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If Republicans lose in November, several ghosts (all named George) will haunt the party

REUTERS/Mike Segar
In his address to GOP convention delegates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush deftly pivoted away from brother George’s near universal unpopularity at the end of his term.

When the Republicans gathered in Tampa last month, the convention turned out to be as much an exorcism as it was a campaign kick-off. Now, six weeks out from the election, as presidential hopeful Mitt Romney struggles from gaffe to gaffe,  the GOP might well consider putting in a call to Ghostbusters.

In his address to GOP convention delegates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush deftly pivoted away from brother George’s near universal unpopularity at the end of his term by criticizing President Barack Obama’s mixed results in remedying the wrecked economy “W” bequeathed him.

“My grandfather and my father have been incredible role models for me and served our country honorably,” Bush said with pride. He continued with a shrug and a grin to fill the awkward gap in the Bush family tree. “And my brother … well, I love my brother. He is a man of integrity, courage and honor and during incredibly challenging times he kept us safe. So Mr. President, it is time to stop blaming your predecessor for your failed economic policies.”

The filial embrace and simultaneous ‘What can I say?’ dismissal of his brother’s failures was both artful and necessary. The crowd loved it.  

As Democrats have struggled in a dismal economy to make a credible case for a second Obama term, the Republican Party has struggled to throw off the Bush legacy and reinvent itself into a coherent alternative. If they are successful, Republicans will have expunged the relevance, if not the memory, of George W. Bush’s presidency among the American electorate, transforming his legacy from he who shall not be mentioned to the patriot who kept us safe.

But the ghost of George W. Bush’s failures is not the only exorcism that a successful Romney-Ryan run needs to achieve. The homage paid from Tampa to generational immigrant stories, women, African-Americans and Hispanics was an implicit acknowledgement that as the electorate becomes increasingly younger, less white and less socially conservative, demographics do not favor the current Republican Party long term. If the ticket falls short, other ghosts, driven into the shadows by bright campaign lights, will come back to haunt the party. And, ironically, they’re all named George.

The Ghost of Republican Moderates: First is George Romney, Mitt’s father and role model –   a socially moderate Republican from the industrial Midwest, a businessman turned politician who fit the mid 20th-century mold of small-town middle America that the party still celebrates as its tap root. But George Romney’s moderate politics would be a non-starter in today’s Republican Party – he’d never survive the nominating process. No fool, son Mitt morphed from a moderate New England Republican, discovering his “severely conservative” outlook to win the GOP nomination.

If Romney wins, he paves a path for other former moderates to convert rather than retire. If he loses, the narrative will be that he was not conservative enough and the purge of moderates will accelerate. But unless they plan a massive re-education of the American electorate, the larger question remains: Can the Republican Party maintain numerical viability if membership is gated by its most socially conservative elements?

The Ghost of Voodoo Economics: George H.W. Bush, who coined the term in his unsuccessful primary run against Ronald Reagan, remains Exhibit A, reminding Republicans they cannot survive without bending to the “no tax increase” enforcers. The senior Bush’s 1988 convention acceptance speech pledged: “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Once elected however, Bush compromised with a Democratic Congress to reduce the budget deficit (also a Republican virtue but not as virtuous as The Pledge) by raising revenue. His decision, thrown back at him in the primaries, opened a third-party challenge from Ross Perot, contributing to his defeat by Bill Clinton.

Calls for fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget and smaller government remain standard Republican platform planks, nailed tight with the “no-tax-increase” pledge. And they’re correct in the proposition that eventually, math will catch up with us all. It’s just that their math doesn’t add up any better than the Democrats’. 

The simultaneous call for increasing the Pentagon budget while extending the Bush tax cuts, repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, coupled with a vague U-turn pledge to protect Medicare cannot get through the “no-tax-increase” knothole. Their credibility is further undermined by protestations about a slipping credit rating when it was the Republican Congress’ threat to default that led to the downgrade. Add on VP nominee Paul Ryan’s cynical criticism of Obama’s failure to adopt the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, when he, Ryan, voted against it, and one might conclude the GOP can’t add and subtract.

The Ghost of the Southern Strategy: Then there is the ghost of George Wallace hanging over the party. Though Wallace was a segregationist Democratic governor of Alabama, he showed the Republicans the path to the White House through the South and white working-class voters who had traditionally leaned Democratic. While the Republican Party now pays homage to civil-rights heroes and talks about inclusiveness as it showcases African-American and Hispanic Republicans, its well-orchestrated efforts to limit ballot access through voter ID laws cynically channel the darkest side of American politics.

So if the GOP wants to put these ghosts back into the shadows, at least for a while, a Romney-Ryan win is important.

Brad Allen has worked as a journalist in both the general and business press, including contributing business articles to MinnPost. He has spent much of his professional life on the corporate side, particularly in investor relations for technology companies. He also consults with public companies on their dealings with Wall Street and is a contributor to financial publications, writing about the capital markets.


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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/19/2012 - 08:17 am.

    People who say

    “as the electorate becomes increasingly younger, less white and less socially conservative, demographics do not favor the current Republican Party long term” are forgetting that most people don’t stay young and stupid forever.

    As a non-white person, I voted democrat until I was 30. My wife voted democrat until she became a mother of sons.

    Journalists notwithstanding, most people evolve as they gain life experiences of earning a paycheck, paying taxes, owning a home, raising and educating kids.

    But don’t take my word for it. According to Rasmussen, who tracks such things, people who are self-described conservatives outnumber liberals by 2-1 and people who self-identify as republicans are at the highest level ever.

