Election Day is hardly over and recriminations are flying within some Republican circles. After singing his praises in October, conservatives are claiming Mitt Romney was not clear in his programs. Moderates, citing the increase in women voters as well as Hispanics and African-Americans gains, are predictably blaming the social conservatives in the Christian Right.
Now all of this can be expected so soon after a defeat. Richard Nixon lost in 1960 to John F Kennedy by 49.7 percent to 49.6 percent, and it was treated as a catastrophe. Nixon, it was argued would never be "top banana," and conservative ideologues argued for a "choice and not a echo." They got it in 1964, putting up Barry Goldwater and losing to Lyndon Johnson by 61 percent to 38 percent Indeed, Kennedy speaking on another matter, after an election said that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."
Which should convince Republicans to refrain from Monday morning quarterbacking. It was a narrow defeat popularly and substantial electorally, but not massive. Perhaps more disturbing is the Republicans essentially gave Democrats some Senate seats because some candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Murdock could not resist giving gratuitous anatomy lessons. The Democratic gains in the Senate can, in the main, be charged to the Tea Party.
But to harp on the point could be destructive. Despite its defects, the Tea Party added life to the Republican coalition. Uniting Libertarians and social conservatives is no mean feat. Taking the House in 2010 was largely a Tea Party victory, and to slam them for all that is wrong is misguided and self-destructive. Republicans have lacked leadership at the top since Ronald Reagan articulated a convincing vision of a smaller but more effective government. His successors have run on a mish-mash of emotional stances and called it Conservatism. Had the Republicans chosen better, the Tea Party would not be necessary.
Romney's campaign showed all the contradictions of the GOP. After being pasted in South Carolina by Newt Gingrich, Romney accelerated his drift to the right. He was not particularly convincing because he had a devil of a time defeating Rick Santorum. He then picked Paul Ryan to once more prove his bonafides, only to discover it was not enough to defeat President Barack Obama. So in October, he rediscovered Massachusetts Mitt, making a run that was too late.
With the results showing Romney doing badly in urban battleground states, the facile judgment that Republicans are not moderate enough is temporarily in the ascendance. But the main problem may be that Republicans have nominated candidates who lack a strong sense of who they are and what they believe. Reagan was denied nomination in 1968 and 1976 because he seemed unelectable. When he finally received the nomination in 1980, some persisted in believing the Californian a prime candidate for defeat. In November he proved his detractors wrong.
Reagan, unlike his successors, ran positive campaigns that spelled out the perils of big government. However he did not believe in no government. Usually his opponents in both the Republican and Democratic parties tried to brand him a radical or heartless and dangerous. He explained his views clearly, and he won. Because his convictions were firm and he was reasonably principled, the public usually approved. George H.W. Bush, the younger Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Romney lacked the ability to spell out exactly what they were about, and they either suffered defeat or left uncertain legacies.
Conservatives could easily point out that Romney did not charge up his base. Indeed, in some states, the right picked up some state Legislatures. For the GOP to retake the White House, they should take Goldwater's advice in 1960 to "grow up" and "go to work."