Last Tuesday, around 9 PM, conservatives began to ask two questions:
The first question is irrelevant. Win by a lot, win by a little - the office goes to the first one who gets 270 electoral votes. If a candidate is beaten very badly, his career may also end quickly. Few conservatives will care if McCain retires from the Senate.
The second question is important because answering it can provide a solution for the next time around. Scragged has talked about the GOP's low expectations. Everyone now knows for sure that the Congressional swing in 2006 was for real. The GOP is dying; if they plan on having any solutions for the next time, they need to answer the second question, could any other Republican have beaten Mr. Obama?
It's hard to pick one thing that Mr. Obama did uniquely well. His campaign was as ideologically unified as it was geographically wide spread. Biden contradicted a few campaign talking points, but everyone expected Biden to be a barrel of gaffes and ignored him accordingly.
At the very beginning of the 2008 primaries, Slate magazine asked "Do Conservatives Understand the Internet?" Their point was that, up to that moment, Democrats seemed to rule cyberspace. John Edwards had raised $24 million through several donation-machine websites and Obama was also beginning to set up his online kingdom.
Then came Ron Paul. His supporters swarmed in so quickly that virtually every poll, survey and political forum was clogged with their accolades. Blogs turned off their comment areas. Polls were taken down.
Some speculated that Digg.com began banning Ron Paul articles and keywords from being submitted, a credible charge given some of the other things they've banned. His ground troops were pounding the streets long before anyone had heard of a Yeswiccan. The surge of online activism with people passing out literature in the streets became synonymous with Ron Paul's campaign.
On November 5 last year, Ron Paul blew away all Internet fundraising records with $4.2 million dollars raised in 24 hours. Mr. Obama had record days too, but most of his records were not Internet-only hauls. On September 4, Mr. Obama set an all-time record of $10 million contributed in one day, but a great deal of that came from dinner guests and call-in contributors, and by that point, Ron Paul's campaign was long over.
No one knows just how much Ron Paul would have brought in had he received the GOP nomination. As an outsider - only relying on internet fame - he raised millions. As an insider, properly sanctioned, selected and promoted by the GOP and with his foot soldiers firing up the Republican base, it is rational to assume he would have demolished Mr. Obama's fund raising records too.
By the time Hollywood came out in support of Mr. Obama, celebrities had already been stumping for Ron Paul in California. Jay Leno, Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck and others were highly congratulatory of the Paul campaign and made public endorsements on shows that they appeared on. Hollywood will accept a libertarian Republican if he's more libertarian than Republican.
Everyone agrees that Mr. Obama speaks well, but most people also agree that he doesn't usually say anything useful - in other words, he says a lot of eloquent nothing. McCain didn't speak well, but he had lots of useful experience.
Ron Paul exuded both. On the campaign trail, voters came far and near to him speak on economics, the Iraq War and civil liberties. His favorite phrase was "Freedom sells itself. People like hearing about freedom."
His personal record was more consistent than anyone in the House and dates back to 1976 (McCain wasn't first elected until 1982; Obama was 15 years old in 1976). On health care - an increasingly relevant issue - Dr. Paul could speak for hours, drawing from his first-hand experience as an obstetrician, gynecologist, and Air Force flight surgeon.
My conservative friends say "But Ron Paul opposes the Iraq War!" So does Mr. Obama. Given that both candidates would have been against the war, this would have presented voters without a different opinion.
In the end, polls showed overwhelmingly that the economy was the major issue of the campaign, not the Iraq War. Furthermore, the many fiscally-conservative Democrats who opposed the war would have had even more incentive to cross the aisle.
Future historians will say that the September 2008 investment bank crash and corresponding bailout proposals were the last nails in George Bush's legacy. They will be largely right. Those historians will note that both Obama and McCain, as well as the entire mainstream media, promoted the bailout proposals voraciously, gorging on their own rhetoric of worry and woe.
Hopefully, those historians will also note the fact that the vast majority of the American public opposed the bailout... as did Ron Paul. Even into the twilight hours of the third proposal, voters were furiously calling major media outlets, such as Fox News and CNN, berating the bailout as socialist and anti-American. Some polls showed upwards of 80% opposition to using the people's money to bail out the fat cats who'd messed up so royally.
Ron Paul's anti-Iraq and anti-bailout stance would have helped the Republicans win the election. His stances were heartfelt, based on decades of writing and speaking that backed up the values he promoted. His denunciation of the bailout would not have been seen as last-minute pandering. His personal writing archives show dozens of essays against corporate welfare; his dislike of funding fat cats goes back to the Reagan administration.
Ron Paul wasn't a foot-soldier of the Reagan Revolution - he was its advance scout, calling for the Revolution to conquer more ground than Reagan dared to attempt!
A recent political cartoon showed McCain's spaceship struggling to take off because George Bush is hanging onto the back. In our opinion, this is the largest single reason McCain lost.
In Washington, one can tell how disliked a politician is by how fast his friends disappear. The only thing more important than money to a politician is votes. Friends are far less important than either.
No matter how many millions McCain spent promising the center that his maverick-isms would work, his own words promoting George Bush's record (felicitously running in Obama ads) rang far more true.
