I have a prediction, though not a particularly prescient one. Minnesota Republicans will say they lost the election because of bad candidates. Mitt Romney, Kurt Bills, and the Tea Party-supported freshmen legislators were all just bad candidates, they will say.
“Victory has a thousand fathers, and defeat is an orphan,” as John F. Kennedy observed, and in the coming days a lot of Republican candidates will be orphaned.
But for their own good, Republican leaders need to objectively ponder this question: Bad candidates, or bad policies?
After all, on a policy level, Mitt Romney made himself into everything the Republican Party activists demanded of him. He could not have been more ideologically obedient. He flipped on banning abortion for them. He flopped on Romneycare/Obamacare for them. He flipped on assault rifle bans for them. He flopped on the minimum wage for them. He flipped on stem cell research for them. He flopped on amnesty for undocumented workers for them.
This move toward being what Romney himself described as “severely conservative” was demanded by the extremist ideologues controlling the Republican Party these days. With Romney now having lost to an embattled incumbent burdened by a long-suffering economy, is the bigger problem really Romney’s relative political skills, or the party ideas that Mitt was forced to espouse?
Likewise, the Minnesota Republican Party picked Kurt Bills, arguably the most conservative candidate in the field, to run against incumbent U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar. Bills was joined at the hip with fringe presidential candidate Ron Paul, who backs the legalization of heroin and hookers. Mr. Bills made a name for himself in the Minnesota Legislature by suggesting, I kid you not, that Minnesota have its own currency.
The Tea Party right demanded Bills, they got him, and he won just 31% of the vote. Who knew, but it turns out that Minnesotans weren’t craving their own currency after all. So is the bigger problem really that Mr. Bills failed in the mechanics of campaigning, or that Minnesotans rejected the extreme ideas that Mr. Bills and the Minnesota Republican Party are embracing these days?
And then there is the GOP-controlled Minnesota Legislature that was swept into office in the 2010 wave election. The freshman-dominated GOP-controlled Legislature insisted on an unbalanced approach to closing the budget shortfall, against public wishes. The GOP legislators’ undying fealty to the tax pledge police caused them to shut down state services, and ultimately to use school budgets as their personal ATM. They frittered their time in office dreaming up divisive constitutional amendments that voters rejected. They compared children on Food Stamps to wild animals. All of this led them to having the approval of just 17% Minnesotans, making them the least popular Minnesota Legislature on record.
So, again, was the bigger problem that every last one of these freshmen legislators lacked campaigning skills, or was it the ideas and values they espoused?
Keep in mind, this should have been a fantastic year for Republicans. We’ve slogged through high unemployment over four difficult years, and people are understandably weary and worried. At the same time, Democrats needed to do some very politically risky things, such as rescuing the auto and financial services industries, passing a stimulus bill during a time of high deficits and passing the most sweeping health care reform law in American history.
Against all odds, in the midst of this electoral hellscape for Democrats, the Republicans lost big. Now they are left to sort whether they lost this golden opportunity because their leaders weren’t sufficiently talented campaigners, or because they weren’t sufficiently temperate leaders.
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