Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
After his defeat in Britain’s 1945 general election, Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine consoled him: “It may well be a blessing in disguise.” Churchill replied, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”
As do any blessings to be found in last Tuesday’s election result. The country faces four more years of Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with an increased Democratic majority in the Senate, as a debt crisis bears down upon us at home and our enemies ramp up their efforts abroad. One hopes, for the sake of the country, that on some key issues the president can be persuaded to do the right thing—or, at least, that politics and reality will conspire to pressure the president to do the minimally acceptable thing.
It could happen. Obama won fewer votes than in 2008, and Republicans still control the House and have 30 governors. The public, according to the exit polls, still considers itself more conservative than liberal and, by about 10 points, prefers a government that does less to a government that does more. Obama, though no longer facing reelection, isn’t free of political constraints.
As for reality, it will continue to mug liberals. It’s true that they’ve gotten used to being mugged and resolutely refuse to press charges. It’s true that liberalism has constructed a set of policies, and the modern welfare state a set of incentives and patronage systems, that postpone paying the piper. Still, reality eventually has an effect. The piper’s bills do eventually come due.
Conservatives have a constructive role to play over the next four years in applying political pressure and calling attention to reality in ways that will mitigate the destructive impulses of contemporary liberalism. Conservatives can try to ensure the damage done by liberalism is reparable. But damage there will be. In 1777, following the defeat of General Burgoyne’s army by the Americans at the Battle of Saratoga, John Sinclair lamented to Adam Smith: “If we go on at this rate, the nation must be ruined.” Smith responded, “Be assured, my young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” Over the next four years, we’re going to test that proposition.
But even if America can survive the next four years of Obama, we don’t want to push our luck beyond that. George W. Bush won about 62 million votes in 2004, John McCain about 60 million in 2008, and Mitt Romney about 58 million (as of this writing). If that trajectory of decline continues in 2016, it’s not just the Republican party that’s in trouble, and it’s not just conservatism that’s in trouble. America will be in trouble.
There have been notable moments of conservative triumph and Republican ascendancy since the end of the Cold War. In both 1994 and 2010, conservatives won decisive electoral victories as the country rose up against big government liberalism, and as the GOP channeled popular discontent into huge congressional gains. But in neither case was the off-year oppositional triumph converted to a positive mandate in the next presidential election. The necessities and responsibilities imposed by controlling one or both houses of Congress meant the task of coalition-maintenance took priority over developing a new and clear agenda. And the tactical challenges of dealing with the president of another party took priority over taking the long view in policy or politics. What’s more, the presidential nominating process in 1996 and 2012 produced traditional frontrunners without much interest in shaking up their own party.
So the GOP stayed with business as usual, conservatives had plenty of practical problems to organize around and deal with—and the rethinking of policy and politics was less bold, less comprehensive, and less heterodox than it might have been. Fresh thinking took a back seat. The critiques of big government liberalism in 1994 and 2010 weren’t followed by equally compelling articulations of the major elements of a governing conservatism. The analysis of the failure of what Walter Russell Mead has called the blue state social model wasn’t followed by the development of a compelling red state social model. Some Republican governors did have successes, but neither in 1996 nor in 2012 were those translated into national policies and presidential agendas.
The good news is that political parties are more receptive to change at certain times, and one of those times is after an establishment candidate loses in a year in which victory seemed possible. The Democrats turned away from Michael Dukakis’s aging liberalism to embrace Bill Clinton’s New Democratic agenda (however overhyped) in 1992. They chose Barack Obama and hope and change in 2008, on the rebound from the lackluster and stiff John Kerry. Now it’s Republicans’ turn to leave behind Mitt Romney’s stale and simplistic policy agenda, and his cautious and conventional presentation of it, for new ideas à la Clinton and new excitement à la Obama.
The Democrats’ success was Obamacentric.Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By FRED BARNES
The last thing Republicans need is an identity crisis. The losses in the 2012 election shouldn’t be sugarcoated. President Obama’s reelection does mean Obamacare will go into effect, and another shot at capturing the Senate was squandered. But the election was a setback, not a catastrophe.
But they were Obama’s values and his voters. Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Had this presidential campaign been a chess match, one move would have merited a row of exclamation points. A chess master will violate the rules of strategy as neophytes understand them (“You’re gonna lose your Queen!”) but only because he sees possibilities on the board that are invisible to others.
To the 2012 campaign. Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By FRED BARNES
Aside from who won or lost, there was a lot not to like in the 2012 campaign. I say this as one who has followed campaigns from the local to the presidential level since I was a teenager and mostly enjoyed every moment of it. But not this year.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced on August 11 that he had selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, the consensus was that he had made a daring choice with a huge risk: being demagogued on Medicare cuts.
That’s Ryan’s hope.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Speaking at a Tea Party rally on a sunny Saturday in June in southeastern Wisconsin, Paul Ryan confidently predicted Governor Scott Walker would win the recall election he was facing that coming Tuesday, June 5. “On Tuesday, we save Wisconsin,” Ryan said to applause from the crowd of 4,000. “And on November 6, Wisconsin saves America.”
Josh Mandel’s uphill struggle.Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By KATE HAVARD
You might think an über-liberal like Democratic senator Sherrod Brown would be losing big time in moderate Ohio this year, but he isn’t.
Four scenarios for the next four yearsNov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JAMES W. CEASER
For the small school of political analysis that draws its inspiration from the great French 17th-century philosopher René Descartes, the cardinal methodological rule is to begin from what one can know “so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.” The only important fact about the election contest today that meets this stringent threshold is that someone named either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be declared president, most likely on November 7.
Romney’s advantage with unaffiliated voters could prove key. Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JAY COST
With a week to go until the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney has a decided leg up on President Barack Obama.
Entrenching his first-term ‘achievements.’ Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Observers on both sides of the political aisle have noted, often with surprise, President Obama’s failure to offer an agenda for a second term in office. It would be a mistake, however, to assume Obama has no second-term agenda; he simply doesn’t have one he can express aloud. In truth, the president’s main agenda item for a second term is to cement the result of his first term that Americans like least—Obama-care.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Six months ago, in an editorial titled “President Romney,” I speculated that Mitt Romney—then behind in the polls—could prevail this fall: “If Romney can speak to Americans’ sense that it’s a big moment, with big challenges, and if he can make this a big election rather than a petty one, then he can win—perhaps big.” I continued: “Romney needs, over the next six months, to convince some number of swing voters he can and should be the next president.
How Biden and Obama blew it.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
Joe Biden was forewarned. When he did a walk-through at the site of his debate with Paul Ryan, he asked if there might be double screens when the debate was broadcast. Yes, indeed, he was told, though it would be up to each TV network and cable channel whether to show both candidates at once on a split screen.