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George Will is Wrong: The Loser is the Republican Brand

by Peter Schaeffer, published

The bottom line is that George Will is in denial (as are most Republicans). He argued that the winner of the election is the status quo. Because he can't admit what actually happened. Nor can too many other Republicans. Instead, he has a theory that the facts easily refute and a solution that won't work. Denial takes at least three forms.

1. George Will and the Republicans still can't admit that Bush was a train wreck of staggering proportions. At home, on the border, and abroad, Bush failed. Two wars, neither of which produced the expected outcome. Both of which ended up a quagmires to a greater degree. A dubious bubble that ended with the worst crash since the Great Depression. Zero job growth in 8 years. Very high levels of legal and illegal immigration (with zero job growth) forcing Americans out of the labor force on a (very) large scale. Stagnant wages. The list is long and dismal.

2. Will and the Republicans still can't admit that all of these bad results were not just random events. They were the predictable consequences of bad ideas and bad policies. The sad fact is that Will still advocates the economic ideas and policies that buried Bush. So do most Republicans.

3. The echoes of a terribly failed administration (Bush) don't fade that quickly. Romney was doomed by his predecessor. Bush crippled the Republican brand. You can't overcome that quickly. Adlai Stevenson was defeated (twice) by Truman. Mondale had the same problem in 1984. Ford had the same problem in 1976. McCain could never have won. Barring a disaster between now and 2016, any Republican will struggle in the next cycle.

A few more specific notes:

"It is surprising that only about 70 percent of Hispanics opposed Romney."

If Romney had exactly matched Bush's share of the Hispanic vote (39-40%) he would gained exactly one state (Florida). Of course, he would have lost black and white votes as a consequence. He might have lost Florida anyway. Here is a more surprising note. If Romney had won Nixon's or Ford's share of the black vote (yes, the black vote) he would have at least won the popular vote (not enough data to determine the impact on the electoral college).

Nixon got 18% of the black vote. Ford got 16% of the black vote. When did Republicans finally lose the black vote. That would be Reagan in 1980 (11%). McCain got 4% of the black vote. Romney got 6%. Romney's gains with blacks offset a majority of his losses with Hispanics.

"The first, the entitlement state, is endangered by improvident promises to an aging population."

Does anything think that Republicans can win by attacking entitlements (as Will suggests)? Welfare reform was popular because it was focused (rightfully) on the poor. Attacking Medicare and Social Security? We might have the next Republican president in 2116.

"In 2008, Barack Obama became the first person elected president while losing the white vote by double digits."

Bush won white voters 54 to 42 in 2000. He lost the popular vote anyway.

"Republicans have four years to figure out how to leaven their contracting base with millions more members of America’s largest and fastest-growing minority.

As I have shown before, Republicans have a larger 'women problem' and 'black problem', than a 'Hispanic problem'. If you take this kind of thing seriously, they need to focus on women and blacks first. Actually, I think Republicans should try to appeal to 'Americans'.

"Romney’s melancholy but useful role has been to refute those determinists who insist that economic conditions are almost always decisive."

That may be true, but Romney's campaign actually supports economic determinism. Polling has consistently shown that large majorities blame Bush and the Republicans, for the current situation. Worse, there just wasn't that much difference between Romney's economic ideas and Bush's. Bush was obsessed with tax cuts (and the Rs still are). Romney made a 20% tax cut his central economic plank.

There was some (on China and immigration) daylight to be sure, but generally unknown to the public. However, George Will went out of his way to denounce Romney's deviations from Bush orthodoxy. According to will, Romney's message should have been "Bush was right and I am going to prove it". Even Romney knew better.

"Yet voters preferred the president who presided over this to a Republican who, more than any candidate since the Great Depression, made his economic expertise his presidential credential."

Romney was portrayed as a 'vulture capitalist' (unfairly). He presumed economic expertise was not much of help.

"Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals 2-to-1 "

That's deeply misleading and ultimately meaningless. America simply isn't the center-right country George Will thinks it is. Changing demographics and shifting cultural attitudes have buried the 'conservative' America of yesteryear. Look at the polling data on gay rights, abortion on demand, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drug use, etc. The shifts are profound and only very partially a consequence of demographics. FDR would be considered a right-wing racist in today's America. JFK would too. Indeed, the Teddy Kennedy who was first elected to Congress, was to the right of most current Republicans on social (but not economic) issues. People who call themselves conservatives do not support a conservative agenda.

38% of the people who went to the polls were Democrats. 32% were Republicans. George Will's America doesn't exist.

"But unless they respond to accelerating demographic changes — and Obama, by pressing immigration reform,"

Amnesty is great idea. Sure they are losing the Hispanic vote. But they can 'make it up on volume'. The bottom line is that Will doesn't want to admit that Republican ideas have failed (substantively and in the political marketplace) and it looking for a panacea that doesn't exist and will actually make the Republican predicament worse. The Republicans could have avoided this fiasco by rejecting Amnesty under Reagan (the 1986 IRCA). Instead they passed the Amnesty and blocked all subsequent immigration enforcement (with lots of Democratic help). Now they are discovering that 'cheap labor' has a very high political price (and economic one as well). A smarter party would have acted differently.

Indeed, the Republicans of the 1920s were smarter. A lot smarter actually. They faced a similar situation. Catholics had grown to 15% of the population and they voted almost exclusively for Democrats. Over time, immigration would inevitably doom the Republican party. What did the Republicans do about it?

They ended mass immigration into the United States (with help from many Democrats). They justified it as a pro-labor measure (which it was). The end of mass immigration solved the demographic problem. However, it did something even more profound. It enabled immigrants(Catholic and otherwise) to fully assimilate and join the mainstream of American life. By the 1950s, the Catholic vote was no longer tied to either party. Eisenhower appears to won a majority of the Catholic vote in 1956.

Did the Republicans pay a political price for stopping immigration? Apparently not. Protestants strongly supported restriction. Urban Catholics saw their lives improve as labor markets tightened. The famous tenement slums of the lower east side were mostly empty by the 1930s.

What should Republicans do now? The answer should be obvious. Stop making the hole deeper. Advocate real immigration reform and justify it as a pro-worker measure. Starting talking about how.

'We must give legal immigrants the fullest opportunity to join the American Dream which can never happen until we regain control of our borders'

Support raising the minimum wage (which will squeeze the market for unskilled immigrant labor).

Ron Unz actually had a practical plan to elect Mitt Romney. It was based on Romney's successful gubernatorial campaign of 2002. Romney endorsed a very popular 'English for the Children' initiative that the Democrats opposed. The measure passed and it clearly provided Romney with his winning margin. See "How I Made Mitt, Romney owes his only win to English for the Children"

Romney could have made 'English as our National Language' part of his campaign. Polling shows it to be a very popular idea (way ahead of immigration restriction). The Democrats would have hated it. The New York Times would been apoplectic. However, it would have a net plus with all demographics (apparently including Hispanics). See "87% Say English Should Be U.S. Official Language"

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