The Republicans’ post-election spin came in two basic flavors — predictable denial and bizarre denial.
Let’s start with the predictable: the reason Americans rejected a presidential candidate who represented the right-wing of national politics was because he wasn’t genuinely right wing enough. “There’s definitely a feeling that it would be better to nominate a conservative of long-standing conviction,” said Ralph Reed, a movement conservative who hardly ever finds an electable politician crazy enough for his tastes.
Also pushing that line was Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedom Works, a “Tea Party” organization started and financed by some of the most establishment Republicans around – David Koch, Dick Armey, Jack Kemp and C. Boyden Gray, to name a few. “It is getting to point where you can’t reach back and pull another establishment Republican from the queue like we have done with Romney,” he said.
Richard Viguerie, who has been helping get establishment Republicans elected since 1980, said “Mitt Romney’s loss was the death knell of the establishment G.O.P.” He said that “the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party” and make it even more Tea Party-like.
The problem with these theories is that Mitt Romney got all the right wing votes he could. It was the votes of the non-right, non–rich, non-whites that he failed to get.
Republicans made the not-conservative-enough argument after George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, and after Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996. They sort of skipped over George W. Bush, who was pretty much like Mitt Romney but he won, and then they did it again in 2008 after Mr. Obama beat John McCain.
But today’s reactions went far beyond the predictable into the twilight zone of deep denial.
From Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot who somehow gets virtually all Republican candidates to sign his pledge never to vote for a dollar in revenue: “The election did solidify one thing. The modern Republican party is the part of the Ryan Plan: no tax hikes, Reaganesque tax reform, and entitlement reform.”
It’s true that the do-nothing, oppose-everything Republican majority in the House remained pretty much intact, but the main reason was incumbency. There’s no rational reason to take a vote for an individual Congressman as a vote on national policy.
Mr. Norquist’s reaction was not so surprising, since if Republicans start voting for sensible tax increases, he will lose his reason for being. It was a lot more distressing to hear the same misreading of the election from John Boehner, the Speaker of the House. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates,” he said.
Actually, the opposite seemed true. Exit polls showed that 60 percent favor raising taxes– either on the rich only or on everyone.
The Republicans need to get past the denial and isolation stage and move on, hopefully to bargaining and acceptance. They spent four years trying to keep the economy in bad shape so Mr. Obama would lose. He won anyway, and the economy is teetering on the fiscal cliff. Standing around talking about no-tax pledges and nominating more right wingers is not going to help.