Some pundits are reporting that the Republican party lost a very tight race primarily on the basis of Romney’s perceived “insensitivity” to minority groups. Perhaps so, but the internal struggle for ideological clarity within the party may have been Romney’s biggest liability.
At the end of the day, like a black hole sucking up planets and stars, the tea party faction drove the election over the cliff. Emboldened by its knee-jerk success in the 2010 midterm elections, the tea party suddenly put party moderates in a state of political paranoia as its “rock star” adherents threatened to usurp the traditional sensibilities of mainstream Republicans.
In Romney’s defense, he was caught between a rock and a hard place. At heart a moderate conservative, Romney had to gain the support of the ideological far right by presenting himself as a hardliner on a wide range of economic and social issues.
Then, at the eleventh hour, Romney had to shift back toward the middle, and in doing so, came across to many Americans as disingenuous and untrustworthy. His efforts were too little, too late.
The problem was, that after two years of tea party extremism, many Americans grew weary of the “hold the line at all costs” political strategy of the far right and came to realize that important issues of public policy were essentially frozen in partisan intransigence. Moreover, the persuasive argument for increased federal fiscal responsibility was held hostage to a parallel, but entirely irrelevant conservative social agenda that alienated minorities, women, young people and gays.
Political scientists will undoubtedly slice the election dynamics a “thousand ways to Sunday,” but at the end of the day, the majority of Americans live in the middle of the political continuum. Most tend to lean toward fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. It is here that the Republicans need to refresh their “agenda” if they have any hope of capturing the support of the growing numbers of Americans who do not fit the traditional Republican demographic.