Play the GOP Blame Game

With the election now more than a week in the rear-view mirror, the unhinged voices of GOP apocalypse (none more paroxysmic than this one) that dominated in the first few days have given way to more sober post-mortems offered up by allegedly rational adults. Let’s take a look.

First up is Mitt Romney, who on a conference call with donors and fund-raisers Wednesday blamed his defeat on Barack Obama’s inclination for bestowing policy “gifts” on key constituencies:

With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008 ….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.

Mostly what this illustrates is that the Mitt Romney who failed to win office is just as clueless and self-unaware as the Mitt Romney who ran for office. (Several Republicans apparently agree.) Public policies that people perceive make their lives better are “big gifts”? Does he really think that single women concerned with issues of health and family planning went blue for contraceptive freebies rather than because Mitt and company vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and give employers control of contraceptive options in health care? Is he really under the illusion that making health insurance more accessible for tens of millions of uninsured Americans is the moral or economic equivalent of giving people a gift of “free health care … in perpetuity”?

Next up is Paul Ryan, who earlier this week blamed it on cities: “The surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.”

Translation: “Black and brown people voted. What the hell?” Dude, you lost Iowa.

Lastly there’s “the architect,” Karl Rove (and you can’t spell architect without “arch”). Did you know that Rove’s birthday is Dec. 25 and his middle name is Christian? Be that as it may, in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal Rove fires up some post-game pablum:

Strategically, Republicans will need to frame economic issues to better resonate with middle-class families. Mr. Romney had solid views on jobs, spending, deficits, health care and energy. But even among the 59% of voters for whom the economy was their top concern, he prevailed by only four points …. One reason the GOP didn’t do better with its pro-growth agenda was that Mr. Romney’s character and record were undermined by early, relentless personal attacks that went largely unanswered.

Yeah, that’s right, Karl, it was all a matter of framing; an economic plan built on fantasy arithmetic, an approach to health insurance that celebrates the magic of primary care in emergency rooms, and an energy strategy built on oil and coal forever had nothing to do with it.

Republicans need not jettison their principles. But they must avoid appearing judgmental and callous on social issues. Offensive comments about rape by GOP Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana gave the media an excuse to put social issues at the election’s center in a way that badly hurt the entire party, as well as costing Republicans two Senate seats.

The problem is not that a few offensive comments gave the media an excuse to put these issues front and center; it’s that Romney and Ryan wouldn’t and couldn’t successfully distance themselves and their party from this callousness. It wasn’t some rogue rape-obsessed Senate candidate who was dumb enough to define workplace gender equality as making sure women can get home early and cook dinner.

The GOP must reduce the destructiveness of the presidential primaries. In the first place, activists can withhold support from candidates who make reckless assaults on competitors, which happened too often this time. Also, the Republican National Committee should limit the number of debates and, by showing wisdom in picking debate moderators, limit the media’s ability to depict the party as a fringe group.

Yes, when all else fails, blame the media. Hate to break it to you, Karl, but the GOP made itself look like a fringe group all by itself; the press merely reported the story that we all saw unfolding. Given the rhetorical mood and tenor of the primary season “talent” on offer, fewer debates wouldn’t have suppressed the crazy, they just would have evinced it more quickly and efficiently.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.


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