In doing some housecleaning, I found this forgotten essay that I wrote in February and never got around to posting. With only a few changes for the sake of grammar, and clarity, here it is:
For the first time in over two years I’m afraid that Republicans could actually lose the race for the White House in 2012. Should they do so, especially in light of the enormous advantages they have over a dysfunctional Democratic Party in 2012 (high unemployment, stagnant growth, unpopular programs foisted upon the public, and an unlikable mob–OWS–as the face of liberal activism, just to name a few) it should disqualify the GOP from ever holding the presidency ever again. If the GOP loses the presidency, it will be the biggest victory of an outclassed mismatch since Aesop’s rabbit blew the race with the turtle.
So how could this be? Simple, there isn’t a candidate who can unite the opponents of Barack Obama. That alone would probably be enough to win in November.
Comparisons with Reagan, just as comparisons with FDR or JFK, almost never measure up. That’s not because those three men were supermen–they weren’t–but because in retrospect each of them is bigger now than they ever were at the time. Nonetheless, Reagan’s genius was in recognizing that politics is the art of addition, and not about subtraction or division. That is still true.
The most recent not-Romney is Rick Santorum. He is most closely associated with the “social conservative” wing of the Republican Party. This is an important member of the family of conservatism, but like its siblings–Fiscal, Defense, Libertine, and Law N. Order–none of the conservative brethren are capable of striking out on their own. Still, that’s what Santorum did, when he linked his opposition to the recent Obama decision to force abortificants upon churches to the canard of “birth control isn’t safe. That is the message of subtraction. It is a position that attracts none but the already converted. Even worse, it is a message so offensive to so many (not to mention, so factually incorrect) that it repels those who might otherwise be attracted to his position were it couched in different terms.
What I mean bythat is this: a Republican must unite the whole party around a simple message that resonates with all its wings. And that message is the same now as it was in 1980 when Ronald Reagan put all conservative factions under the banner of “Leave Us Alone.”
“Leave us Alone” applies to Catholics justifiably outraged by the government trampling upon their First Amendment rights. After all, even if you disagree with the Church’s religious position, you must admit, the First Amendment accords to all religions the right to be wrong, otherwise, the right is not a right at all if its only protection is to protect popular positions. Had Santorum cloaked his argument in “Leave Us Alone,” he would have acknowledged the freedom of churches to decide what medical procedures they would pay for, but would do so without appearing to compromise the right of people to choose to do otherwise with their own money. It is a message consistent with (or at least, not in opposition to) the other conservative brothers.
Rick Santorum is hardly the first to make this blunder. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman, each fell by failing to embrace a logically coherent message. The problem, I suspect, is that “Leave Us Alone,” or at least its implications, is not a message that any of the current Republican candidates really embrace. For if you truly wish to be left alone, it implies a reciprocal obligation to leave others alone as well. For defense conservatives that means that if you want others to leave America alone, you must let be those military threats that are non-existental in nature: Libya and the Taliban, for example. To the law and order conservative, it implies a level of tolerance to at least some of those activities, like prostitution and minor drug abuse, that are distasteful, but are not a threat to any but those who engage in them. To the fiscal conservative, “Leave Us Alone,” requires that we not fund any good ideas with public moneys, since, if they realy were ”good ideas,” they would find ample private funds.
You see, it’s not simply about “messaging” your support for or opposition to programs. It’s about actually believing your message and all its implications. And when you believe in your message, you are consistent with your message. If there is a Republican killer this year, consistency will be its name. That’s why it’s time to unite the Republican brand around the simple message of LEAVE US ALONE.