Wonkblog published a very interesting piece (“No, the 2012 election didn’t prove the Republican Party needs a reboot”) by John Sides, an Associate Professor in the Political Science department at George Washington University.
Sides essentially argued that much of the Republican hand-wringing over the last election, which has caused some of the party architects to think they need to reorient the party toward more (relatively) centrist positions in order to win national elections, is unnecessary. He suggests that things are not so bad for Republicans as the Romney defeat might indicate.
Let me say from the start that I don’t give one good damn about the reformation of the Republican Party. As far as I’m concerned, given what it has become, I hope it wanders forever in the wilderness of doubt and uncertainty about itself. I hope the so-called civil war within the party continues unabated for at least as long as it takes our sun to convert its last atom of hydrogen into helium and swells into a red giant that will swallow up the earth, sort of the way Newt Gingrich attacks the all-you-can-eat buffet on the campaign trail.
Any political party whose leaders have to, say, appease pale-faced zealots like Rush Limbaugh before they can endorse sensible immigration reform (as Marco Rubio, a Limbaugh butt-sweat slurper, is doing right now) is not a party worth saving.
But I do want to take issue with something that Professor Sides claimed in his article, to wit: Even though Mitt Romney moved far to the right in the GOP primary, that ideological move did not hurt him as much as most of us thought:
…it does seem true that Romney had to tack right in the primary. But when the general election rolled around, who did voters perceived as ideologically closer to them, on average: Romney or Obama? Romney.
Sides uses a YouGov survey from January 2012 until election day to make that rather startling point:
Although over time both Romney and Obama were perceived as moving farther away from the average voter, Romney was still closer to this voter on Election Day. The candidate who would have benefited most from a shift to the center was Obama.
Naturally, since I perceived Barack Obama as having shifted to the center on so many—too many, for my particular tastes—issues, I was quite surprised by Professor Sides’ claim here.
Could it be that the far-right Mitt Romney, the one who embraced a harsh stance on immigration reform that only Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh could love; the one who was called a “vulture capitalist” by his own GOP competition; the one who made that repulsive 47%-of-the-country-are-moochers comment in front of fat-cat donors; the one who picked the extremist, Ayn Rand-loving Paul Ryan for his running mate; could it be that that Mitt Romney was closer to the “average person” than Barack Obama?
What we are dealing with here are the way people, when asked in polls or surveys, interpret the words “liberal,” “moderate,” and “conservative.” Notice how the “average person” in the graph plots himself or herself right there in that comfortable “moderate” range. Why is that? Because most people like to think of themselves as not too hot or not too cold, and people generally don’t perceive their political beliefs to be anywhere near one of the ideological poles, even if they obviously are.
When I was a conservative, I heard conservative commentators tell me all the time that the majority of Americans were “with us,” that we represented the “average person.” Now that I am a liberal, I hear the same thing. Americans are “with us” liberals. And both of those claims can’t be true.
So, what is true?
Notwithstanding the arguments of Professor Sides, and other political scientists who rely way too much on the self-perceptions of survey respondents in taking the ideological temperature of the country, we have one fairly reasonable way of gauging the ideological proclivities of voters: how do they respond to specific issues?
Let’s take a look at several of them:
Mitt Romney was on the wrong side of all of those issues. The Republican Party still is. A majority of Americans, despite how much they want to perceive themselves as “moderates,” actually support liberal programs and policies.
I suppose something can be said for the fact that people who support liberal ideas consider that support to be the very definition of “moderation,” which is bad news for a Republican Party that is still waging war on women’s reproductive freedom, homosexual rights, and the well-being of the poor; which is still protecting above all else the interests of the moneyed class; which is still trying to repeal the New Deal, and which, as we speak, is threatening to derail even the most mild form of gun control legislation.