David Frum

11.27.12

Encouraging Signs at National Review

I have to congratulate National Review and Ramesh Ponnuru for an important article in their post-election issue, "The Party's Problem."

Ponnuru says many important things, says them well, and says them in a place where they especially need to be heard.

Ponnuru points out that Romney actually ran ahead of most of the Republican Senate candidates - as well as ahead of candidates with more consistently conservative records. 2012 was not an election about one (or more) flawed candidate(s).

The 2012 Senate races were more like the ones in 2006 and 2008: wipeouts for Republicans of every description — veterans and newcomers, conservative purists and relative moderates alike.

All these candidates lost not because of the idiosyncrasies of this or that candidate or the flaws of this or that faction of the Republican party. They lost not because of the particular vices of the Tea Party, or of social conservatives, or of the party establishment. The most logical explanation for the pattern is that something common to all Republicans brought them down, and the simplest explanation is that their party is weak — and has been for a long time.

The source of this weakness? The Republicans have done a good job, Ponnuru says, of articulating middle-class values. They have done a bad job of championing middle-class interests. This problem is not new, but it is getting worse.

The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren’t offering anything more — not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. Conservative activists weren’t demanding that Romney or any of these other Republicans do anything more. Some of them were complaining that Romney wasn’t “taking the fight to Obama”; few of them were urging him to outline a health-care plan that would reassure voters that replacing Obamacare wouldn’t mean taking health insurance away from millions of people.

Romney’s infamous “47 percent” gaffe — by which he characterized voters who do not pay income taxes as freeloaders and sure Democratic voters, which they aren’t — made for a week of bad media coverage and some devastatingly effective Democratic ads. It was not, however, a line of thinking unique to Romney. It was an exaggerated version of a claim that had become party orthodoxy.

All of this seems to me exactly right. Yes, versions of this argument have been said often before. They will need to be said often again. And again. And again. If National Review will pound the point, it will do as high service over the next cycle as it has ever done before.