The Republicans are doomed. Conservatism is over. President Barack Obama is conducting a mop-up operation at this point. Thats the basic consensus in places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and other citadels of blue America.
By JONAH GOLDBERG
Tribune Media Services
And lets be fair, liberals have every reason to gloat a little. The GOP has its troubles. Long-term demographic trends; often-irrational animosity from Hollywood, the media and academia; a thumbless grasp of the culture on the part of many Republicans: All of these things create a headwind for the party and the conservative movement.
But heres the weird part. Thats true of presidential politics, but less so when it comes to state politics or even other federal races. In 2010, the GOP had its best performance in congressional races since 1938.
In North Carolina, a state that is supposed to represent the trends benefiting Democrats its attracting liberal northern transplants, immigrants, high-tech workers, etc. the GOP now has veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate. Last year, North Carolina became the 30th state with a GOP governor.
There are a lot of possible explanations. Obama is more popular than his party. Mitt Romney was less popular than the ideas he had such a hard time expressing. Presidential electorates are different.
This last one is definitely true. The 2010 electorate was older and whiter. The Obama coalition of 2012 included younger voters, minorities and so-called low-information voters.
No matter the merits of these observations, they dont fully explain why Republicans are doing so well on the policy front. In states as diverse as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and a half-dozen others, the GOP has implemented impressive reforms.
In pro-Obama Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker beat back a historic attack from organized labor. And Michigan Michigan! recently became a right-to-work state.
I think an overlooked part of the story is the fact that Americans tend to see federal and local governments differently. At the local level, people seem to have a better grasp that its their tax dollars at work. They are far more sensitive to tax increases and more easily outraged by spending boondoggles.
At the local level, this fact benefits Republicans, although state-level Democrats tend to be more fiscally responsible as well. (Rahm Emanuel is far more fiscally responsible as Chicagos mayor than he ever was as Obamas chief of staff.)
Meanwhile, what gets Republicans elected at the local level gets them in trouble at the federal level. Again, there are many reasons for this. But I think one of them is that weve come to see the federal government as some sort of mystical entity empowered to right all of the wrongs in society. If theres a problem, there should be a federal response.
While Romneys infamous riff about the 47 percent was profoundly flawed, the simple reality is that millions of people who do, in fact, pay federal income taxes do not care about those tax dollars the same way they care about their local tax dollars.
Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, talk about their visions for America, as if the job requires you to impose some quasi-religious vision on the country.
But the Democrats are simply better at talking about government in spiritual terms. They talk about the federal government doing things wed want God to do if God dabbled in public policy. They use the logic of religion, which holds that there is a unitary nature to all good things, and therefore no good thing government does should come at the expense of some other good thing government might do. And, worst of all, they castigate anyone who opposes more spending on, say, the children or the environment as morally retrograde and against children and against the environment.
The challenge for Republicans is to convince voters that the government isnt magic, and that all of its money is your money, its debts your debts. I dont think the GOP is doomed, but America might be if Americans remain unconvinced too much longer.