After the dust settles on this election and the hand-wringing by Republican leaders and pundits subsides we may have a better picture of the underlying causes for the significant losses the party sustained. Fred Barnes begins that process by asserting that although the unpopularity of the war was paramount, the Republicans’ failure to lead on key issues of reform was also devastating.
This morning on her radio show, Laura Ingraham entreated Republicans to return to their conservative principles, as did Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Prager. However, all of these analyses fail to take into account a primary reason for voter dissatisfaction and that is the fact that the electorate is slowly transforming, which is to say that the appeal of a platform of unwavering conservative policies may no longer resonate the way it once did.
To wit, when thoughtful and principled conservatives such as Senator Rick Santorum are trounced by an empty suit Democrat such as Bob Casey, the argument that a return to conservative principles has no credibility. Many other solid Republicans who lost were in no way guilty of abdicating their core values, rather the electorate’s threshold for demoralization over war in general has been recalibrated to hair-trigger resulting in a nearly unprecedented petition to the party less likely to lead them to victory.
Recall also that many of the Democrats who won are moderate to conservative, which is to say they are closer to Republicans on many social and fiscal issues than they are to the liberal wing of their own party. As such, in the view of many mainstream Americans they were a palatable alternative to Republicans whose sense of political entitlement and disavowal of a real reform agenda caused equal measures of angst and anger.
In the deepest political sub-strata that drove these outcomes lies a potentially lethal gambit, with a twofold explanation: The first is that in the eyes of the electorate the Islamic jihadist threat has been exaggerated by Republicans for political purchase as evidenced by the lack of an attack since 9/11; the second is that contrary to Republican assertions, Democrats do, in fact, recognize the threat but will address it in a more reasoned and deliberative manner.
Although there is every reason to believe that those explanations are at least misinformed and probably dangerous, Republicans must have the political humility to candidly address them. Recall that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate included a statement that the U.S. presence in Iraq probably abetted the terrorists, which is a chicken-and-egg argument the left has deftly exploited.
Conservatives intuitively know that our departure from Saudi Arabia–a demand issued by bin Laden–made absolutely no difference in the jihadists’ behavior. Therefore, by what reasoning would leaving Iraq prior to achieving stability result in anything other than heightened pandemonium, with Iran and Syria transforming it into their de facto staging ground?
There is, indeed, an element of strategic disconnect in the electorate’s message because were the Democrats to prevail in the debate concerning enemy combatants, the NSA’s surveillance program, and habeas corpus, the U.S. would lose what most Americans agree are our most effective tools in combating the Islamic extremists.
That leads us to conclude one of two things: First, President Bush and Republican leaders should have made the broader war against Islamic terrorism the centerpiece while downplaying Iraq, which was not operationally feasible in light of the mainstream media’s successful campaign of defeatism; or, second, no change in political strategy would have had an appreciable impact because a fairly broad swath of Americans have endorsed the mainstream media’s premise that Iraq is distinct from that broader war, which is more diffused and less pernicious than it appears.
Either way, the notion that Republicans failed because they weren’t sufficiently conservative is a gross oversimplification. Although more Americans are conservative than liberal, two far deeper traits drove their decision in this election: First is their inbred propensity to fundamentally underestimate the seriousness of the Islamic jihadist threat, and second–and inextricably inter-related–is their culturally induced inability to persevere in times of war.
Either of the two puts the U.S. at a supreme disadvantage. The two working in concert is positively dangerous.