise,” voters gave Democrats only four years in power. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney was unable to convince voters that the economic and national security dangers brought forth by Obama were of a similar scale.
The key now will be for Republicans not to form a circular firing squad, but to grasp important lessons as to why we lost.
I wrote on these pages two years ago that Mitt Romney would lose if nominated for president based on the experience of Meg Whitman in California. She was a rich, successful, businesswoman with few core political convictions, but who was able to pour money into the race. Her claim was that she understood business and created jobs in the private sector, so could surely do the same as governor.
Voters knew better that business and government are inherently different. Furthermore, bedrock conservatives were unimpressed with a candidate who seemed to have no real fight in her to cut taxes and spending and take on the unions. So it was Tuesday night with Romney, who took conservatives for granted—as did the Washington GOP establishment.
The two most successful conservatives of the last century were Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. Only they among their peers halted the growth of government and enacted real reform. They did this not by pulling punches or papering over the differences between left and right, but by explaining conservatism in simple language. Reagan used stories. Gingrich used history.
As Mark Twain said, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. The next successful conservatives will differ from these men, but will follow the basic model of explaining plainly and confidently why a society that wants to survive must not punish those who play by the rules or are successful.
They need to show how a private market allocates resources better than even smart Ivy Leaguers working for a government bureaucracy.
They need to say that the American century only ends when we decide we’re no longer exceptional in mankind’s history, and choose the European model of decadent decline over a destiny of freedom and self-reliance.
In the end, the Republican establishment thought they had this election in the bag. They decided to play it safe with a moderate. They stuffed a candidate down the party’s throat who opportunistically had been on both sides of most issues and told people what he thought they wanted to hear, rather than what he believed.
Recovery begins with saying goodbye to this Beltway GOP establishment. No more Romneys. No more Bushes. No more McCains.
There is a new generation of Reagans and Gingriches out there somewhere. There are probably even more than a few of them who are Latino. The task of conservatives and Republicans is to find them, cultivate them, and get behind them.
Christian Whiton was a senior advisor in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow for strategy and public diplomacy at the Center for the National Interest and the author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”