Rosen: GOP Message Out of Fashion

At the Independence Institute’s banquet November 13, Mike Rosen offered his thoughts on why the Republican Party got trounced. While he provided useful historical perspective, he didn’t begin to explain what went wrong with the Republican Party.

While Rosen essentially blamed GOP losses on the spirit of the era, in fact the GOP has actively alienated a variety of voting blocks, and that goes a lot further in explaining why the GOP is now in disarray. To summarize my case, the GOP alienated the free-market wing, nonsectarians, most women of reproductive age, immigrants, homosexuals (and by extension most younger voters), and civil libertarians.

Rosen blamed the mortgage crisis on the “perfidy of some capitalists” as well as the ill effects of certain government controls. This is “not in indictment of capitalism, [but] an indictment of human nature.” But there is nothing inherent in “human nature” that makes people turn to central economic controls; that’s a result of political philosophy. In general, Rosen avoided discussions of the importance of ideas and focused on the forced of history.

Rosen said, “I understand the limitation of markets, the imperfection of markets.” This comment contained two confusions. First, the “market” is merely the combination of individual actors. People can and do make mistakes. The “market” is largely the process by which people respond to and correct mistakes, such as by a businesses going bankrupt. Second, Rosen fails to distinguish between the free market and the government controls that caused the crisis (as well as the private fraud that contributed to it).

“Capitalism and rugged individualism are marginally out of [favor] right now,” Rosen continued. Perhaps, but it doesn’t help that the Republican Party generally has done everything in its power to foster that trend. So it’s not as though people are rejecting the GOP because it stands for capitalism; many rejected the GOP because it has rejected capitalism.

The Libertarian Party did poorly, Rosen argued, because its notions of “rugged individualism and independence” are “too rigorous.” But this doesn’t begin to explain the failure of the LP. This year the party was fractured, and Ron Paul endorsed another candidate. More importantly, the LP typically stands against government, not for liberty, so the party understandably frightens away many voters. (Of course our winner-take-all system favors two parties.)

Rosen’s advice for Republicans is to “return to their Reaganite roots… We don’t change our beliefs, but we have to better communicate those beliefs.” It would help if the GOP had some decent beliefs to communicate. The GOP is currently the party of the religious right. The GOP does not need to better communicate those beliefs, it needs to jettison them completely. Furthermore, the GOP needs to jettison the massive-government “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush as well as the nationalistic, anti-liberty fervor of John McCain. Let us not forget, ever, that John McCain is an enemy of free speech, and as such he richly deserved to lose.

Rosen said Republicans “won’t win until the American people are ready to hear our message.” No. The Republican Party won’t win until it is ready to offer the American people a message of liberty.

See the collected posts about the Independence Institute’s 2008 banquet.