Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center blamed conservatives for the Republican Party’s troubles in an op-ed for the Washington Post. Ironically, his own data show that the U.S. shifted in a more conservative direction in the years since President Barack Obama. The problem is not, as Kohut suggests, that the Republican Party is too conservative, but that the establishment of the Republican Party has failed to reflect and lead that conservatism.
Kohut acknowledges a “conservative tide of opinion” across the nation on almost every major issue. He also notes growing support for limited government: “Perhaps the most far-reaching change we observed in 2009 concerned the size and role of government….[A] clear trend of increasing public support for the social safety net that we’d seen during the George W. Bush presidency reversed itself within months of Obama taking office.
And yet Kohut subscribes to the mainstream media narrative: that “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives has become a dominant force on the right.” He adds the gratuitous and entirely false charge of racism: “To the conservative base, Obama, as an African American in the White House, may be a symbol of how America has changed.” The resulting “racial-political polarization,” he says, is reinforced by conservative media.
The “staunch conservatives” in the party, Kohut argues, “keep the party out of the White House.” He does not account for the fact that both Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (2008) and Mitt Romney (2012) were moderates who won the GOP nomination but lost the general election. He merely points out “popular support for legalizing same-sex marriage and giving illegal immigrants opportunities for citizenship” and implies conservative resistance doomed the GOP.
Kohut’s entire argument is a non sequitur. He acknowledges that the nation has become more conservative. If the Republican Party had indeed become more conservative, that ought to have been reflected in its political success–and it was in 2010, when the candidates were conservative. But the GOP failed in 2012, after conservatives were shunted aside in Congress and Romney was touted as the only candidate who could win.
The obvious conclusion is that the Republican Party is not conservative enough for the American electorate. A Breitbart News/Judicial Watch exit poll revealed that while voters prefer conservative positions, they do not trust the Republican Party to carry out those preferences. Similar results have been repeated in other polls, such as a poll by The Hill this week that shows voters prefer Republican policies–until they are told they are Republican.
Kohut’s prescription is for Republicans to “appeal to the mixed values of the electorate.” That reflects the view of the D.C. establishment. On Monday, leading Republicans released a long-awaited “autopsy” on the party’s 2012 performance that calls for Republicans to adopt “a more welcoming conservatism” that includes “comprehensive immigration reform,” among other policies. It also called for an expanded central party bureaucracy in DC.
That is precisely the approach that has led Republicans to failure. Democrats have won by embracing the exact opposite approach. What about the Obama campaign–either in 2008 or 2012–appealed to the “mixed values” of the electorate? Obama offered a purer, more authentic liberalism–and voters flocked to it. He lost moderates in 2012, but still won re-election by motivating his base with a renewed commitment to a left-wing policy program.
The media played a major role in propelling Obama to victory, both times–and Kohut understands the media even less than he understands Pew’s own polls, apparently. He knocks conservative media for attracting a highly conservative audience, then asserts: “There is nothing like this on the left.” Yet a Pew study released just this week shows that MSNBC is more skewed towards opinion over news than any other network, including Fox.
Conservative media do not create a bubble–rather, they are the antidote to a left-wing bubble that extends far beyond MSNBC and includes most of the mainstream media. Fox draws huge audiences because it is the only conservative game in town, whereas liberals have a wide variety of alternatives that reflect their own biases. The unabashed worship of Obama among many mainstream journalists has polarized the media and the nation.
Kohut is correct that “the Republican Party is estranged from America.” But that is not conservatives’ fault. It is the result of the party establishment’s refusal to heed the growing frustrations of Americans–liberal and conservative–with big government. Kohut’s prescription is that the Republican Party should continue to ignore the ideas and voters that are responsible for its few recent successes. The GOP should ignore him instead.