It’s a hard sell, but self-re­liance pays off

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Mona Charen

Even when the econ­omy is ter­ri­ble, when the in­cum­bent Demo­cratic pres­i­dent has not been able to demon­strate suc­cess on job cre­ation or growth, and even when the stan­dard of liv­ing for Amer­i­cans is de­clin­ing on his watch, the coun­try will choose a Demo­crat “who cares about the prob­lems of peo­ple like me” over the Repub­li­can. That alone is enough to make Repub­li­can heads spin for some time.

Many es­tab­lished be­liefs about pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics have been proved false by Obama’s re-elec­tion: 1.) The idea that, when un­em­ploy­ment is above 7 per­cent, in­cum­bents fail; 2.) The no­tion that in­cum­bent pres­i­dents who are re-elected al­ways in­crease their per­cent­age of the vote over their first race; 3.) The idea that late de­ciders break for the chal­lenger; 4.) The be­lief that if ma­jori­ties say the coun­try is on the “wrong track,” the in­cum­bent will be de­feated. All wrong.

The prob­lem with all of these so­called laws of pol­i­tics is that they are based on a tiny sam­ple. There have only been 20 pres­i­den­tial con­tests be­tween 1936 (the year these “laws” are usu­ally dated from) and to­day. That’s too small a data set from which to glean re­li­able trends, far less iron laws of pol­i­tics.

Rom­ney made his share of mis­takes. It’s pos­si­ble that if he hadn’t alien­ated His­panic vot­ers dur­ing the pri­maries by his harsh anti-im­mi­gra­tion stance, if he hadn’t com­mit­ted the “47 per­cent” blun­der, and if he had more ef­fec­tively re­but­ted the Obama smear cam­paign against him as a ra­pa­cious cap­i­tal­ist who was will­ing to in­flict un­em­ploy­ment on thou­sands to in­crease his own and his share­hold­ers’ prof­its, he might have pulled out a vic­tory.

Rom­ney had many strengths, and Obama had many weak­nesses. One les­son for Republicans in this de­feat (be­yond the is­sue, ad­dressed by this col­umn be­fore, of im­mi­gra­tion) is a fa­mil­iar one: The Repub­li­can mes­sage of free en­ter­prise, self-re­liance and in­di­vid­ual ini­tia­tive is a harder sell than the Demo­cratic mes­sage of “Let the gov­ern­ment take care of you.”

This is par­tic­u­larly true among sin­gle women. Rom­ney won male vot­ers 52 to 45 per­cent, but he lost women 55 to 44 per­cent. While Rom­ney pre­vailed among mar­ried women by 53 to 46 per­cent, Obama’s mar­gin among sin­gle women was a crush­ing 68 to 30 per­cent. Adding to the gloom for Republicans, fewer than half of Amer­i­can house­holds now fea­ture a mar­ried cou­ple. The il­le­git­i­macy rate is 40 per­cent. And the women’s vote has been in­creas­ing as a share of the to­tal for the past sev­eral elec­tion cy­cles. In 1980, women were 50 per­cent of the elec­torate. This year, they were 54 per­cent of vot­ers.

The de­cline of mar­riage is far more than just a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem for Republicans. Un­less re­versed, it may rep­re­sent the un­rav­el­ing of our civ­i­liza­tion. But it is also a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. The Democrats’ mes­sage to sin­gle women is sim­ple: We will give you free stuff. Free birth con­trol. Free med­i­cal care. Wel­fare pay­ments for your chil­dren if you are poor. Food stamps. The whole wel­fare state pack­age. Women want se­cu­rity above all. You don’t have to be a po­lit­i­cal wizard to sell that mes­sage. If it’s not Santa Claus, it’s cer­tainly Mr. Rogers. Iron­i­cally, the worse the econ­omy gets un­der Demo­cratic gov­er­nance, the more sin­gle women cling to Democrats to pro­tect them from the con­se­quences of that fail­ure.

A Repub­li­can has the much more de­mand­ing chal­lenge — to per­suade vot­ers that smaller gov­ern­ment and more free en­ter­prise will im­prove their lives, their in­comes and there­fore their se­cu­rity. A good pay­ing job is far su­pe­rior to even the most lav­ish wel­fare ben­e­fits. That mes­sage has the ad­van­tage of be­ing true, but it just may re­quire a bit of po­lit­i­cal ge­nius to sell it ef­fec­tively.

If Republicans can find a can­di­date who con­veys the req­ui­site con­cern for the strug­gles of the or­di­nary per­son, whose per­sonal story is not one of priv­i­lege, who con­veys a Kem­pian en­thu­si­asm for the glo­ries of free mar­kets and free peo­ples and who is pro-im­mi­grant, that per­son could win. It may be Marco Ru­bio. There are other pos­si­ble con­tenders: Scott Walker, Bobby Jin­dal, Nikki Ha­ley, Ted Cruz and Su­sanna Martinez all spring to mind. To be a suc­cess­ful Repub­li­can re­quires more brains and imag­i­na­tion than to be a suc­cess­ful Demo­crat. For­tu­nately for the party and the coun­try, we have a deep bench. Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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