Conservative Self-Deception In 2012 Hid Need For Policy Changes

by Hans Bader on November 7, 2012 · 9 comments

in Politics as Usual, Zeitgeist

For weeks before the election, many conservative websites erroneously claimed that public opinion polls were biased against Republican candidates, and criticized respected polling experts, like Nate Silver, who pointed out that Romney would likely run slightly behind Obama in the popular vote, and far behind him in the electoral college (as in fact happened yesterday). On election day, Silver’s predictions came true — as did mine.

Like Silver and University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato, I predicted that Obama would win reelection and the popular vote. I also went further, and correctly predicted that the Democrats would actually gain rather than lose seats in the Senate. Those Democratic gains in the Senate actually happened, contradicting the wishful thinking of the readers of the conservative National Review, 73 percent of whom believed in an online poll that the GOP would gain enough seats to take control of the Senate from its current Democratic majority.

Making these erroneous predictions about the election was profitable for those who made them. Claims that the polls were biased against Republicans were like “political porn” that misguided Republicans ate up, because they wanted to believe it. Of the hundreds of political blogs at, the one with the most readers in the last month was a blog called “Arlington Conservative Examiner,” which constantly peddled the notion that Romney would outperform the polls on election day, and that the polls were biased against Republicans. Before the election approached, few people read that obscure blog, but its readership mushroomed after it started claiming that the polls were biased, putting hundreds or thousands of dollars in its author’s pocket. ( bloggers are paid for each hit or page view.)

Right-wing commentators do not seem to suffer any penalty in lost credibility with their viewers when they make false rosy predictions about the GOP winning elections. Right-wing author Mark Levin is a case in point. He ludicrously supported the neophyte right-wing candidate Christine O’Donnell for Delaware’s Senate seat (her “I am not a witch” ad was a case study in political malpractice), claiming that Delaware — which Obama carried by a 5-to-3 margin — was a relatively conservative state she could carry if nominated.

Thanks to people like Levin, and the Tea Party Express, O’Donnell won Delaware’s 2010 GOP senate primary, defeating the state’s veteran Congressman Mike Castle, a moderate who was popular with independent and even some Democratic voters. She went on to easily lose the general election to a weak liberal candidate with a history of imposing huge tax increases as a County Executive. The moderate Castle, although not beloved by conservatives, would have crushed the liberal Democrat in the general election if he had won the primary. He was much more conservative than the Democrat on issues like Obamacare and the stimulus package). Levin has never paid any price for his faulty election predictions, in this and other races where right-wingers lost races that mainstream candidates would have won, and, instead, has been invited by the conservative Heritage Foundation to speak this month about the election results.

A belief that the GOP would win easily without changing a thing may have blinded it to the need to make changes to its policies, like Romney’s support for a bloated Pentagon budget (which even some Republican Senate candidates in swing states, like Ohio’s Josh Mandel, prudently ran away from). We previously explained why Pentagon spending should be cut.

Romney’s positions were much more reasonable than Obama’s on a great many things (Obama has given America four straight years of trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits, and record federal spending, violating his campaign pledges of a “net spending cut” and deficit reductions), but Pentagon spending (which Romney wanted to increase despite our country’s huge budget deficit) was not one of them. The Democrats can afford to be unreasonable, given their growing demographic base. The GOP cannot, given its dwindling demographic base. It must appeal to the center.

To a certain extent, Romney did appeal to the center. He distanced himself from right-wing senate candidate Todd Akin over Akin’s widely condemned comments regarding abortion and rape. He ran far ahead of right-wing social conservatives, and generally outperformed even mainstream conservative GOP senate candidates, who lost in states that Romney carried. Given that Romney outperformed right-wing social conservatives, it is very ironic to see right-wingers claim the GOP would have done better with a more right-wing candidate. They have as much credibility as Typhoid Mary criticizing a doctor for the fact that a typhoid patient died despite the doctor’s best efforts. One such socially-conservative right-winger argues, without any sense of irony or self-awareness, that Romney and McCain lost because they were too moderate (even though McCain did pretty well given the state of the economy in 2008, and public anger towards the leader of his party, President George W. Bush):

this is the predictable – and predicted – outcome when the party nominates such flawed candidates. . .If the party wants to win again, how about nominating a Republican instead of a valueless plutocrat or a wild-assed maverick? . . . Tonight’s result shows that no matter how hard the chamber of commerce wing of the GOP sells it, . . .The majority of voters, given a choice between a cheap imitation liberal and the real thing chose to stick with the real thing, which is to say, the GOP simply did not offer a choice.

