The jarring result of November’s election has left the Republican party somewhat split on the path forward. Many high-profile conservatives are acknowledging that the President's comfortable reelection will require concessions from the losing side. Others are preaching moderation and a rethinking of the party's platform. However, a key group of policymakers stubbornly continue convoluted attempts to uniquely interpret what the voters were actually trying to say.
A couple of days after the election, House Republican leaders started trying to test market the idea that the election was some sort of tie. Their supposed interpretation of the results, was that while the President received a mandate of sorts, so had they. Sure, President Obama's campaign ran on a clear and consistent promise to raise taxes on Americans making over $250,000, and he was reelected by a wider margin than any Republican since Ronald Reagan. But the House remained in Republican hands, so Americans clearly wanted them to continue their opposition to any increases in income tax rates. If America had spoken on the issue, the gavel would be in Congresswoman Pelosi's hands, they repeatedly told us.
That argument is of course nonsensical. Exit polling showed that 60 percent of Americans favored such tax increases and to equate maintaining a majority in the House to winning a presidential election is absurd. The nation picks presidents. Districts pick members of the House. Over the years, Republican state legislatures have focused intensely on gerrymandering Congressional districts and they have been quite successful, which you can see very clearly by looking at the results of House elections in those states and then comparing them to overall votes.
Nationwide, Democratic House candidates got about a million more total votes than Republican ones did. In the Senate, the totals were even more stark. Democratic candidates in that chamber got 10 million votes more than Republicans. In the Presidential election, President Obama's popular vote total was about 4 million higher than Mitt Romney's and his electoral college lead was 332-206 – both significantly higher than President Bush's in 2004. When you look at the numbers, it is clear that regardless of what happened in any one manufactured district, most Americans clearly preferred the Democratic platform. The platform did not communicate anything as clearly as the philosophy that our budgetary solutions must include asking the wealthiest of us to contribute a little more, while doing everything possible to preserve and strengthen safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, while avoiding raising taxes on the middle class and the poor.
It is certainly fair for conservatives to disagree with this idea. It is even possible for them to be correct, while the majority of voters are wrong. But what remains nothing short of ludicrous is the effort to forge some sort of path forward while simply denying that such a referendum occurred. Even conservative stalwarts like William Kristol and Newt Gingrich have scoffed at the posturing and acknowledged that Republicans have no leverage in preventing tax increases in light of what transpired on November 6. Polling shows that Americans are most likely to hold House Republicans responsible if a deal on the budget is not made before January 1.
But Kristol and Gingrich don't have votes. Some Republican lawmakers seem to agree and have suggested they are open to tax increases, with several even publicly stating that they are no longer committed to Grover Norquist's notorious pledge. But House leaders like Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor seem highly concerned with the resistance on the far right wing, perhaps best embodied by Georgia Congressman Tom Price. If the leadership concedes anything to the President, there is an expectation of brutal infighting as lawmakers like Price vie for the hearts and minds of the ever-present and hyper-involved, far-right base of the party.
This is a big moment for the modern GOP. A small, but very active and influential bloc argues that the failure of 2012 was in nominating a "compromise candidate" like Romney, rather than a dyed in the wool right-winger. Others look at the demographic numbers in the election outcomes and see clearly that the modern party has come to concede virtually demographic outside of older white males, and question how someone even less moderate would have feasibly attracted more voters – or will in the future as that demographic continues to shrink as the others grow.
It seems like Republicans are already jockeying for which branch of the party they'd like to impress. Senator Marco Rubio may have offered some initial rhetoric on moderation, but whenever he has spoken about policy after the election, he's taken the double-down approach favored by extremists like Sean Hannity – and by extremist, I mean someone who has to be reminded by a pundit as far-right as Ann Coulter that Republicans lost the election. Meanwhile, political figures like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seem to be seizing the opportunity to appeal to those in the party who see a need for a reboot.
It may have finally become clear that a party cannot have its two major pillars be such contradicting principles – we think the government should be small and stay out of our lives, unless we want it to climb into our lives with a microscope and tell us what we can and can't do. We don't think the government should be involved in our healthcare, unless it's to decide what a woman can and can't do with her body. We think states rights should always be respected, until states decide something we disagree with – like pass marriage equality laws – and then we'll bend over backward to defend things like DOMA. We think the debt is important to reduce, but we support growing the military budget at all costs.
The lynchpins of the platform simply don't work together. You can't be the party of small, limited government and the party of government intervention on social issues. You can't be the party of fiscal conservatism and the party in favor of continuing to spend more than the next two dozen countries combined on your military. That is to say you can't trash Keynesianism out of one side of your mouth and then make Keynesian arguments about the effects on employment on defense spending cuts out of the other. You can't continue to argue the nonsensical position that deficits don't have anything to do with revenues, and that growing revenues will have absolutely no impact on closing the gap. Of course you could do all of these things. They just seem ridiculous and it is becoming clear that less and less American people are buying it, so it remains to be seen whether you can do them while continuing to be relevant to a large number of voters.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost.