If ever there was a party that deserved a thorough electoral defeat, it was the Republican Party in the 2012 United States Presidential election. The party’s abandonment of any semblance of principle, combined with suppression of its principled and intellectual elements, was responsible for the crushing defeat dealt to it by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. While I am no supporter of, or enthusiast for, Obama and the Democrats (I was part of the 1% who voted for Gary Johnson), I must confess that my intense love of justice is satisfied by the extent to which the Republican Party has been punished at the polls. Here, I aim to enumerate the primary reasons why the Republicans lost, and deserved it.
Reason 1: Suppression of libertarian ideas and people. If ever there was a political movement in the United States that captured the minds and passions of wide segments of the population, it was the movement spearheaded by Ron Paul, which began to pick up momentum in 2007 and which greatly intensified during the 2011-2012 campaign season. The massive enthusiasm generated by that movement among young people and typically non-Republican constituencies would have been enough to result in an electoral landslide for the Republican Party, had it not been ruthlessly combated by the party establishment and its allied news media’s rhetoric, as well as underhanded, fraudulent, and sometimes even violent actions at state primaries, state conventions, and the Republican National Convention.
Indeed, the rule change enacted by the party establishment at the National Convention, over the vociferous objections of the majority of delegates there, has permanently turned the Republican Party into an oligarchy where the delegates and decision-makers will henceforth be picked by the “front-runner” in any future Presidential contest. Gone are the days when people like me could, through grass-roots activism and participation at successive levels of the party conventions, become delegates to a state convention and exert some modicum of influence over how the party is governed and intellectually inclined. In addition to the suppression of Ron Paul and his supporters, the Republican establishment marginalized and denied debate access to Gary Johnson, one of the most principled and successful Republican governors in history – leading Johnson to favor a Libertarian run for the Presidency instead. Johnson, too, could easily have garnered the sympathies of voters who favor civil liberties, limited government, and an end to wasteful, reckless foreign-policy interventionism.
Reason 2: Creation of an alternate reality. In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The Republican Party, however, constructed around itself an alternate reality where facts did not matter. Instead, an entirely parallel universe of “facts” was constructed in accordance with party orthodoxy. How ironic it is that the party that was supposed to denounce political correctness in universities and culture has itself fallen prey to the most massive form of politically correct delusion imaginable – a way of thinking where no facts are admissible unless they cohere with a certain preconceived worldview! It is one matter to have a set of normative positions about what is desirable – even if they are wrong or damaging positions but still based on the data of reality. It is entirely another matter to begin to make short-term empirical predictions based on ideology and wishes, rather than the evidence of the senses and the general factual inferences that can be drawn from such evidence. This is why, on the eve of the elections, virtually the entire Republican punditry was predicting a landslide win for Mitt Romney and accusing objective election observers who anticipated an Obama win of exhibiting a left-wing bias. But the malaise goes deeper than that. The entire advertising and rhetorical strategy of the Romney campaign was based on outright, publicly debunked falsehoods – from the claim that Obama “gutted welfare reform” to the easily refutable allegation that Jeep was relocating its plants from Ohio to China. But when fact-checking services from all over the political spectrum (including truly neutral ones) called Romney out on these outright lies, the fact-checkers themselves were branded as biased by the Republican punditry. The Romney campaign’s blatant distortion of the truth is a leap beyond the typical promise-breaking prevalent in American political campaigns. As David Javerbaum put it, Romney engaged in “quantum politics” – e.g., “Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.” The Romney campaign was based not on the reality of facts, but the “reality” of political polls and interest groups, the question not of what is true but what will please whom. This is what Ayn Rand termed a social metaphysics, and a key reason why I compared Romney to James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged.
Reason 3. The “lesser evil” mentality. It is interesting, also, that the Republicans never embrace a candidate with more energy, and never behave with such intensity of vitriol toward any doubters or critics, as when the candidate is a man whom they themselves consider a candidate of dubious conservative credentials. Mitt Romney, the oft-styled “Massachusetts moderate“, was surely such a candidate, as numerous conservative Republicans did not hesitate to admit, until Romney seemed likely to secure the nomination. But once the nominating process was trending Romney’s way, many of those same Republicans reacted with every possible tactic to undermine Romney’s opponents and critics. Perhaps the hatred of Obama (and the irrational inflation of Obama as the Evil Communist Atheist Muslim Kenyan-Born “Community Activist” Who Threatens to Destroy the Very Fabric of America by many Republicans) led the reluctant Romney supporters to consider absolutely anybody to be preferable to the strawman Obama they had built up in their minds – and also any means to be acceptable for achieving Obama’s defeat, including lies, fraud, voter suppression, and violence against peaceful critics. It is often the case that the mentality of supporting the “lesser evil” causes people to behave with the greatest evil. Surely, in their behavior on the campaign trail in 2012, the Republicans were by far the more evil party.
Reason 4. Refusal to differentiate based on true principle. While Romney continued to attack Obama on the basis of factually false trivialities, the substantive principles of Obama’s governance did not come under attack. Completely absent were any criticisms of drone assassinations of American citizens and foreign civilians; the threat of indefinite detention of Americans on US soil; repeated attempts to control the Internet in the name of “cybersecurity” or “intellectual property”; political favoritism and bailouts directed toward large financial institutions; a bizarre and perverse surveillance and “security” state, exemplified by the Transportation Security Administration’s backscatter X-ray machines and grotesque full-body pat-downs; the continuation of bloody and unsustainable foreign entanglements; an increasingly impoverishing fiscal and monetary policy; and the escalating devastation caused by the War on Drugs. Of course, Romney did not wish to criticize any of these policies, because he would likely have supported their escalation were he elected. The substantive policy differences between most Republicans and most Democrats have been narrowing over the past three decades. This election cycle, they have been reduced to virtually nil – even as the political rhetoric achieved levels of virulence and polarization unprecedented over the same time period.
Reason 5. Xenophobia and demonization of “the other”. It is truly unwise for a party seeking to win elections to brand entire vast categories of peaceful persons as undesirable. Yet, in their rhetoric, this is precisely how many prominent Republicans portrayed immigrants, homosexuals, the non-religious, and people whose income is below the threshold for a positive income-tax obligation. Is it any wonder that many such individuals chose to vote against the Republicans, if only because they wished to secure the defeat of the party that so vocally advertised its intent to oppress them and restrict their rights? Perhaps the lessons of this election will teach the wiser among the Republican pundits and politicians that collectivistic demonization of large numbers of people not only fails to win elections, but it is a generally sordid practice to engage in. Commentators such as Sean Hannity seem to have already shifted their positions on immigration. One can hope that others will follow suit – though I suspect the changes in attitude will be too little, too late, especially with other pundits, such as Bill O’Reilly, decrying the demographic changes and the alleged decline of the “white establishment” in America – a mild expression of the not-so-latent racism and xenophobia that, unfortunately, still plague too many in the Republican Party.
Fundamentally, the Republicans lost the election because many of them lost touch with any semblance of truth, liberty, and basic human decency. It would be a welcome outcome if the results of this election chasten the Republicans to cease suppressing libertarian ideas and to instead embrace a full-fledged advocacy of civil liberties – especially including the right to engage in peaceful behaviors of which many Republicans may personally disapprove. The success of ballot initiatives permitting same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, as well as legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, should teach Republicans that their advocated intensification of crackdowns on personal freedoms will find only ever-dwindling support, particularly among young people. Unless the Republican establishment dramatically changes its ways, it will increasingly sink into irrelevance (though not without inflicting tremendous damage in the meantime). And, unless it changes its ways, it will be justified to say of that irrelevance: “Good riddance!”