The navel gazing now over, the haze broken, the clouds lifted… the reality has officially set in.
Of course, early cries from moderates within the GOP over how certain constituencies simply didn’t back Romney are being met with wide derision across the conservative blogosphere this week. Charles Krauthammer takes deadly aim at most of the critics:
Republicans lost the election not because they advanced a bad argument but because they advanced a good argument not well enough. Romney ran a solid campaign, but he is by nature a Northeastern moderate. He sincerely adopted the new conservatism but still spoke it as a second language.
Ouch…. but accurate.
The simple fact of the matter is that Republicans got beat on the ground. The air attack and centralized command and control of the conservative movement failed spectacularly; the idea that social conservatives, Hispanics, Catholics, and others will simply “come along for the ride because hey… who the hell else do you have to vote for?” just fell flat with a massive thud.
Of course, 2013 will inevitably be the conservative resurgency. The question is, what form will it take?
Barack Obama: Hell, he won didn’t he?
Tim Kaine: … and Senator Tim Kaine at that, as vicious a partisan as any Democrat in Virginia history, too. Expect no Tom Perriello here — Kaine is a progressive in the Obama mold, and he will vote, fundraise, and recruit. Interesting to note that both Kaine and Obama hail from the same progressive Catholic social justice portion of society… I know these guys well enough to know that they will not settle for election day. Brace yourselves for “change” and hope you can endure…
Ken Cuccinelli: In a convention, people will be looking for clear ideas and clear answers — in short, a vision that unites. Cuccinelli has a golden moment to do precisely this.
Mark Warner: If he runs for governor in 2013, he is the odds-on favorite to win. If he runs for U.S. Senate in 2014, he will more than likely survive the wave and win re-election. Warner represents the last of a dying breed of Virginia Democrat: pro-business, pay as you go, and non-activist. Well, apart from the massive and unnecessary 2004 tax hike, that is… but that didn’t hurt him in 2008, eh?
Eric Cantor: Unassailable. Someone probably needs to ask Mudcat whether he has orange paint on his fingertips… before he’s put out to pasture. That’s the end of that.
Bill Bolling: The road might have been a bit easier with Senator George Allen at the helm. That is no longer possible. With McDonnell focusing on 2014 aspirations to the U.S. Senate (especially if Warner decides he would rather be Governor again rather than run for what has got to be a frustrating experience in the U.S. Senate), Bolling’s very early rush to the middle only hurts him in a convention format, where the party faithful will be looking to send a message first, and concerned about the electoral math a distant second.
The Virginia Blogosphere: I’ll be honest… I was expecting the battle royale to begin anew. Where was Blue Virginia? The old days of mass exchange and well formed ideas conceded to 140-character witticism and Facebook posts. Call me a troglodyte… but I prefer the old way better.
Social Conservatives: Well… the consultants said they could turn them out — Ralph Reed and so forth. Survey says… nope. Not only did they not turn out the Christian conservative base, these groups attempted to astroturf just about everything about it: bus tours, knock and drags, robocalls, phone banking, heaps of trash thrown away rather than incorporated into a database, etc. The professional consultants failed in the name of social conservatives, while the rank-and-file were simply bypassed, unenergized, and deflated. What would change for them under Romney? The answer was nothing… and today, the calls are to jettison them over the edge? No good… the GOP now has a different problem. Rather than in 2008 where there was talk of throwing SoCos overboard, in 2012 the social conservatives have already left (see: Florida, Ohio, Virginia). What, pray tell, is the GOP going to do to bring them back into the fold? Much less the Tea Party, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, Hispanics, etc…
The Republican Party of Virginia: Now I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to the Republican Party of Virginia. Hobbled by lack of support from the electeds, there’s only so much state party can do. What they could do, they did. What they couldn’t do? GOTV and EDO operations. The well-known infighting between RPV Victory and the George Allen campaign is more than likely what put Virginia in the blue column (or at least, helped that effort considerably). Still, as an organization… we need to get things done. Four years ago I printed the blueprint, and leading lights such as Bearing Drift’s own Alton Foley and the late Tucker Watkins added on. It’s not hard to redirect our efforts — especially in the wake of all that third party spending on air attack when grassroots was the better bang for the buck.
