Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chuck Muth on why the GOP did poorly

By Chuck Muth
November 10, 2008

(NOTE: This will likely be my last column for a while, so it's a doozy! I'll explain why in a few days, but suffice it to say that real change requires real change, and I'm reassessing the best use of my time and treasure following last Tuesday's elections. Anyway, this baby is a long mama-jama, so just read a little bit of it each day for the next few days to hold you over.)

Now this is poetic justice.

When Republicans settled on John McCain as their presidential nominee last winter, more than a handful of conservatives objected. McCain, after all, was a moderate ("maverick"), not a movement conservative. But conservatives were browbeaten into supporting McCain by invoking the Reagan doctrine, which generally says that someone who is with you 80 percent of the time is your friend, not your enemy.

Well, yesterday NewsMax cited Rush Limbaugh who reportedly cited exit polls which reportedly show that while McCain got 89 percent of the GOP vote, he only received 80 percent of the conservative vote.

So that means conservative voters, who helped cause McCain's defeat by not voting for him last Tuesday, are his friends, not his enemies, right? I mean, it works both ways, right?

In any event, I'm going to turn to my home state of Nevada now, where some local Republicans, not surprisingly, are taking all the wrong lessons from Tuesday's ballot box debacle. And I suspect their admonishments are popping up in your state, as well, so let's look.


To preface this, please know that after EVERY major GOP loss, the media and Republican moderates ALWAYS declare conservative ideology dead and warn ominously that Republicans have to move to the mushy middle if they're ever to have a chance of ever getting elected again.


They made this declaration after Goldwater's defeat in the 1964 presidential race. And all Republicans got for that was.Ronald Reagan.

They declared the same thing after the first President Bush's crushing defeat in 1992 after breaking his "read my lips" tax pledge. And all Republicans got for that was.the historic GOP take-over of Congress just two short years later.

The simple fact is Republicans didn't lose last Tuesday because George Bush, John McCain and congressional Republicans weren't "moderate" enough; Republicans lost because they weren't conservative enough and governed badly. They spent money our grandchildren don't have and just weeks before the national election, larded up a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street while simultaneously taking the first steps toward nationalizing our banking, insurance, real estate and auto industries.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama was campaigning on a platform of cutting taxes and paying for his new programs by eliminating old programs. Hello?

Yet some Nevada GOP leaders are declaring the conservative governing philosophy dead here in the Silver State despite no evidence of such whatsoever.

The truth is Republicans in Nevada lost because the Democrats beat their socks off in the campaign, not because of any seismic ideological shift. They began out-registering Republicans as soon as they moved their presidential caucus to the front of the pack in the summer of 2006. The Democrats never looked back and Republicans never caught up.

Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid, used their presidential caucus to recruit volunteers, organize precincts, establish a "new media" communications network with activists, raise money and register voters. And the Democrat presidential candidates, unlike the Republican presidential candidates - particularly John McCain - supported the caucus and came to Nevada to campaign early and often.

Come election time, Democrats were on the streets, pounding the pavement for their guys and gals, building up huge "early voting" leads Republicans couldn't overcome. The GOP, on the other hand, waited until the final weekend before Election Day to flood phones with "Joyce from the McCain campaign" robo-calls. Pathetic.

Republicans didn't lose because they opposed tax hikes. They lost because they got their butts kicked in the trench warfare of grassroots politics. Plain and simple.


And yet the Las Vegas Sun reported yesterday that Nevada state Sen. Warren Hardy (R-Las Vegas) "thinks Nevadans repudiated the state's small-government libertarian past." Here's the Harry Reid-like "war is lost" eulogy Hardy gave the conservative movement yesterday.

"Nevada has gone in the last two to four years from center-right to center-left and it's not going back. We're a blue state and we're going to continue to be a blue state. If Republicans are going to survive we need to figure out a way to recruit and run candidates who are going to attract Democratic voters."

I've already given multiple examples from last Tuesday's election results to dispel this flapdoodle, but let's take another look at the race involving Hardy's now-former state Senate colleague, Joe Heck.

