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Stuart Stevens and the Republican Party; An Exercise in Wishful Thinking?

Updated on March 1, 2013

Stuart Stevens recently wrote a column in The Washington Post, and it was intended to give some sound advice to the Republican Party. It is a poignant sign of how dire the Republican Party's situation seems, when it needs to take the advice of the manager of Mitt Romney's 2012 Presidential Campaign Team. It is even worse for Republicans when some of that advice is actually worth listening too.

There are some serious problems I have with Stevens's column, but before those are addressed, here are the things that are factually accurate and make for some good advice.

Stevens writes; "There seems to be a desire to blame Republicans' electoral difficulties and the Romney campaign's loss on technological failings. I wish this were the problem, because it would be easy to solve. But it's not." This is true. Stevens adds; "The "tech gap" is being pushed by some as a larger indication of the issue of Republicans being seen as old and out of date." I wouldn't go so far as to call this a fact, but I do agree with Stevens's assertion, if only because Republicans are seen as "old" and "out of date" in other ways as well. Stevens is pretty much correct in his thinking. It is true that the Democrats practically squashed the Republicans in terms of technology, but as Stevens says later, Obama "didn't win because he won the Facebook wars; he won the Facebook wars because he was winning."

Stevens also does not shy away from addressing the demographic divide facing Republicans. He correctly states that Romney won elderly voters and lost young ones. He attributes this to the elderly voters concerns about the economy, versus the younger voters concerns about social issues, especially gay marriage and contraception. In his own words; "I don't think it's very controversial to suggest that a candidate who favors gay marriage and free contraception might have more appeal to a younger demographic."

Stevens also makes the following connection; "Content is king." He goes on; "A Republican renaissance will inevitably be driven by policy." Quite right. It is good to hear that Stevens does not buy into the absurd idea that Republicans can win by merely toning down their rhetoric to include sweeter sounding language, and more pleasant sounding verbs. No, according to Stevens, Republicans must offer policies that a "majority of Americans" accept and support.

So, Democrats won because of their support for social issues dear to young people, and, as a result, won the "Facebook wars." In order for Republicans to do well again, they must offer policies that have popular support.That summaries Stevens's position very well, and it is a pretty accurate position. Stevens has done his homework on one of the reasons why his candidate lost, and has come to the right conclusions. Unfortunately, this advice is followed by a few paragraphs of wishful thinking, and this advice will not be helpful to Republicans in 2016.

Stevens first seems to assume (hope?) that the Democrats "seem headed toward a fight between Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Both launched their careers in the 1970's; what will their slogan be. "Another century of service?" It would seem that this is something Stevens desperately wants to happen, but he is still not justified in making a potentially faulty leap of logic. Neither Clinton nor Biden has actually yet said that they were running for President in 2016, so, by definition, it doesn't "seem" as if they are headed towards anything. It is, of course, entirely possible that Clinton might decide to run for President, and, as the most popular public figure in the country, she would be a formidable opponent. But, while all of us Democrats love Joe Biden, none of us can imagine him in the White House, unless, of course, something were to happen to the current President. So, by what logic does Stevens assume that Clinton and Biden seem "headed toward a fight?"

This statement also ignores the fact that there are other rising stars within the Democratic Party; Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick and Julian Castro, for example. But at this point, to say that any one of these men (or woman, in Clinton's case) may run for President is entirely guesswork, because none of them, to my knowledge, has announced their candidacy.

After Stevens is finished with his crystal-ball gazing, he makes another leap of faith. This time it is that "on our side, we have Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Susana Martinez and more." But here's the problem with Stevens touching faith; Ryan, Haley and Rubio are popular among conservatives, but not among the general population. To see how well they would do, they need to actually run. Jeb Bush has that unfortunate last name dragging behind him, and no one in Virginia, at least, seems to know who, exactly, Susana Martinez is. (Martinez is the Governor of New Mexico, for those not in the know.) Of this list of names, only Christie, who is currently out of favor with conservatives for talking sweet about the President, seems like a remotely strong candidate.

So, let's look at the conclusions Stevens has drawn, the good and the bad. He says that there exists a generational divide between Republicans and everyone else. Republicans could do a bit more studying up on their tech skills, and they need new, better content with which to tempt voters. Then, he assumes that either Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden, will run in 2016. He believes that their long careers will hold them back, presumably because of that American distrust of the "Washington insider," even though Clinton is the most popular public figure in the country. Then, after admitting that young people are more likely to be supportive of gay marriage and contraception, Stevens names Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio as candidates who would "win the generational battle," even though none of them supports gay marriage or contraception.

It all sounds like wishful thinking to me.


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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      You are right, Nathan. The possible Republican candidates are all off message. The one Democrats should fear is Gov. Chris Christie. He has his flaws but he could upset the Democratic electoral map.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 4 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      Not sure if I agree with the gist of this. One reason Romney lost is that he was seen by Republicans as a squish, a moderate with no appeal to right at all. That he got as many votes as he did simply means conservatives liked him somewhat better than they did the president. Very similar to McCain, actually, a moderate republican who could not rally the party. Republicans seem to only win when the run to the right. But in the last election all of the more right-wing candidates had too many flaws to make them viable, so Romney won more or less by default. Just my take on it, for whatever it is worth.

    • Nathan Orf profile image
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      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      HSneider,

      Thank you for commenting. I agree with you about Christie. No matter who runs against him, he would be a tough opponent to beat.

    • Nathan Orf profile image
      Author

      Nathan Orf 4 years ago from Virginia

      tmbridgeland,

      Thank you for commenting, and I think it is worth a lot. I agree that Romney's conservative credentials were in question throughout the campaign. He might have talked the talk at times, and quite frequently, even, but he just didn't seem to fit in comfortably with the far right. However, I do question whether his lack of conservatism lost him the election.

      For one thing, the surge he experienced in the polls after the first debate came after he had made a beeline for the moderate center. That suggests that he was being taken as a serious alternative to Obama by moderates who were still concerned about the economy. What ultimately did Romney in was that people just didn't like him all that well, or thought that he related to them in any way.

      In regards to Stevens, I think what he wrote contradicted itself. He admitted that young people are more likely to support same sex marriage and contraception. Then, as an alternative to capture the youth vote, he suggested Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio and other candidates who oppose same sex marriage and contraception. It doesn't add up.

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