Conservatives – despite their initial misgivings – went all in for the Romney campaign and Romney’s epic defeat, coupled with other losses, sent many conservatives to bed election night wondering if, as Rush Limbaugh put it, “we’d lost the country.”
Let’s be clear about one thing up-front: voters did not reject conservatives and conservatism in the 2012 election.
Governor Romney may have said all the right things to assuage conservative concerns during the campaign, but he did not run as a conservative.
Indeed, after passing what First Lady of the Conservative Movement Phyllis Schlafly called the “best ever” Republican platform for conservatives, most issues on the conservative agenda were never heard about again.
You couldn’t find a national Republican or Romney campaign ad on the right-to-life, the Obamacare mandate and its war on the Catholic Church or constitutional government.
So, much as establishment Republicans will try to evade responsibility for this epic defeat, the onus is on them and their decision to run a content-free campaign.
Does this mean conservatives have nothing to learn from the 2012 election?
Quite the contrary – the election of 2012 holds many lessons for conservatives.
The first is proof of what I have been saying for many years – Republicans never, ever, win the presidency unless they nationalize the election by campaigning on a conservative agenda.
What we mean by nationalizing the election is to draw a sharp contrast between two world views. Think of the contrast Republicans drew with the liberal Democrat candidate’s view in 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2004 when we framed the campaign as a fight for traditional values, lower taxes, smaller, less intrusive government and respect for the individual and constitutional liberty.
Nationalizing the election isn’t an automatic guarantee of victory, but the “stand for nothing” strategy IS a guarantee of defeat. It didn’t work for President Ford’s 1976 campaign, it didn’t work for President George H.W. Bush’s re-election, it didn’t work for Bob Dole and John McCain, and it certainly didn’t work this year for Mitt Romney.
But it did work for conservative Senate candidates such as Ted Cruz, Deb Fisher and Jeff Flake, who all campaigned as conservatives, had Tea Party movement backing and won.
Yes, re-districting hurt some of our Tea Party House freshmen, and some sound votes for our principles, like Allen West and Joe Walsh, were apparently defeated. However, most of our candidates who were targeted not only survived, but came away stronger for the contest.
And if we take away the right lessons from this election, the Tea Party movement and small government constitutional conservative movement will also come away stronger.
And one of those important lessons that Tea Partiers and grassroots conservatives can take away from election 2012 is that leadership begins with you.
Thousands of volunteers who were never involved in politics prior to the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2009 have now been through two election cycles and received valuable training in campaign techniques and have acquired leadership experience – and the cuts and bruises from being a leader on the front lines of a campaign.
They – you – are ready for the next step; the takeover of the Republican Party by small government constitutional conservatives.
Now is the time for conservatives to step forward to demand a change in the Republican leadership, and to make that change happen one precinct committeeman and one county chairmanship at a time if necessary. We’ve seen the results of letting the Republican establishment run the show and the Party top-down from Washington. As frustrated, disappointed and maybe even frightened of the future as you may be, now is the time for each of us to become the leaders we have been waiting for.