As is customary on election night, Republican presidential nominee John McCain called his rival, Barack Obama, to concede defeat and graciously wish the Illinois Democrat well as he prepares to move into the White House in January. The Arizona lawmaker then delivered that same message to disappointed supporters gathered in Phoenix and on national television.
Now, two weeks later, it’s time for Mr. McCain to make a second concession speech — this one to his fellow Senate Republicans, when they gather Tuesday [Nov. 18] to organize their conference for the 111th Congress — conceding that he ran the most incompetent campaign in memory, apologizing for it and urging that the party’s 2012 nominee not to make the same mistakes if the GOP is to have any hope of wresting back the White House four years from now.
Mr. McCain’s second concession speech should go something like this:
Regrettably, I belatedly realize now that “me-too,” half-a-loaf Republicanism is not the recipe for presidential success I long thought it would be, because the voters and special-interest groups that favor big-government programs aren’t going to settle for half a loaf when they can have the whole loaf. That formulation never had any chance of winning over the votes of the Democrats and independents I so long played to, while it only served to turn off the Republican base; so it was truly a “lose-lose” proposition.
For the last eight years, we’ve tried being Democrat-lite, massively growing the federal government — just not as massively as the Democrats would have — and what did it get us November 4th? An electoral “whooping” and diminished minorities in both the House and Senate, that’s what.
Likewise, I now realize, sadly, that I reached across the aisle on issue after issue to liberal Democrats — with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform; with Russ Feingold on campaign-finance reform (which ironically proved to be my own undoing in the campaign); with Joe Lieberman on cap-and-trade climate legislation (which by Obama’s own admission would bankrupt the coal industry); the Gang of 14 on judicial nominees; and more — and what do I have to show for it? As I said repeatedly during the campaign, I have the scars to prove it. I meant it at the time as a badge of honor; but in 20/20 hindsight, that good will was never requited.
Need more proof? President Bush, with his big-government “compassionate conservatism” — No Child Left Behind education legislation and the Medicare prescription-drug program, to cite just two examples — further hurt the Republican brand by further blurring the differences between the parties and dispiriting the GOP base. The Democrats never make this mistake. Sure, they talk a centrist game to get elected — take Obama’s flim-flam on “tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans,” for example — but I guarantee you they will be lock-step liberals when they take the reins of power in January, especially if they get a filibuster-proof Senate.
President Bush, bless his heart, genuinely sought to “change the tone” in Washington when he arrived here in 2001; but it became clear early on there would be no reciprocity on the part of the other party. For at least a half-dozen years, after a brief respite in the wake of 9/11, the Democrats in Congress and their Daily Kos/MoveOn extremist allies have absolutely vilified the man — one bumper sticker says it all: “Impeach Bush, Torture Cheney.” Yet he never fired back, never wanting to get down in the gutter with them, even in the face of being likened to Adolf Hitler. