Following Mitt Romney’s sound defeat in November 2012, the American Principles Project released a report detailing the reasons he lost. According to the authors, it wasn’t because he was “too conservative” on social issues or because of a lack of ground game or advertising. The GOP lost because it failed to convince voters that it cared about issues of consequence to them, particularly when it came to the economic pain that many Americans were — and still are — facing.
It was hoped that Republicans would learn this lesson in order to be competitive in 2016. As it turns out, one GOP candidate does appear to be finally figuring it out, though it may not be the candidate most expected.
In an important story over at Breitbart, John Hayward hits the nail on the head in explaining why Donald Trump has been so successful this primary season and why Republican elites should not have been as blindsided as they were. First, Hayward writes that while Trump’s victories have been interpreted by some to represent a collapse of “movement conservatism,” his success should instead be seen in the context of a massive influx of new voters into the GOP:
NBC News is the latest outlet to run a story on Trump bringing new voters into the GOP fold, noting that the 2016 Florida primary saw tens of thousands more votes cast than Mitt Romney’s take in the 2012 general election, and the lion’s share of the new votes went to Trump. In Establishment-friendly Northeastern races, Ohio Governor John Kasich pulled vote totals comparable to Romney’s primary vote in 2012, but Trump’s new voters swamped him.
Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics suggested in January that neglected white working-class voters were coming back to the GOP after taking a pass on Mitt Romney in 2012. Trende described them as “mostly lower-income, blue-collar voters who lived in areas that had also voted for Ross Perot,” who had been turned off by “Mitt Romney’s wealth and upper-class demeanor.”
As Trende noted, President Obama’s re-election campaign shrewdly exploited this sense of distance, through such measures as an Ohio ad blitz that rather blatantly asserted Romney was “not one of us,” while Obama’s friends in the media slammed Romney as “a car-elevator-owning businessman who made statements such as ‘I like being able to fire people.’”
They weren’t evangelicals miffed that Mitt Romney was a Mormon, or a moderate. The missing voters weren’t mainly conservative Christians at all, since Trende notes that that cohort has always maintained a level of voter participation far above the national average. Many of the missing voters disengaged from politics long before 2012, and it’s mostly because they didn’t think either party had anything to offer them.
As Hayward goes on to argue, however, Trump has entirely changed the dynamic — not by rejecting conservative ideas, but by making a compelling case that his policies will benefit ordinary Americans, something Romney and other mainstream Republican candidates have failed to do:
Trende talked about the shifting “priorities” of these voters, which could go a long way toward explaining why Cruz didn’t get the support he was looking for in the South. It’s not so much a question of those voters rejecting Constitutional conservatism, as their political priorities shifting to more immediate concerns.
They’re under attack by the federal government, and they want relief. Intellectual discourse on the Constitutional basis for freedom of religious expression has less political value when the federal government is sending a battalion of lawyers to escort men into the women’s restroom. They still care about our future of unsustainable government debt, but their more immediate concern is getting the economy moving for their regions and income brackets again. Abstract discussion about the proper limits of government gives way to more concrete concerns: What will you do to bring the jobs back, nourish our wages back to health, and make us feel like something more than targets?
Romney got creamed because he couldn’t appeal to these disenfranchised working-class voters. He should have been able to do it, because his message of creating a business-friendly environment where jobs could flourish was reasonable and consistent with what the missing voters want. They’re looking for opportunity, not food stamps and welfare checks.
The problem was that Romney never made his message directly relevant to the alienated working class. He didn’t speak their language or act like he personally cared about them, the way Trump does. Romney was so thoroughly defined by the Obama campaign’s early attacks that he would have needed enormous populist charisma to overcome it. He had no detectable populist energy at all.
Romney would bring a hundred entrepreneurs onstage to support him, but not their employees. For some reason, it didn’t occur to his campaign that they could repel Obama’s foolish assault on venture capitalism by deploying an army of regular folks whose jobs had been saved by capital investment. He took great umbrage at Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech, without understanding why Obama’s line had populist appeal, or how to counter it. Romney stood up for entrepreneurs against socialists, without showing the working class why they are the natural adversaries of socialism as well.
Some of the blame for those errors is due to the Republican Party at large, which frittered away the Reagan legacy through both Bush presidencies, and allowed the Left to teach the masses what “capitalism” means. Reagan brilliantly redefined the relationship between American citizens and their government, but as soon as he was gone, the GOP allowed that new understanding to be erased, perhaps mistakenly convinced it was unnecessary to defend capitalism from socialism while the Soviet Union was busy collapsing into a pile of ashes.
A gulf developed between Republican leadership and the voters they should be able to reach. Until now, they didn’t realize how wide that gulf was. They didn’t invest nearly enough effort in figuring out who the missing voters were or how to bring them back. On the contrary, the GOP leadership devoted more energy to stamping out the first sign of renewed political life from those disaffected Americans, the Tea Party movement. Instead of understanding who those people were, absorbing their strength into the Republican coalition, or really listening to what they were saying, the GOP Establishment set about marginalizing them. They didn’t realize how much damage they were doing to themselves among people who were watching the fate of the Tea Party movement, without being active members of it. Exasperating signals were sent, and received.
Both supporter and critic will agree that Donald Trump sends a very different set of signals. The clearest is the signal he sends about putting American government to work on behalf of working Americans. It’s so different from what they’re used to hearing, from both parties, that they cut him slack on almost everything else. Republican leaders simply did not understand how much the priorities of their current and potential electorate had shifted, so they watched in numb amazement as Trump scored with constituencies that shouldn’t have been willing to vote for him, or should have vastly preferred someone else. And in state after state, they saw Trump boosted by voters they had written off decades ago.
Be sure to read the full article over at Breitbart.
Paul Dupont is the managing editor for ThePulse2016.com.