Anyone interested in the facts can see that Ron Paul has more right to the term "maverick" than John McCain has. Dr. Paul voted against the GOP, against the Democrats, against everyone - year after year, never caring whether his caucus seat was warm.
Obama liked to say that he was "against the Iraq War before it was popular", but Ron Paul was too, and it was significantly harder to be against the Iraq War in 2003 as a Republican in Congress than as a Democratic state representative from extreme-leftist Hyde Park.
With respect to "being like Bush", consider the following:
One could easily suggest that Mr. Obama is closer to George Bush and the Washington status quo than Ron Paul is. Imagine seeing TV ads playing that message over and over!
Mr. Obama outspent McCain 4 to 1, mainly with TV ads. The content of those ads were apt - McCain was Bush 2.0. But what would Obama ads have said against Ron Paul?
Ron Paul doesn't care about your children? He personally delivered them. Ron Paul doesn't care about the poor? No rebuttal needed; American society, and its history, offers plenty of natural evidence against such notions.
Those that only planned on voting against Bush would have been faced with parallels between Bush and Mr. Obama, not Bush and Paul.
Conservative voters that aren't swayed by "the lesser of two evils" fallacy have been distancing themselves from the Republican Party for several decades. Barry Goldwater was demolished by LBJ in the 1964 election but his political agenda was a major factor in creating, promoting and installing the Reagan Doctrine two decades later. Modern libertarians invoke Goldwater's name the same way blacks invoke Dr. King.
In the 2008 election, Goldwater Republicans didn't consider McCain to be a conservative, much less intend to vote for him. They trumpeted Ron Paul so loudly that the mainstream media was forced to recognize and cover the campaign of a man whose congressional career was virtually unknown.
Two months ago, I attended a seminar on "Effective Political Warfare" hosted by two longtime Republican activists and organizers. Some of the seminar revolved around their marketing techniques, but most of the time was spent excoriating the "sell out" RINOs in Washington.
These party faithful, who have made a career of doing the dirty work required by political elections, spent several hours dressing down the Republican Party so thoroughly that random walk-ins would have thought it was a Streisand concert. These are the impassioned foot soldiers that the GOP has lost.
Did they support Ron Paul? No, because he wasn't the nominee and they clearly understood the practical truth that third-party candidates don't win in the American system. But had he been the nominee, their enthusiasm would have been worlds different.
Elsewhere, the libertarian movement is growing at a frenetic pace. A recent Time article posited that the political spectrum will soon become a different sort of dichotomy: communitarians versus libertarians. Time says that religious overtures will settle into background noise as voters see either economic freedom or socialism as the ultimate truth.
Republican and Libertarian voters used to feel a strong affinity for each other because each group knew that the other side could be trusted on the "important stuff." For instance, each side might have a different view on what method of tax collection was best, but both agreed that the IRS was man's worst enemy. That was good enough.
Now, libertarian voters feel that the Republicans are robbing them just as much as the Democrats. The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
Conservatives had 9 out of 10 reasons to vote for Ron Paul; Liberals had 3 out of 10. Conservatives had only 5 out of 10 reasons to vote for McCain; Liberals had none. McCain got the "lesser of two evils" crowd and nothing more, but that was 45% of the electorate.
It's long been considered received wisdom that elections are won at the center. Both of the two parties can count on the votes of a third of the electorate each, so they must fight over the third in the middle.
The two victories of George W. Bush and the defeat of John McCain show that to be false: party nominees cannot automatically count on their base. McCain's base, even after his inspired selection of Palin as his running mate, never warmed to him to the point that they'd move mountains.
There is a good reason why we have political primaries: it is absolutely essential for the base to feel that the nominee is their choice, and primary victories are the way to do that. In a bizarre fluke of the system, though, McCain wasn't the victor so much as the survivor; that is decidedly not the same thing. In fact, he probably would have been the last choice of a majority of Republican primary voters.
Mr. Obama, clearly, was the first choice of almost half (at the least) of Democrats, and "not a bad choice" for most of the rest. That allowed him to tack back to the center enough to seduce the rest of the country.
Would Ron Paul have had the same problem with his base? Hardly: he offered, to conservatives of virtually every stripe, a platform which is awful on one issue and fantastic on everything else, as distinct from McCain who was lousy on several issues, barely passable on most of the rest, and really good only on the war on terrorism, with exceptions even there. The various corners of conservatism might have disagreed on exactly which of Ron Paul's positions was the awful one, but the fervor he inspired cannot be denied.
The Republican Party is tearing itself apart over this dreadful defeat and starting to fight the primary war of 2012 right now. Must we choose Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin? How about Mike Huckabee?
We say, how about Dr. Ron Paul? In 2010 and in 2012, the Republicans will be fighting from so far behind that they aren't even in the same stadium as the reigning socialists. Is there any American politician on either side with the same track record of success against the Entire World as the good doctor has?
We can anoint "the next in line" and let him go down to honorable defeat, as with Bob Dole in 1996, and steel ourselves for the forthcoming Romney Viagra commercials. Or, we can decide to take a gamble and try something really different.
What's the worst that can happen? We lose - but then, we're losing anyway.