First, Joe Heck was perceived as, at best, a moderate, not a conservative. In her October 21 column, Las Vegas Review Journal columnist Erin Neff quoted Senate District 5 Democrat voter Marty Smith as saying the following: "Heck doesn't seem like the other Republicans. I stuck with him Republicans go, he's pretty liberal."

Indeed, Heck was first elected to the state Senate four years ago by defeating that right-wing, card-carrying, social and fiscal conservative champion Sen. Ann O'Connell. In other words, Joe Heck was exactly the kind of candidate Warren Hardy maintains Republicans need to run if they're "going to attract Democratic voters" and win.

But a funny thing happened last Tuesday on the way to Mushy Middledom. The "moderate" Joe Heck lost by receiving 46 percent of the vote while his Democrat opponent received 47 percent of the vote.

Now, I went to public schools for a number of years, so maybe my math is off here.but doesn't that add up to 93 percent of the total vote? Why, yes it does. So where did that other 7 percent go? Well, 4 percent of it went to the Libertarian Party candidate in the race and 3 percent of it went to the Independent American Party candidate in the race.

Hmmm. And the LP and IAP are small-government conservative third parties. Go figure.

So in order for Joe Heck to have "survived" last Tuesday, he didn't need to get a single additional Democrat vote to win. All he had to do was get about 200 votes out of the more than 7,500 votes cast for either of the third party "conservative" candidates in the race.

Could he have pulled 200 votes from the two conservative candidates? Absolutely. If he had only bothered to ask for them. He didn't.

Joe Heck didn't lose on Tuesday because he was too far to the Right. He lost because too many on the Right saw no reason to vote for Democrat Lite. It's just that simple.


Next, let's turn to state Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio (R-Reno). In a huge, front-page story in yesterday's Nevada Appeal, Sen. Raggio also declared conservatism in the Republican Party dead.

"My party is going to have to change. It's gone too far to the right. The Republican far right message does not sell. We have to keep our core principles firm, but I'm not going to be an extremist. I'm a conservative in the Reagan mold but I'm not going to be an extremist. (The Republican Party has to) get a good handle on what went wrong (in the election). Otherwise we won't win another election."

So it was the far right extremist candidates who didn't sell, huh?

Republican John McCain (2006 American Conservative Union Rating of just 65) got his $#% kicked in Nevada on Tuesday by 13 points. Was he a far right extremist? No.

Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon (2007 American Conservative Union Rating of just 48) lost on Tuesday. Was he a far right extremist? No.

Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut (2007 American Conservative Union Rating of just 20) lost on Tuesday. Was he a far right extremist? No.

Republican Rep. Jon Porter (2007 American Conservative Union Rating of just 64) lost his congressional seat in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Was he a far right extremist? No.

Republican Nevada state Sen. Joe Heck (see above) lost his seat on Tuesday. Was he a far right extremist? No.

Meanwhile, conservative Republican Rep. Dean Heller (American Conservative Union Rating of 96) - who, unlike his former colleague Porter, voted against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout - whooped his Democrat opponent.

And at the state level, Republican Assemblyman John Marvel - who famously flip-flopped on the largest tax hike in Nevada's history back in 2003 - lost in the GOP primary to far right extremist former Assemblyman Don Gustavson, who went on to capture more than 60 percent of the general election vote last Tuesday.

Hmmm. Seems to me it's the moderates, not the "extremists," who are the tough sell.


Now that we've debunked the myth about "extremist" candidates, let's take a look at the "extremist" issues which Sen. Raggio says don't sell. We'll start with a social issue.

Is opposition to gay marriage an "extreme" position which doesn't sell with the general electorate? If so, then how does Sen. Raggio explain the fact that a ban on gay marriage passed overwhelmingly in Nevada, not once, but twice? And how does he explain gay marriage bans passing last Tuesday in all three states where they appeared on the ballot, including in ultra-liberal CALIFORNIA?

Me, personally, I couldn't care less about gay marriage. Frankly, I think the problem of heterosexual divorce is FAR more damaging to the institution of marriage. But in looking at the issue and how it fares at the ballot box, you can't possibly make the claim that opposition to gay marriage is an "extreme" position in the minds of the electorate or an electoral loser.

Maybe Sen. Raggio is talking about spending restraint when he refers to "extremism." Well, let's look at that.

Two years ago, a citizen initiative was circulated by "extremist" state Sen. Bob Beers (R-Retired) which would have limited spending increases to the rate of population growth plus inflation. That petition was signed by more than 150,000 Nevada voters - Republican and Democrat alike - before the state Supreme Court kicked it off the ballot over a typo.

150,000 citizen signatures.

Seems to me this effort at fiscal responsibility enjoys widespread public support and is anything but "extreme."

And by the way, during the last two sessions, while in control of the state Senate, Sen. Raggio has blocked this common-sense, fiscally-responsible, popular measure from even getting to the floor for a vote. Some might consider THAT extreme.


How about taxes? Do Nevada voters think opposition to tax hikes is "extreme"? And is promising the voters that you won't raise their taxes an electoral loser?


Back in 2006, Jim Gibbons pledged to the voters of Nevada that he would oppose and veto any effort to raise taxes if elected governor. And despite scandals out the ying-yang leading up to Election Day, voters voted for this "extremist." And truth be told, the ONLY shot Gibbons possibly has for re-election is if he keeps his promise. If he breaks his "no new taxes" pledge, he's toast.

But let's take a look at this issue as it played out last Tuesday.

Question 4 on the statewide ballot asked Nevada voters if they wanted to allow the Legislature to change the "Sales & Use Tax Act" without a vote of the people, which many rightly saw as a first step toward taxing the Internet. It was crushed, 73 percent to 27 percent.

Question 1 on the Carson City ballot asked for a mere 1/8th of 1 percent hike in the sales tax for a tourist railroad project billed by proponents as critical for economic development. It was crushed by 61 percent to 39 percent.

Question 2 on the Carson City ballot asked for a property tax hike for cops and firefighters. It was crushed worse than the V&T railroad question - 69 percent to 31 percent.

Let's look in Sen. Raggio's own backyard.

Question 1 in Washoe County would have raised sales and vehicle taxes for the public school district. It was crushed 55 percent to 45 percent.

Question 2 in Washoe County would have raised the sales tax a mere 1/8th of 1 percent for public transportation. It was crushed 64 percent to 36 percent.

Question 4 in Washoe County would have raised property taxes for fire protection. It lost 52 percent to 48 percent.

To be fair, two other advisory questions in Clark and Washoe counties which called for a hike in the room tax passed. But bear in mind, that's a (misguided and self-defeating) tax penalty which will be passed on to our tourists, not a tax hike on Nevadans.

So, tell me again how opposing tax hikes is somehow "extreme" and "too far to the right" for Republicans to get elected? Because the election results show that Nevadans don't want their taxes raised.and even Sen. Raggio knows this.

Indeed, in his primary race just this last July, Sen. Raggio said, and I quote, "This is not the time to start talking about raising taxes. It is something we can't even consider." I guess this make Sen. Raggio himself an "extremist."


Of course, now that the election is over, Sen. Raggio doesn't want to be an "extremist" any longer and is singing a different tune. The day after the general election he reportedly told Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Anjeanette Damon that it will be "almost impossible" to construct a budget next year with existing tax revenue and, therefore, tax hikes are "on the table."

Let me repeat.

In July Sen. Raggio said tax hikes were something "we can't even consider."

After the election, three short months later, Sen. Raggio now says tax hikes are "on the table."


And we don't even get cab fare home.

Unfortunately, Sen. Raggio isn't alone in hopping on the deck and flopping like a fish.

As noted earlier, Gov. Gibbons made and signed the following promise to the voters of Nevada before they elected him governor in 2006.

"I, Jim Gibbons, pledge to the taxpayers of Nevada, and all the people of this State, that I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes."

But that was then. This is now.

On Friday, Gov. Gibbons flip-flopped and, like Sen. Raggio, said tax hikes were now "on the table."

"We are going to have to look at some of our revenue (sources) and see if (raising them) is an option," Gibbons told reporters, adding that tax increases alone will not make up the budget deficit; that some cuts will still be necessary. "You need a combination," he said.

Yet, that "combination" somehow doesn't appear to include laying off government workers. While non-essential private sector workers are losing their jobs in herds, Gov. Gibbons, for some reason, thinks Nevada's non-essential government workers should be immune to layoffs.

Easier to just raise taxes, I guess. Good grief.

It's easy to promise not to raise taxes in times of plenty. What separates the men from the boys is whether you stick with your word when the going gets tough. As he has before, it appears Gov. Gibbons is again "going wobbly" on us just when his steadfast resolve is needed most.


In defending his flip-flop in light of the budget crunch, Gibbons also said last week, "Nobody could have foreseen this. Nobody."

Au contraire.

Former Gov. Kenny Guinn saw it coming a mile away. He predicted this $1 billion-plus shortfall LONG ago, but no one listened. Indeed, he warned the Legislature not to spend the surplus from the $833 million tax hike in 2003 on new programs.but they didn't listen. And he called on the Legislature to address the looming financial time-bomb posed by government employee retirement and health care benefits.but they didn't listen.

Now look where we are.

And by the way, does anyone else remember back in 2003 when then-Rep. Jim Gibbons scolded then-Gov. Kenny Guinn for pushing his $704 million tax hike instead of cutting $704 million from the budget? Where exactly are those $704 million worth of budget cuts Gibbons said were in the budget five years ago?

Factoring in just a conservative six percent increase per year for population growth and inflation, that $704 million worth of budget cuts should be worth about $950 million today.just about the amount of the current budget deficit. Shouldn't Gov. Gibbons make the cuts he told Gov. Guinn to make before even remotely considering raising taxes, especially in a recession?

Or at least apologize to Gov. Guinn?

And shouldn't we at least zero out the Nevada Arts Council before we start talking about raising taxes, especially in a recession?

And if "everything is on the table," shouldn't we be talking about the $500-million-per-year offer on the table from Sen. Jim Inhofe (Republican extremist-Oklahoma) in exchange for Yucca Mountain? Doesn't "everything" mean "everything"? I mean, is "everything" on the table.or not? And if not, why not? Inquiring minds wanna know.


Serious question here, folks:

Do you think voters in 2010 will be mad at Republicans who stand firm against tax hikes, such as the ones voters overwhelmingly crushed last Tuesday - or Republicans who flip-flop around on the tax issue, telling us one thing while they try to get elected and another thing afterward?

Yeah, me too.

Hardy and Raggio and the mainstream media are just plain wrong. Conservatism isn't dead. Fiscal responsibility and opposition to tax hikes aren't electoral losers. The fact is Republicans have articulated their conservative philosophy to the electorate badly (primarily by being inconsistent and wishy-washy on it), governed while in the majority badly, and campaigned for office up and down the ticket this year badly.

The 2008 election wasn't a rejection of conservatism; it was a rejection of Republicans who rejected conservatism.

Particularly in Washington, it wasn't that limited-government conservatism was a bad product; it was that Bush and congressional Republicans operated it wrong. A Rolls Royce is, obviously, a great product. But if you're driving down the highway at 70 miles per house and suddenly shift from "Drive" to "Park," you're in for a world of hurt. Of course, it wouldn't be because the product was bad; it would be because you tried to get it to do something it wasn't intended to do.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the problem with "big government conservatism."

In addition, Republicans have been really, really, REALLY lousy at marketing conservatism to the public.

For those of you who still remember the late 70s, the superior product on the day was BETA video tapes. But the folks with VHS did a far better job of marketing their product. Thus, until the DVD was invented (did Al Gore have anything to do with that?), we all rented VHS videos from Blockbuster, not BETAs.

The GOP doesn't need a new philosophy; it needs a better marketing campaign - including better spokesmen other than non-conservatives such as George Bush and John McCain.

One final thought on this subject.

Marketing guru Robert Allen tells the story of a book featuring a compilation of classic literature stories which were boiled down to just two pages each. The book was titled "Condensed Classics." And it bombed.

Then some genius took the EXACT same book, re-titled it "The Great American Bathroom Book," and the thing FLEW off the shelves.

So I guess my final (for now) piece of advice for Republicans would be: Forget this crap about going to the middle and go to the bathroom instead!

Until we meet again.

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