GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney got more white votes than any other GOP presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988 and he still lost.
He trounced President Obama among white males, senior citizens, rural voters and self-identified Christian evangelicals and he still lost. GOP ultra-conservative congressional and Senate candidates and incumbents were heavily bankrolled, got lots of media ink and in more than a few cases seemed to be shoo-ins for election. And they still lost.
Yet, in the deluge of soul-searching, hand-wringing and finger-pointing at what went so haywire for the GOP, one would never know that any of this happened. The parade of GOP hardliners peddle the delusion that Romney and GOP ultra-conservative candidates lost because they weren’t conservative enough, or their self-inflicted gaffe wounds did them in. They denounced any talk from the GOP party leaders of re-messaging, mounting an aggressive outreach to minorities — even Hispanics — and making a reversal on immigration.
This is more than a flight of fancy that the GOP can win future national elections if they hue to hardcore conservative views and back candidates that do. It’s pure self-serving delusion.
Now here’s the reality. Every conservative GOP candidate since Barry Goldwater’s loss to LBJ in 1964 has spouted hard conservative lines in the primaries and then quickly moved to the center when they want to win.
Romney much too belatedly did the same. He softened his positions on immigration, was silent on gay marriage, soft-pedaled his budget cuts of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and did a photo-op at an inner-city charter school. If he hadn’t done that, it would have been an Obama landslide.
There were tip-offs of that real possibility. A 2011 CNN poll showed that a big majority of Americans had a more unfavorable view of the Tea Party than they did when it burst on the scene in 2009. A poll later found things had gotten even worse. Half of Americans said the more they heard about the Tea Party, the less they liked it. A bare one-quarter said they liked it the more they heard.
The disaffection crossed all income and educational lines, and that included lower income whites. Before Obama’s win and the GOP losses, numerous polls and surveys repeatedly showed that the majority of Americans want Congress and the Obama administration to work in tandem to solve the big ticket problems of the economy, joblessness, and debt reduction, and stop the saber rattle of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that has been the trademark of the GOP egged on by the Tea Party.
The majority of Americans are now supportive of gay marriage and immigration reform, and they are appalled by the racial pandering, bigotry and birther and school transcript attacks on Obama.
Even if Romney had won, the 2012 election would likely have been the last national election in which a GOP white male candidate could win by relying exclusively or primarily on conservative white males, and rural and outer suburban white voters. The nation’s racial, ethnic and gender demographics that GOP hardliners laugh away were evident before this election in states that Obama won in 2008 that for decades have been gimmees for the GOP.
For a brief moment a decade ago, GOP leaders had a faint notion that times were changing and that the party had to get out front of the ethnic and gender changes to be competitive nationally. Bush spouted diversity and had a bevy of black faces on and off stage at the GOP national convention in 2000. His appointment of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales and an aborted attempt to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court was a veiled attempt to put window dressing to his diversity pitch.
In 2004, Bush went one step further and partially reversed the GOP’s long-standing opposition to any softening on tough immigration crackdowns. He embraced comprehensive immigration reform, spent millions on Hispanic voter outreach campaigns and courted Mexican government leaders.
It worked. Bush got more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote and low double-digit support from African American voters in the must-win states of Ohio and Florida. This was just enough to ensure his stay in the White House.
Tea Party leaders and GOP ultra-conservatives are banking that they can recapture the momentum that they appeared to briefly have in 2010 when they captured a crushing majority on Congress. There are still lots of Americans who think the idea of smaller government, caps on spending and debt reduction are noble goals worth fighting for. Tea Party types can still from time to time play the subtle race and gender card to appeal to some whites.
Meanwhile, GOP hardliners will continue to win some local elections in mid-America’s suburban and rural areas, but winning the race for the White House will be permanently off limits to them — though this won’t stop them from peddling their delusion that the America they longingly pine for still exists.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.