    • Submitted by Andrew Richner on 09/19/2012 - 01:58 pm.


      The operative word is “current.” Republican analysts are already predicting that if Romney were elected, it will be the last time a presidential candidate will be elected by a largely white, male demographic. In other words, it will not be possible to win in the future without getting BROAD-based support from other demographic groups.

      The point wasn’t to say that young and ethnically-diverse people are ALL Democrats, it was to say that the majority of those demographic groups votes Democrat due to the fact that they are not factored into the Republicans’ current electoral strategy, and Republicans will no longer have that luxury in the future.

    • Submitted by rolf westgard on 09/19/2012 - 05:55 pm.

      Rasmussen is the only pollster who is still giving the popular vote edge to Romney. Rasmussen has become an outlier.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/19/2012 - 09:30 am.

    To me, Mr. Romney is a potentially good candidate who’s wrong for 2012. What’s Romney’s strength? Pragmatism. Deal making. Cutting to the chase. It’s how Romney made money in business. It’s how pretty much any of us make money in business. That could be Romney’s brand.

    But not in 2012, not with the Tea Party and Grover Norquist. Pragmatism is weakness. Deal making is compromise. Cutting to the chase is selling out.

    No wonder Romney’s campaign is struggling to find focus. The man is asked to be what he is not. He’d have to be one heck of an actor to pull that one off.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/19/2012 - 01:26 pm.

    wonderfully perceptive

    It is stunning and enlightening that G W Bush was not only absent from the convention, but was assiduosly rarely if ever even mentioned. It speaks volumes of the legacy 2001-08, that cannot be erased regardless of how hard the GOP might try.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/19/2012 - 02:03 pm.

    Mr. Tester’s comment

    would seem to be true in light of the polls that indicate Obama only leads Romney by 1% or is behind in some polls. I’m not seeing any evidence that the floundering of his campaign is discouraging people from saying they’ll support him. Of course, voting is something else.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 09/19/2012 - 03:46 pm.

      (quote)President Obama leads


      President Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by 8 points nationally — 51 to 43 percent among likely voters — as the race heads into the final stretch, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.

      Obama’s advantage, particularly among women, blacks and voters younger than 30, puts him “in a strong position compared with past victorious presidential candidates,” Pew reported.

      Obama’s lead at this point in the race, Pew President Andrew Kohut told NPR’s Robert Siegel, is “stronger than the last three winning presidential candidates.” Only Bill Clinton, running in both 1992 and 1996, had bigger leads in mid-September.

      Clinton’s edge over incumbent President George H.W. Bush at this stage in 1992 was 53 to 38 percent; he led Republican Sen. Bob Dole 50 to 48 percent at this stage in 1996. Obama was tied with Republican Sen. John McCain at this point in 2008.

      Pew’s survey of 2,424 registered voters, completed before this week’s flap over Romney’s videotaped “47 percent” comments, showed voters about evenly divided on which candidate they prefer on the issues of jobs and the deficit.

      The survey found, however, that Obama leads Romney on most key issues, including, and “notably,” Kohut says, “health care, Medicare and abortion.”

      Pew also found that Obama’s support is stronger and more positive than Romney’s.

      (end quote)

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/19/2012 - 07:24 pm.


        Pew is a polling outfit appropriately named. Obama leads in all the demographics of people (blacks and voters younger than 30) who, although registered, hardly ever show up to vote. Good luck with that.

        Better stick with Rasmussen, the most accurate pollster in 2008 and 2010.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/19/2012 - 08:00 pm.

    Bush Should Haunt the Republicans for a Very Long Time

    George W. Bush should haunt the Republicans for a long time, just as the Republican Party haunts most of the country. All republicans are complicit in the damage George W. Bush did to our country because they stood absolutely silently by while Bush drove our country off into a financial canyon. The entire Republican Party is still in denial. The only apology the Republicans have offered the country is “We spent too much, let’s move on”. They did far more damage than “We spent too much, let’s move on”. Their talking points have not changed so if elected they will get the same results. Out of stupidity, the word “Compromise” has left the Republican Party. Now they have a presidential candidate that says he is not going to worry about nearly half the country. Voters, the Republicans are sending you a huge message. If you want the results that George W. Bush accomplished, then Mitt is your man. The choice is yours in November.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/20/2012 - 10:09 am.

      Under George W Bush

      Gas prices? $1.89
      Average unemployment over 8 years? 5.4%
      National debt? 2/3 of what it is now
      Home values? $320,000 versus $182,00

      Yup, give me those terrible days once again.

  6. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/20/2012 - 08:22 am.

    Kept us safe?

    I guess if you forget 9/11 and Katrina. No other terrible domestic catastrophes happened under Bush but I think those were enough to remove the “kept us safe” tagline. I’ll leave the open question of whether his foreign policy “kept us safe” to the history books.

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/20/2012 - 01:21 pm.

    Is Dennis Tester right?

    There is always costly clean-up after Republicans. Let’s take away two unpaid-for wars. Take away 10 years of free money for the wealthy with the Bush tax cuts, which were unpaid for. Take away the unpaid-for Medicare Part D. Let’s talk about the Bush Administration shedding 800,000 jobs per month. Take away all of the above and we wouldn’t be in near the trouble we are in today. Where was Mr. Bush during the Republican Convention to hail all his accomplishments? I guess Bush and the rest of the Republicans figure its “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to Bush. Mr. Tester I wouldn’t be too quick to defend Bush as it might hurt your reputation of being right on the money when it comes to politics.

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