There’s one particular strain of Republican reaction to their election loss that’s always given me the biggest chuckle, and today Paul Waldman highlights it: the absurd proposition that Mitt Romney never forthrightly defended conservative principles.
Now, it’s true that Republicans didn’t talk about Bush, but that’s because the voters still kind of hate him. But the idea that Republicans “never bothered to contest” Obama’s economic arguments? That they never challenged the “war on women” notion? Seriously?
You can argue that Mitt Romney was a crappy candidate, but no conservative can reasonably claim that he didn’t make a case for conservatism. In fact, that was the best thing about this election: for all the trivia, it presented a fundamental ideological debate, with both candidates talking about first principles throughout. Conservatives aren’t happy that they lost that argument. But even though it’s not particularly good politics to condemn the voters for not seeing the light, it’s a lot more honest than saying they never got the chance to hear what conservatism had to offer.
For months, conservatives yelled from the rooftops about how 2012 presented the sharpest choice ever in governing philosophies. I’m too lazy to Google up the quotes, so someone else will have to do that, but we were told relentlessly that Obama was a tax-and-spend liberal. That Obamacare represented the Europeanization of America. That Democrats were hellbent on class warfare. That Obama had contempt for the business community. That liberals were expanding the welfare state in order to lock up the votes of the masses forever. That religious freedom was doomed if Obama was reelected. That American exceptionalism was on trial. That this was our last chance to decide between being free men or sheep cared for by the state.
This kind of talk filled every nook and cranny of the election, and both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan joined in. But as soon as they lost, Republicans suddenly decided that it hadn’t been a big-picture election after all. It was about bribing Hispanics. It was about voter turnout machinery. It was about Hurricane Sandy. It was about Mitt Romney being a bad candidate. It was about everything except the actual governing philosophies at issue.
I don’t really blame conservatives for holding onto this delusion. If I lost an election, I wouldn’t suddenly decide that liberalism was a failure. But the contrast this year is far more striking than usual. More than any election in my memory, conservatives claimed that this one was truly an ideological turning point, America’s last chance to choose what kind of country we should be. But literally within hours of defeat, they turned on a dime and insisted that the American people weren’t given a real chance to decide between two competing visions. And they’ve maintained this claim despite losing the popular vote in the House, the Senate, and the presidency, and despite the fact that demographic trends very clearly spell even further trouble in the future for their hardnosed brand of social intolerance and slavish dedication to the interests of the rich.
Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed.