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A Campaign and a Party About (Mostly) Nothing

Noah Millman sees a national swing towards the Democrats, and the reason is the lack of credible competition:

But for right now, what we’re seeing, I believe, is a rejection not merely of Mitt Romney and his inept campaign, but of the Republican Party as it has chosen to represent itself in this election. And I suspect it is too late to reverse that judgment – the best the GOP can hope for is that something catalyzes American distrust of Democrats to match.

I’ve been saying this from the beginning of the campaign, and I stand by it. Mitt Romney is a lousy candidate – tin-eared, brittle, easily-bullied, someone basically nobody thinks of as a natural leader. But he is not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is the party he is leading.

Noah says that Republicans are running on nothing, and in the presidential race that’s mostly true. Yes, the Romney-Ryan campaign is rehearsing 2010-style demagoguery about changes to Medicare, railing against sequestration, and pledging to repeal the ACA, so technically they are running on more than nothing. However, there is nothing there that represents anything like a positive agenda, and none it addresses the concerns of most voters. For all the talk of how the Romney campaign was focused on the state of the economy to the exclusion of other things, the campaign has had little to offer in this area beyond its “five-point plan,” most of which likewise does little to address voters’ concerns about unemployment and slow growth. Romney is running on a message of “just trust me,” but he also happens to be the least liked major party nominee in the modern era. Even this appeal based on trust is bound to fall flat, because Romney is one of the least trustworthy people in politics. Similarly, the Republican Party as a whole still has lower favorability ratings than the Democrats, which makes it unlikely that the public will revert back to supporting them in a presidential election after just four years.

The GOP’s predicament is that it is mostly running on nothing, or at least nothing that isn’t a rehash of Bush-era policies. That could make it much easier for movement conservatives to conclude that the lesson of the election is that Republican candidates need to be more explicitly ideological, which in practice will mean that there will be even less interest in reviewing where the party may have gone wrong. As much as critics of the Ryan plan would like to link the campaign to it, it is going to have many more defenders after the election insisting that the campaign never seriously made use of Ryan or the plan. If Romney’s campaign is a reflection of the party’s failings, it becomes all the more important for the rest of the party to pin the blame for a 2012 loss on Romney alone. Just as movement conservatives threw up their hands after the 2006 drubbing and said, “The Republican Party failed us, it has nothing to do with us,” Republicans will throw up their hands and say that Romney failed them and they are not responsible.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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