Why the Republicans lost

The following is actually a piece I wrote the other day as a writing sample. I’m attempting to get a gig writing a column for the school rag, and It’s been a while since I wrote anything of size, so I figure I’d produce something like this. Enjoy.

What happened in November? Republicans were probably sitting around punch drunk as the results came in and Obama flew past the 270 mark for electoral votes. It also didn’t help that we were getting mopped up in state and local elections as well. After getting out of our daze, as is part human nature, we began to wonder why we lost and subsequently started pointing fingers. Hey, every one does it – that’s why I’m writing this piece you are reading right now. However, I would like to think I’m at least being somewhat more objective.

There are certainly many factors to the outcome of any election, and 2008 was certainly no different. Obama obviously came up huge when he got college age kids hooked on his hollow promises of “Hope and change”. Now he’s talking about changes he’s going to make, but I certainly didn’t know what he was planning on changing when he started that ploy. Not that it mattered, as apparently change for its own sake is what college kids like (http://tinyurl.com/92x85g).

Although the college-age demographic getting suckered into buying a logically bankrupt concept such as change being good for its own sake is low hanging fruit in this discussion, it would be a disservice to pin the election outcome merely on that. After all, our age group normally votes Democratic anyways, so I look at it almost as a wash.

So if that isn’t it, what else might there be? One of the things that I’ve seen is that some Republicans like to blame the people who voted Libertarian (http://tinyurl.com/8gqsce). Before I continue, I need to describe the two general castes that would vote in such a way:

  1. Those who will pretty much always vote for Libertarian candidates (Big-L libertarians)
  2. Those who may generally vote Republican yet maintain a political philosophy of classical liberalism (Small-L libertarians)

Common sense would dictate that under most circumstances, the Big-L libertarians, just like the college-aged populous, should be irrelevant to the discussion of throwing the election one way or the other. In contrast however, I would argue that the Small-L libertarians voting for a Libertarian candidate very might be the ones responsible for where this election went.

If that’s the case, then aren’t the Libertarians indeed the ones to blame? Aren’t the Small-L libertarians guilty of shooting themselves in the foot by voting for Bob Barr? They may be, but only to the extent that a firearm is responsible for murder or a fork is responsible for making Rosie O’Donnell fat.

If that’s the case, then who is actually responsible? These classical liberals aren’t stupid – they realize that voting for Barr was going to pull votes from McCain in a race that was going to be close. Something had to have triggered them. So what is this trigger then? I say it’s non-other than the Republican party itself.

I’ve heard many people argue that the party needed to go for the moderate vote in order to win. This type of mentality is exactly why we lost. Republicans weren’t being fiscally conservative nor were they pushing for limited government.

What are people going to think when the party’s best known protagonist (the president) states that “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system” and expands government spending and intrusion into our lives at levels not seen since FDR? What are people going to think when the party’s presidential nominee was one of the key sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – a piece of legislation amounting to nothing less than an assault on the First Amendment? Well I’ll let you know what I thought – I thought the party emblem was changing from an elephant to a bust of Joseph Stalin. Given the evidence, it shouldn’t be much of a wonder why the Small-L libertarians voted for Bob Barr this year.

If the Republican party wants to actually regain some legitimacy, they need to stick to free market, limited government philosophies. Months before the election (or the bailout) I had a small hunch this was going to be the doing-in of the party (http://tinyurl.com/8ttkd5). It looks like my suspicion was right.

7 comments for “Why the Republicans lost

  1. January 19, 2009 at 8:56 am

    No no no, Republicans lost because hope change hope Martin Luther King hope change hope.

    Get your facts straight.


  2. Ed Burley
    January 19, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    As a small-l libertarian who voted for McCain, I think that it’s even more than that.

    It certainly makes sense that when libertarian Republicans vote for the Libertarian candidate, things don’t work out so well for the GOP. Trends show, however, that big-L Libertarians have been shifting alliance for some time. In Bush’s first election win, libertarians (both big and small case ones) voted somewhere around 80% for Bush. In 2004, the total was down to less than 60%. I think if the numbers were truly looked at (because Barr didn’t do nearly as well as he expected – thus is the history of the LP), you would find a lot of Libertarians voting for Obama, and I’ll tell you why.

    Libertarians are more than just free market, although even that drives a huge portion of their social agenda. The war on drugs, the war on immigration, and the war on terror are all concerns of libertarians, big and small. In each of these issues, libertarians find themselves in more agreement with Democrats than with Republicans. When you add in that Republicans have been less and less fiscally conservative, it falls to the fact that more libertarians are voting Democrat.

    If Republicans and Democrats are both big spenders, why wouldn’t libertarians support someone with a less strident position on drugs, immigration and war? When the most free market think tanks in America – Reason Foundation and Cato – both find themselves equally criticizing both party candidates, their readers soon surmise that there’s hardly a difference in the two fiscally, and their choice becomes which one best reflects their libertarian values in social policy. Abortion aside, most other social issues are more aligned with Democrats.

    And that’s the cold hard truth, sorry to say.


  3. January 21, 2009 at 9:16 am

    republicans lost because of diluted ideas- abandoned principles & Big spending- and a weak delivery device (McCain).

    As long as the political landscape slides left to subjective ‘aspirational ideas’ rather than objective issues we will have to be contend with that ideas of “hope and change” not with action of doing “hope and change”.

  4. January 22, 2009 at 4:45 am

    The data in Oakland County gives me the ability to look at things like “straight ticket” vote percentages at each precinct over the years for each party.

