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The GOP’s Misinformation Problem

Pete Wehner talks to a number of disaffected Republicans and reaches this conclusion:

As one person pointed out to me after our conversation, the mood was based less on the policy stands of the Republican Party, less on substance, and more on emotion. What has happened, as best as I can tell, is that the re-election of Barack Obama, as well as Democratic gains in the Senate, had a shattering effect on the confidence many Republicans have in the GOP. Their view seems to be that if the Republican Party couldn’t defeat a failed president like Obama or make gains in the Senate in a year that should have favored Republicans [bold mine-DL], it is manifestly inept.

Wehner doesn’t directly address the assumptions behind this dissatisfaction. Doing so would show that one reason that many Republican voters are so unhappy with their party is that many of their political leaders and pundits spent the better part of the last four years telling them falsehoods. Some of this was done to flatter the audience, and some of it was done to manufacture outrage, but all of it served to mislead Republican voters. I suppose many Republicans take it as axiomatic that Obama was a “failed president” in his first term, but it is very important for Republicans and conservatives to distinguish between actual failure and the implementation of an agenda that they oppose.

Most Americans didn’t perceive Obama to be a failure by the time the 2012 election happened, so a campaign message that took this for granted was not going to work very well among non-partisans. The assumption that 2012 “should have favored Republicans” was also mistaken. Many Republicans were certain that Obama was doomed because of slow economic growth and high unemployment, so it didn’t occur to them to pay attention to models that showed that Obama was always the slight favorite in the race. Romney’s loss shouldn’t have come as the major shock that it was for so many people, and Republican losses in Congress shouldn’t have, either. Thanks to bad information being repeated and reinforced by conservative media outlets on a daily basis, many Republicans had unrealistic expectations of victory, and then were even more disappointed by defeat than they normally would be.

If most Republicans had been much more skeptical of excessively optimistic predictions, at the very least they would have been prepared for a loss. As it was, most conservative media outlets didn’t reliably offer realistic assessments of Republican candidates’ chances, and they continued to encourage Republican voters to believe things that were demonstrably untrue about the political landscape to the very end. If the GOP suffers from the mistaken impression among its supporters that it lost the 2012 election through sheer ineptitude, the party’s leaders and media boosters deserve a lot of the blame.

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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