Terry McCauliffe: Mark Warner for Governor? Ouch… cut a deal while you can, man.
The Democratic Party of Virginia: Everyone knows they were AWOL this election. Everyone knows the front office is in trouble. Everyone knows the voter fraud scandal with Jim Moran’s son is going to hurt. Their only saving grace? RPV isn’t much better off…
Republican Polling Outfits: Are our optics really that off? Well… yes… and is anyone going to fix the problem? Heck — if we can’t get voter lists sorted out, how the heck are we going to get modern polling sorted out? Where the hell is our Nate Silver? Our Kenton Ngo? Ah yes… we find them, and then we tear them down rather than build them up. Such is the culture in Virginia…
Northeastern Moderates: The era of the Rockerfeller Republican is dead. Not because the party doesn’t need them — we do — but can they provide an all-encompassing vision for the conservative majority? Clearly and demonstrably not.
* * *
There is only one other person that I will mention apart from all the win/lose/draw analysis, and that is former Governor George Allen who more than likely has seen the very last campaign of his political career.
My first campaign job as a volunteer was with George Allen back in 1993. The previous year? I worked as a volunteer for Bill Clinton ’92 — yes folks, once upon a time I was a Democrat… until I was thrown out after I announced that I was Catholic, pro-life, and pro-family (true story, too). So I was in the wilderness until I heard the siren song of “Jeffersonian Conservatism” — and from that point forward, I was hooked.
My first internship was with then-Governor Allen in the Virginia Liaison Office in 1996-7 under Terri Hauser. I volunteered again in 2000 with George Allen’s campaign for U.S. Senate, more so to excise the ghosts of Democrat Chuck Robb’s sneer into the microphone in 1994 of “how sweet it is!” to the cheering throngs of Democratic faithful. Back then, that was when I realized I could not be a part of a group so obtuse and disdainful towards their opposition. Allen showed none of this in his victory speech… again, a class act.
When “macaca” hit in 2006, I was running a campaign out in Colorado. The Virginia blogosphere went bezerk. From thousands of miles away, I could only work the periphery. Jon Henke, who has now emerged as a leading new media consultant in Washington, was my first recommendation for a new media co-ordinator. It stopped the bleeding, but it could not turn back the tide of several serious missteps made by Dick Wadhams and company. Because of those missteps, Allen lost by a handful of votes — all because a few consultants tried to make Allen something he was not.
Allen’s 2012 bid steered him towards women, independents, and seniors — a different race than the one I suspect Allen wanted to run in his heart. For myself, Allen gave us parental notification, abolished parole, froze college tuition and offered a credible and serious path towards recapturing the seat he won from Chuck Robb back in 2000. As a Republican backbencher in the U.S. Senate, he had to take some tough choices I am beyond confident Allen would not have made as governor. Tea Party candidates did not let him forget this. Yet instead of losing to credible challengers, Allen rose up and captured 2/3rds in the primary contest and approximately half of the Tea Party support.
Last Tuesday did not go well. Allen was on the cusp, but a conflation of poor ground game, some abandonment from Victory staffers who focused much more on Romney than on Allen, and a national climate that knew what it opposed but kept searching for what it stood for probably conspired against Allen’s 2012 comeback victory. Had Allen been allowed to campaign hard on energy, who knows? Of course, when every room has a cameraphone… the world of campaigning becomes a very different place. It’s not easy having the “all seeing eye” on you 24/7…
At the end of the day, Allen’s presence will not diminish in Virginia Republican circles. Allen still has a good 20 years of public service in him yet, if the longevity of John Warner is any indicator. Perhaps in an era where Republicans (even nationally) are trying to find their voice again, a revisitation of “Jeffersonian conservative principles” is in order? Certainly, now more than ever, Virginia Republicans need clear voices at the front.
Allen’s chapter as a candidate may have closed. As a conservative leader, Allen has the opportunity — should he choose — to shape the next generation of Virginia Republican leadership.
For one, I hope he takes it.