Vail Valley Voices: Where did GOP voters go?
Ryan Summerlin December 1, 2012
Millions of Republicans did not show up to vote. Why?
Was it really all about the ground game? Is the rhetoric true that Republicans are out of touch with minorities and women? Or is it as simple as “all politics is local” and it begins at the kitchen table.
When faced with the possibility of losing your home, not being able to feed your family, along with the inability to send your children to college, and the possibility of having to provide greater support with fewer resources to your aging parents, suddenly your household’s fiscal reality trumps party principles.
No one is exempt from this economic crisis. While some have been hit harder than others, this recession affects everyone and influences all fiscal-related decisions, including political ones.
Every pundit has discussed the downfall of the Republican Party, with most centering on dated politics relating to race and gender.
But consider this: The substantial reduction in Republican voter turnout may be a direct result of concerns regarding the immediate impact of the Ryan budget upon their family’s financial security. While these Republicans would never vote for Obama, they may have had serious concerns about the effects of the fiscal cuts upon their current situation regardless of other conservative considerations.
For example, hurricane Sandy victims would certainly not want to hear of reductions in federal emergency aid at a time when they need it most.
Millions of people have spent their entire lives working and saving, only to find themselves on unemployment with their hard-earned savings reduced or eliminated due to the recession, their home equity now gone, college savings disappeared, along with new federal regulations that eliminate the possibility of securing a loan.
In addition, if there are any reductions in their parent’s Social Security income, they will be expected to pick up the difference, with less.
These are groups of people who for the first time in their lives due to dire circumstances, are on the receiving end of the government programs that they have supported throughout their careers.
Although their core values are aligned with the Republican Party and they would never have voted for Obama, their short-term survival needs influenced their decision not to vote at all.
This demographic would have been hard to measure, as many were ashamed to admit their current circumstances but would still support the Republican candidates during the campaign season because they inherently knew that their situation was temporary and they would rebuild again because the traditional can-do American spirit that is such a strong part of the Republican ethos.
However, their immediate concerns superseded the party platform, costing Romney millions of votes, thus the presidency.
Other issues of concern were also present. One, was the reframing of Romney by the extreme right of the party during the primary season. What happened to Romney is exactly what happened to McCain (who had the same communications team).
Certain elements of the Republican Party are known to pressure moderate conservatives into becoming tea party candidates.
The problem is that Republicans really like McCain’s “maverick” attitude and Romney’s ability to succeed against almost total political opposition. Yet both were killed by the extreme right makeover, thus resulting in candidates who appeared weak and not authentic. As a result, they both lost by substantial margins.
Instead of respecting a leader who builds a consensus on common ground to move forward, the tea party refers to them as RINOs (Republican In Name Only).
The fact is that true leadership brings out the best of everyone and does so by honoring each individual’s contribution and value. Both of these men had reputations of principle before politics and success through coalition building.
Consensus is achieved by picking your battles wisely, while adhering to your most important values, which means you won’t get everything you want, but you will likely get your most critical issues approved.
Without the ability to build coalitions, government will be deadlocked. Consider the last four years with not one single budget approved in Obama’s entire first term, which has resulted in continued borrowing and increased debt.
Women voters were not an issue until primary presidential candidate Rick Santorum made them one by declaring his personal religious beliefs as a party platform. That position, many would argue, cost the party the women’s vote by creating an issue where none previously existed.
Santorum is an honorable man, but he crossed the line between his religious beliefs and the Republican Party platform, giving Obama a clear issue to exploit (reproductive rights) with an inference that the Republicans would violate the separation of church and state.
The selection of Paul Ryan, a congressman whose integrity is unquestionable and respected by both sides of the aisle, also represented immediate drastic cuts to most government programs.
The “Ryan plan” would go into effect at exactly the time when so many Americans needed them.
This selection was made in part to gain tea party support that had been so vehemently against Romney during the primary, and thus to solidify the Republican base.
While the result of that decision increased far-right support for Romney, it also lost him the moderate and independent voter, which was so critical in this election.
It enabled the opposition to frame Romney as an extreme rightwing conservative or worse yet, a flip-flopper rather than the moderate Republican who as governor of a very liberal state and head of the Olympics worked with a highly diverse group of international dignitaries and was able to bring together a consensus of ideas and fiscal responsibility, resulting in success.
The Latino vote was also a challenge, with concerns regarding immigration. Even naturalized citizens within the Hispanic community are friends with or related to someone who is not here legally. Concerns for their wellbeing hit Hispanic neighborhoods hard.
The extreme stance taken by states like Arizona (where there are some legitimate security concerns) made many Hispanics feel scared and unwelcome, regardless of their legal status.
A selection of Marco Rubio would have made Hispanics feel more included in the party by providing a visible representative voice on the ticket.
The reputation of the Republican Party as being the party of the rich is a particularly sensitive issue given today’s economy.
While there are an equal number of rich Democrats in Congress, the Democrats are supported by the unions, whose membership is made up of primarily hourly employees, framed as “the poor.”
Republicans are huge supporters of small business, who the hourly employee consider to be the rich, even though many business owners frequently end up with less money after taxes and expenses than they pay their employees.
Nonetheless, this perception issue is very strong and is often exploited by the Democrats along economic, racial and gender lines.
The best way to counter this image is by hands-on community involvement. This connection must be established at the entry levels of politics so that it will build as the candidate rises. A specific strategy is available for successful implementation.
The lesson to be learned by the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections is not that the Republicans are out-of-touch, anti-Hispanic, anti-black or anti-woman. It is that they are currently being influenced by those who worry about the direction of our country culturally, spiritually, internationally and economically, and believe that we are at a point where extreme action is required.
However, in doing so, they have alienated the very base which they seek to inspire. Consensus enhances legislation by providing wider appeal and thus greater opportunity for success.
Republicans must support the ability of voters to believe in their worth to this great nation, to believe in the dreams they had in their youth, to believe in the diversity (of ideas and ethnicity) that created this great nation, to believe in the success of future generations … to believe in the American Dream and to know that this country never stopped believing in them.
Jackie Cartier, who has more than 25 years of political communications experience and is the president and CEO of Winning Images, recently moved back to Eagle-Vail from Washington, D.C. She can be reached by email at Winning
Images.Cartier@gmail.com or by phone at 202-271-4165. Visit her website at www.winningimages