April 5 2013
Stuart Stevens is the former chief strategist for the Romney campaign. He has just joined Tina Brown’s stable of reasonably presentable conservatives as a columnist at Ms. Brown’s The Daily Beast. I wish Stevens well—he’s a gifted writer and hails from my native state.
But I am afraid I must be beastly about Stuart’s recent column on guns and gays. To read it is to understand why the Romney campaign’s strategy did not survive first contact with the enemy. If you read this column, you will recall anew that, when accused of giving a woman cancer, Mitt Romney professed himself “disappointed” that anybody would make such a dastardly charge.
Stuart actually makes some good points about the issues at hand, guns and gays. “One might argue that [the issues of guns and gays] are wildly different discussions, though mandatory background checks and waiting periods for marriage, straight or gay, might be worth considering,” Stuart writes. I quite agree that we’d all benefit if we could slow down these rushing trains. But I also wish I could come up with a response more encouraging than, “Fat chance, Stu.”
What is so poignant (and infuriating) is that, after being bloodied and run circles around by the ruthless and determined Obama campaign, Stevens persists in believing that, golly, if we calm down and aren’t rude to one another, we can solve these danged problems. Stuart is dismayed that what should have been a Socratic dialogue has degenerated into “desperate anger” with manifestations of an “almost willful contempt.”
It is that “almost” that tugs at my heart. Stuart must have missed some of the ruder protests in front of the Supreme Court as that venerable body began to address the issue of gays and marriage. But I am being too kind. Let's face it--it takes willful blindness to ignore the fullness of the contempt the left showers on those who dare to disagree with them. There’s no “almost” about it, Stuart.
For somebody who has been at the top of more than one failed Republican presidential campaign, Stevens is frighteningly naïve. “With these deeply emotional issues,” he writes, “it is in the quiet moments that each of us will look into our hearts and make choices based as much on what we feel as we think. It’s my bet that the calm voices of persuasion will carry the day.”
Quiet moments--like the moments Mitt Romney must surely be enjoying now.
The Romney campaign started with what seemed like a good strategy: President Obama, they reasoned, had been an unprecedented failure with the economy and people would not give him a second term.
When confronted with a fierce opponent, willing to do anything to win, the Romney campaign seemed unwilling to revise its strategy.
Unfortunately, Stuart Stevens isn't the only influential Republican with a one-way ticket to La La Land. As you have no doubt guessed, I am thinking—but of course—of the Republican National Committee’s recent autopsy on the 2012 election. The official name of the postmortem is “Growth and Opportunity Project.” George Orwell could not have come up with a better name.
There were some good recommendations in “Growth and Opportunity,” such as improving the primary system, which turned into a freak show in 2012. But much of the report shows willful blindness of the fierceness of the opponent. Constituencies that currently hate Republicans’ guts are called “demographic partners.” Well, of course, they aren’t demographic partners yet but the second they realize that we're taking all the old guys out to shoot them, they will want to join. A new “Growth and Opportunity Inclusion Council within the RNC” will surely fix the GOP's problems.
Manifesting a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, the Growth and Opportunity report buys implicitly the Democratic critique of the GOP. Like the Romney campaign, it never confronts an all-important issue: how do you confront smears? It is essential to reach out and make the GOP case for people who have never voted Republican, but it is also just as important to realize that the Democrats aren't going to go to their quiet places and let this happen.
As does Stuart Stevens in his guns and gays column, the GOP report fails to recognize the fierceness of the army arrayed against it. How can the GOP attract more women and African Americans, when we know that women and African Americans who become Republicans will face a barrage of vicious assaults from a well-oiled Democratic smear machine?
The Growth and Opportunity Project report exists in a vacuum, as if there is nobody on the other side tossing grenades. I’d love to see a more genteel style of politics in this country. I share Stuart Steven's apparent longing for a more civilized political arena. I’d love to not see language distorted and lies told. But when the answer to these things is to just close your eyes, you lose.
Stevens’ column and the GOP report put me in mind of a famous letter (or maybe not so famous, as I can’t lay hands on a copy to verify my memory) that Neville Chamberlain wrote and that was published in an English newspaper on the very day Czechoslovakia was invaded.
What inspired the prime minister to take pen in hand? The letter was a tribute the daffodils of spring Chamberlain had so enjoyed walking through the park the previous morning. Daffodils of spring thus became a byword for the politician who refuses to acknowledge the nature of the army on the other side.
Just to be clear: this is not a Hitler analogy. It is a Neville Chamberlain analogy, and, as such, I stand by it.