I discounted such talk, for example, in my post, "McCain's Path to the White House."
In that entry, I cited Robert Stacy McCain, "The Other McCain," and his essay, "How John McCain Lost." Robert pegged September 24 - the day John McCain suspended his campaign to return to Washington to work on the Wall Street rescue - as the beginning of the end for the Arizona Senator.
In response, after providing an analysis of the Electoral College projections, I suggested:
The election's still close.I wish my prediction was accurate, although at the time I knew I was really hoping against hope. Nothing seemed to go McCain's way in the last month. Even the presidential debates - in which McCain performed extremely well - we're interpreted as Obama wins, simply for what I thought was Obama showing up, looking moderate and contemplative, and not making any gaffes. Amazingly, we now have news that even the Obama campaign itself understated international threats as a way to tamp down public reservations on his foreign policy inexperience.
McCain needs to focus his core message now more that ever, hammering his ace cards of experience, accurate instincts on the economy, and unshakable patriotic convictions. That's the Maverick's path to the White House.
That's all under the bridge now: Conservatives of all stripes of will need years to regroup and find their way back for the GOP's return to power.
In an e-mail to me, Robert suggested the McCain camp veered far from bedrock conservative principles, and ignored warnings from the right-wing base while running the GOP ticket into the ground:
That is to say, the idiots running the McCain campaign, who repeatedly rejected sound advice from conservatives, spent the last three weeks of the campaign LYING about their prospects for victory, urging conservatives to believe in a cause they knew to be hopeless. And now those same lying idiots are trying to blame Sarah Palin for their own blunders.In reading bloggers and pundits the last few days, the dominant meme is that the GOP must return to Reaganite conservatism, i.e., consistent ideological principles focusing on low taxes, low spending, traditional social values, and peace-through-strength intenationalism (or thereabouts).
The Reaganauts had a saying, "Personnel is policy." For too long, conservatives have accepted incompetence as a policy because incompetent personnel have escaped accountability for their errors. These self-dealing GOP incompetents need to be called to account. And those of us who saw through their barrage of [baloney] ought to get some credit for being right.
Yet, some have argued that the Reagan legacy is a chimera, and that it's time for a new generation of leaders on the right, and a new generation of ideas. For example, the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru wrote:
Republicans have a history of moving right after defeats, embracing Ronald Reagan after Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford had failed, and Newt Gingrich after George H. W. Bush had. Each time the party thrived as conservative independents and Democrats joined it. Many conservatives think that the party will succeed again just as soon as it ditches the big-spending, soft-on-immigration George W. Bush. But Republicans succeeded on those previous occasions because they addressed the concerns of the day for the vast middle class; moving right alone was insufficient.Michael Medved took up the issue as well, in his essay, "Was the 'Maverick' Too Moderate to Win?":
As it will be in today’s very different political landscape. Based on the exit polls from 2004 and Tuesday, Republicans have lost more ground among self-described moderates than among conservatives. Even if Senator McCain had won the same percentage of conservatives that President Bush did in 2004, he would not have won. Moving right will work only if moderates are given a reason to move right too.
Some of the nation’s most influential conservatives (on talk radio and elsewhere) have begun promoting the odd idea that John McCain lost the election because he ran as a “moderate” and a “maverick” rather than a “true conservative.” According to this argument, the GOP nominee could have won the White House had he only “taken the gloves off” and run to the right, without apology. This logic suggests that candidates fare better when they display ideological rigor and consistency, and that Republicans can never succeed by going after moderate and independent votes.The key point for both Ponnuru and Medved, from what I gather, is that there's more of an emotional appeal in the call for a return to conservative values than a rational one.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to test this theory. McCain appeared on the 2008 ballot with some of the nation’s most outspoken, hard line conservatives, who won nomination for governor or US Senator. If the argument is true that you can win more votes by appealing to right-wingers, rather than aiming for the center, then conservative Senate and gubernatorial candidates should have out-performed McCain, particularly in solidly Republican Southern or Midwestern states....
In fact, McCain ran well ahead of Republican nominees for Senate and governorships almost everywhere – except in those cases when statewide GOP candidates had cultivated their own reputations for independence, centrism, and ideological flexibility.
I'm not out to settle the matter here, and Robert will vigorously disagree (samples galore, here).
I'm neoconservative. I want national greatness in foreign policy, traditional values in social policy domestically (especially on abortion, marriage, and race relations), but I'm more flexible on the scope of state power in addressing economic concerns and providing public goods (within reason).
Going forward, the party must pay heed to the demographics of election 2008. Barack Obama won 67 percent of the Latino vote, and also 62 percent of the Asian American vote. First time voters turned out 62 percent for the Democratic ticket, and Obama won 69 percent of the college-age cohort (see also, "Youth Vote for Obama Bodes Ill for Future of GOP").
Moreover, Barack Obama indeed appeared moderate to many voters (taking 60 percent of the centrist electorate), despite GOP attacks to the contrary (the attacks, of course, may ultimately prove prophetic, giving Republicans an opening to campaign against an ideological, overreaching Democratic Party).
Personally, I love Sarah Palin, who for all of her red-meat bona fides with the conservative base, is also pure neocon on American exceptionalism and moral clarity.
On that point, then, perhaps the various factions of the conservatve movement can unite, forging a way back from the wilderness.