But the GOP did offer a choice. There is a huge difference between even a moderate Republican like Romney and a liberal Democrat like Obama. What this writer calls a “cheap imitation liberal” is exactly what many suburban voters wanted, like my wife. My wife, a moderate with libertarian leanings, reluctantly voted for Romney, because she views Obama as supporting the redistribution of wealth and vast expansions of welfare, and views such redistribution of wealth as a key reason for the economic stagnation of her native France. But she only voted for Romney because she viewed him as a moderate, and thus did not expect him ever to push for a federal ban on first trimester abortions if elected, or to try to ban gay marriage. (She doesn’t care if late-term abortions are restricted. In France, unlike in the U.S. under the Supreme Court’s decision in Doe v. Bolton, late term abortions have historically been prohibited. Late-term abortion is much less regulated in the U.S. than in most of the world.) She would never vote for a social ultra-conservative like Todd Akin who wants to ban abortion in cases of rape and incest. (My wife was also alienated by Obama’s big spending in areas like the $800 billion stimulus package and bailouts.) Alienating moderates is disastrous for political parties, especially for parties like the GOP that have a shrinking demographic base.

Conservative publications like National Review came up with strained rationalizations for believing that Romney would win despite being behind in the polls. For example, it claimed that Romney would win most undecided voters because “68 percent” of undecided voters were white — which is silly, because more than 80 percent of registered voters are white, meaning that whites, who are typically GOP-leaning, were actually underrepresented among undecided voters. Meanwhile, it ignored the fact that 63 percent of undecided voters supported gay marriage, suggesting that undecided voters were disproportionately liberal on social issues (since only about half the general public supports gay marriage).

Jeez November 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Obama should send Dick and Karl a fruit basket for helping him win the election, Romney caimpaign more or less bought the polls are lying argument and failed to finish strong. Where as Obama campaign continued a strong ground campaign to get the votes out even when he was projected to win.

Ian November 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Hopfully GOP will wake up and realize that the math simply doesn’t add up; and that it will only get worse.

There simply aren’t enough angry old white men to elect other angry old men in office.

Demographics is destiny and the GOP is on the wrong side of both history and demographics. With this pace, Arizone and, gasp, Texas, will go the way of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

How would you want Juan’s vote, when he thinks that you hate him and that you want to deport his cousin/father/son or nephew?

You cannot continue to ignore millions of hard-working immigrants.

Comprehensive immigration reform NOW. The GOP can try and obstruct at their own peril.

Hans Bader November 8, 2012 at 11:05 am

Ian is probably mistaken. Immigration was probably a wash for the GOP — it helped the GOP with white voters, even as it hurt the GOP with Hispanics, but it would have done better with whites than Hispanics even if immigration had not been an issue.

As Ted Frank, who works for a think-tank that supports expanded immigration, concedes, it did not affect a large share of the electorate, and even most Hispanics would have voted the same way even absent the immigration issue:

“McCain supported immigration amnesty and lost Hispanics 68-31. Romney moved harder to the right on immigration and lost Hispanics 71-27. Hispanics are voting on economic issues, not on immigration, and that isn’t going to shift to Republican ideals any time soon. Any political gains the Republicans can make by yielding on immigration are going to be more than offset by the adverse effect on the economy for the lower middle class and the increased number of Democratic voters.”

Hispanics are more liberal than whites on economic issues. Even most Cuban Republicans support national healthcare.

By contrast, my socially liberal mother held her nose and voted for Romney out of opposition to things like Obamacare.

Mark Sofman November 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm

The 2012 election brings me to this conclusion: Confirmation bias is highly contagious.

Jerry Parker November 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Re: Conservative Self-Deception In 2012 Hid Need For Policy Changes

Where did you hide the suggested “policy changes?” Reduce Pentagon spending? That’s it? That’s why Mitt lost?

Hans Bader November 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Changing its immigration stance won’t do much for the GOP, since Latinos are mostly left-leaning on economic policies. As a commentary at RealClearPolitics notes:

“There are real questions about the degree to which immigration policies — rather than deeper issues such as income and ideology — drive the rift between the GOP and Latinos. Remember, passage of Simpson-Mazzoli [a bipartisan amnesty for illegal immigrants] in 1986 was actually followed two years later by one of the worst GOP showings among Latinos in recent history. Moreover, the simple fact is that the Democrats aren’t going to readily let Republicans get to their left on the issue in an attempt to poach an increasing portion of the Democratic base. If the GOP embraces things such as the DREAM Act, the Democrats can always up the ante.”

As Wikipedia notes, Simpson-Mazzoli contained provisions that “granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously. About three million illegal immigrants were granted amnesty.” Reagan’s support for it did little to help his party, the GOP, with Hispanics.

Sal November 10, 2012 at 11:24 am

The GOP performed poorly with Hispanics years before immigration became an issue that divided the parties, so there is no reason to think that will change if the Party changes its position on immigration.

Jimmy Carter got 76% of the Hispanic vote in 1980, even as liberal unions were making nativist appeals to curb immigration. (When Harry Reid was first elected to the Senate, he wanted to strip the U.S. Citizen children of undocumented immigrants of their birthright citizenship). Carter lost the 1980 election anyway, by ten points, to Reagan.

Buffarilla November 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Obama’s total campaign was that I will take their stuff and give it to you. The truth is that sadly the majority of the country want’s to leach off of others and not make it on their own. You cann’t fight that.

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