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Continuing to Get the 2012 Election Wrong

Steve Kornacki interviews Newt Gingrich, who demonstrates some awareness of the distorting effects of the GOP echo chamber, but then says this:

First, there was a belief in economic determinism, that you couldn’t have that level of unemployment and have a president get re-elected. So people just sort of had a bias that as long as the economy stayed bad, he would lose. And of course they proved that in many ways identity politics beat economic politics, which I think is a considerable achievement [bold mine-DL].

Here we see Gingrich continuing to advance the common Republican misreading of the economy that created so many of their false expectations about the 2012 outcome. According to this view, the economic fundamentals pointed to a Republican win, but the truth all along was that the fundamentals consistently favored Obama. The assumption that the state of the economy would drive most voters’ decision-making was not wrong. Republicans failed to take into account the actual state of the economy and minimized the importance of the slow, gradual improvement that had been happening in the previous three years.

It certainly didn’t hurt Obama’s chances that many Americans still held Bush responsible for the country’s woes, which created a significant obstacle to Republican efforts to pin blame on the incumbent, but that wasn’t the only problem. Republicans couldn’t distinguish their economic agenda from Bush’s economic record because there was little or no substantive difference between them, and the economic agenda that their nominee presented also happened to be irrelevant to most voters. The outcome wasn’t proof that “identity politics beat economic politics.” Republicans assumed from the beginning that they would prevail in a contest defined by economic politics when they had little or nothing of interest to say to the electorate. Gingrich later on acknowledges that “in the real world [Republicans] were kidding ourselves” and criticizes it as a failing, but it seems that when it comes to making sense of the role of the economy in the 2012 election Gingrich continues to do just that.

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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