WASHINGTON — I know it’s early, but I have a sinking feeling the Republican Party is taking all the wrong lessons from last week’s election. Short-term, that’s a boon for Democrats. Long-term, it’s a problem for the country.
The GOP should be listening to reasonable voices such as that of Newt Gingrich. Yes, I used the words “reasonable” and “Gingrich” in the same sentence. He has occasional moments of lucidity, and one came on the “Today” show when he said Republicans “need to stop, take a deep breath and learn.”
“I was wrong last week, as was virtually every major Republican analyst,” Gingrich said. “And so, you have to stop and say to yourself, ‘If I was that far off, what do I need to learn to better understand America?’”
The voices the party should ignore include those claiming that House Republicans, by retaining their majority, won some sort of mandate to continue pushing a radical conservative agenda. And yes, Gingrich has made this argument as well. The fog lifts, the fog descends.
A mandate for the GOP? Don’t make me hurt myself laughing. The ideological hero and policy guru of the House Republican caucus, Paul Ryan, couldn’t even carry his hometown of Janesville, Wis. (And Mitt Romney, by the way, lost all of his various home states.)
Look, Presidential Obama won 332 electoral votes to 206 for Romney. Much has been written about the demographic shifts that threaten the GOP’s future, but there has been less acknowledgement of an obvious fact about the present: Voters preferred Obama’s policies to Romney’s.
Obama campaigned on a pledge not to extend the Bush tax cuts for households making more than $250,000. He said umpteen times that he will insist on a “balanced approach” to taming the deficit, involving new revenues as well as spending cuts. At this point, if you woke the president from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and thrust a microphone in his face, the first words out of his mouth might be “balanced approach.”
Polls show this is what voters want. The election proved this is what voters want. But I fear some Republicans are convincing themselves that their “mandate” requires further obstructionism of the kind we’ve seen in the last two years. House Speaker John Boehner may want to make a deal, but his caucus may not let him.
Some conservatives even seem tempted to listen to the delusional post-game analysis coming from Romney and Ryan. This is the way to ridicule and ruin.
Ryan said the problem was that he and Romney lost by big margins in “urban” areas — which I take as a synonym for “places where minorities live.” But Republicans always lose in the inner cities. It’s the vote-heavy suburbs, such as Virginia’s Fairfax County, where Romney and Ryan failed to connect.
Romney, in a conference call with big-money supporters, offered a variation on his “47 percent” hypothesis, which really does seem to be the way this benighted man sees the world. In Romney’s view, Obama won only because he succeeded in bribing specific groups of voters with what amount to monetary “gifts.”
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-age women.”
And as for Obamacare: “You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge. … Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.”
It doesn’t occur to Romney that Republicans might have countered this alleged gift-giving with a health care reform plan of their own, other than “go to the emergency room.” If the GOP is really this obtuse, Democrats may win the next few elections without having to break a sweat. And that’s the danger I hope we avoid.
Don’t get me wrong: I want progressive candidates to win those elections. But parties without meaningful competition become flabby, lazy, unresponsive. Democratic candidates shouldn’t win by default, and neither should progressive ideas. A smart, creative, reality-based conservative movement is ultimately good for the liberal cause — and good for the country.
Step out of the echo chamber, Republicans. There’s a big country out there, and it’s trying to tell you something. For the sake of party and nation, try listening.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.