    Republicans not because conservatives or little L’s didn’t turn out and vote, but because a significant number of new voters and independents pulled straight party levers (euphemism nowadays) for Dems relative to last time. Republicans that survived had to win far more than half the “independents” (I define them as non-straight ticket voters) – and even the independents leaned toward Democrats if they were uninformed on a local race, or, in the case of Justice Taylor, pushed at the margin by party strategy (elections are won by small marginal shifts). That means the larger trend was national in cause – but we knew that.

    Everything I’ve seen that accounts for that in terms of issues is that the bailout – or more properly the crisis and fear underlying it – was the biggie, with the war and general Bush dislike following it. The war was the bigger issue in 2006 but I think wouldn’t have been big at all in 2008 IF the economy hadn’t set the tone. McCain squared the circle in terms of the war (he was much more right than even Bush at various times in the history of the war) and would have been the perfect candidate in a non-economic non-domestic dominated debate. Let’s not throw any baby out with bathwater.

    That’s the short-term autopsy version – the longer view – the bad diet and smoking that caused the heart attack is much more subject to opinion.

    I think the war – at least as it was conceived as an occupational, democracy building thing – was a mistake from the beginning. I’m no isolationist or paleo – and indeed, I think we should have pushed and tested Saddam seriously on WMD. But not as a reason for regime change. Refusal to allow inspections should have been precedent for the US to use large-scale force to inspect – but like Bush Sr., such forays need not involve regime change. In post-9/11 foreign politics, Bush was correct to see our “threshold for tolerance” of any nation proclaiming or attempting to get WMD. Mere Cold War-like “containment” – at least before acquisition of WMD – is too weak. Serious military consequences – a policy of military rollback similar to Bush Sr.’s in 1991 (which proved effective, ironically, by Bush Jr.) – chop the military machine off at its knees. But we simply can not financially afford to implement “regime change” for every country currently seeking WMD. Sure, we must stay now that we’re committed, but the financial cost (and human), even if the “surge” correction proves to work, isn’t worth it at now over $1 trillion. O’Bama’s message that the war was wrong from the start resonated for that reason – Bush overreacted, but I have a sense that most Democrat leaders would have under-reacted to the Iraqi and other WMD threat, and we might have a vaporized American city in the ionsphere contributing to global cooling. But Bush’s over-reaction makes it more difficult now for anyone to properly react to other WMD threats – Iran being the most notable. Not just because of reduced international cooperation but because we are truly stretched. Indeed, Bush could have handled all WMD threats in 2003 by treating Iran and Korea more like Iraq 1991. We now (have relearned Vietnam) that the modern technological military is the most efficient force in history at destroying other militaries and governmental capacities, but at best only average or above average at long-term occupation and nation building. A strategy that targeted all three countries with the threat or actual use of force to deny WMD capability would be cost-effective – but not with regime change.

    Due to its cost, that all contributed to the other twin cause of conservative repudiation in 2008. Bush wasn’t fiscally conservative, and in addition to the war spent like a drunk sailor. Prescription drugs, failure to control pork, and large deficit spending joined with factors in the economic cycle and oil shocks to contribute to the liquidity issues underlying the credit and banking crisis in September. Without all those factors in confluence, we probably don’t hit the brink.

    The good news is that is easily (well, not for politicians, of course) within conservatives control Restore (honestly) the fiscal conservative brand and your back in business.

    You don’t get to talk about or control social issues (which I’ll concede are important philosophically) if you fail on the economic. Marx was clear – “When the belly’s empty, the mind will swallow anything.”

  5. Ed Burley
    January 22, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Definitely agree with you on the younger voters; but, those independents that you are talking about are those same libertarians that I was talking about. A lot of those youthful independents were the Ron Paul contingent, who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Chuck Baldwin (perhaps because of his religious emphasis).

    The independents are figuring that, if you’re going to get a big spender either way, vote for the guy who’ll stop the Federal War on Medical Marijuana. It’s a big issue, just look at the numbers each time there’s a ballot iniative.

  6. January 24, 2009 at 4:15 am


    We’re not disagreeing. The reason fiscal conservatism “plays” so much is that it is a thread that runs across the spectrum. Ron Paul supporters – who went “under-courted” and “disrespected” by the top of the party – were definitely a chunk of voters. But “mainstream independents” – whom I’d say have no political philosophy largely because they (for sound economic reasons) don’t invest significant time considering politics deeply – are what I refer to. Those at the “middle 40%” of uncommitteds that shift elections. Now, some of those folks “peel off” into either party and vote straight ticket for convenience (another 20%, so-called “soft-Dems” or “soft-Republicans”) and are harder to measure but still “persuadable”.

    O’Bama isn’t stopping the federal war on marijuana – or at least I’d be surprised to see that. I can see why some might have that impression superficially though. Stated another way – there is a “libertarian” streak that runs through most Americans, particularly in the middle, because they don’t want government meddling in their lives.

    But it was NOT a big issue – even in Michigan. Sure, there was a clear majority voting on Proposal 1 – but it was put in front of them. They didn’t come to the polls – by and large – because Prop 1 existed. And it didn’t kill McCain and most local Republicans respected it for what it was – a choice of the people.

  7. January 24, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    It’s true that most folks don’t classify themselves as libertarians, but as you rightly point out, there is a libertarian streak that runs pretty deep across the American electorate. Unfortunately, we can’t even seem to get libertarians to run on the Libertarian Party ticket, let alone the GOP.

    I would argue that, by some standards, even Ron Paul isn’t libertarian – he’s more paleoconservative (with his view on immigration. And abortion – this is where I too differ with the LP).

    But re: economics and war, Paul is a hardcore libertarian.

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