Friday, 9 November 2012

What the Republican Party has to learn


So - getting hammered, right? Never pretty. No-one likes it, and members and supporters of the Republican Party will be hurting pretty badly today. President Obama has been re-elected, very convincingly - more convingly than I thought he would be, and with a bigger share of the popular vote than even modellers such as Nate Silver predicted. His lead is now greater than that of President Bush in 2004, and may even top three or even four per cent in the end.

Republicans lost ground in the Senate, too. And a little bit in the House of Representatives, though here blatant gerrymandering on both sides of the aisle kept their losses to a minimum, and they kept hold of the lower house of Congress.

What should they learn? Well, and I ask this with a weary sigh: where do you start? Here's five historic lessons that the GOP should take to heart.

Stop forcing candidates to speak with forked tounge. Governor Romney (above) is, by all accounts, a rather nice man in private - and certainly one able and robust enough to serve as America's chief executive. He's also, in his heart of hearts, a moderate - as he showed towards the end of his campaign. But his party forced him to twist almost every thing he'd ever said: on immigration; on tax reform; on abortion; and on health care. They did it last time, to Senator John McCain, and they still hadn't learnt their lesson. Voters aren't stupid. They know when someone's uncomfortable. They know when someone's hiding their true self. And they switch off. This is why voters warmed to him after the first debate, when he suddenly revealed Mitt 3.0 (or 4.0, or 5.0): Moderate Mitt, pragmatic, flexible, even likeable. OK - so his views would still have been to the right of the populace, and he still came across as a starchy plaid-shirted dad from the 1950s, but that's okay. No-one thought Reagan was hip either.

Stop watching Fox News. Fox News is, without doubt, poison for the mind. Its one-track obsession with taking on and defeating 'socialist America' hasn't ended up helping their pet causes much, though, has it? The station's spectacular (and very funny) election night melt-down, during which pundits simply refused to accept the public's verdict, could once only have been imagined in satire or film. Now it's actually happened! You couldn't make it up. But there's a real point here: Republican should stop watching this stuff. It just seals them in an echo-chamber in which the voters care only and forever about the attack on the Benghazi compound; or about Obama's birth certificate; or about the President's remark about 'voting being the best revenge'. Liberals should stop watching MSNBC all the time as well, but we'll come to that when we consider the Democrats' future.

Stop throwing money at the problem. Plutocrats such as Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest men in the world, spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this campaign season - and got (hide those smiles at the back) absolutely nothing to show for their blatant attempt to buy democracy. But their massive cash reserves blinded them to a simple truth: it's not the cash, stupid; it's what you do with it. Democrats adopted a much smarter, leaner, data-driven, statistic-drilling approach that wiped Team Romney's efforts off the face of the earth. These financial arms races can, in any case, only end up with a countervailing amount of money pouring in from the other side of American society. Labour unions and citizens' groups, in particular, basically plugged their bank accounts into the Obama cause - as did millions of ordinary Americans who just couldn't stomach oligarchs buying their election.

Stop hating people. Where do we start with this one? Selecting Senate candidates who apparently think that rape can be God's will? They might not actually think or feel this in their hearts, but their disdain for women, and their deeply ingrained wish to control them, was plain for all to see. So no-one should have been surprised to hear the following refrain in return: 'you know what, Republicans? You hate us. So we're going to give you a kicking'. Todd Akin in Missouri ran miles behind Romney in the voting - so even conservative women, who quite liked the idea of a Republican White House, couldn't stand the man. And on race, well - all you need to look at are Florida and Ohio's attempts to suppress the minority vote by changing voting rules and squeezing poll hours.

Develop a populist language that attracts low-income voters. One of the most ridiculous incidents of this whole campaign could be summed up in the headline: 'candidate to voters: drop dead'. What on earth would convince you to seek election among the people - as Governor Romney apparently did - when you think that 47 per cent of them are freeloaders? Why would you want to lead them anyway? Republicans are too rich; too cossetted; and too isolated from the mainstream of working people's lives to understand how they look. They need a great big bath of cold water. They need to reach out to average working Americans, and to start to speak their language. Forget the social conservatism stuff, and talk to real people about their real lives. Most Americans don't want their governors telling them how to behave in the first place - lesson numero uno for a proper conservative party, such as the one David Cameron has successfully led to (near-) victory in the UK.

To be honest, I could write for hours. The Republicans have left behind moderates who want to vote for them, but now have to with a heavy heart... if at all. They're in denial for now, but that'll break. They need a back-to-basics, root-and-branch, total makeover. They need to appoint women, hispanic and African-Americans to positions of power in their party, now. They need to stop acting like a bunch of swivel-eyed obsessives. They need to start cutting deals in Washington, starting today.

They need to wake up before it's too late.

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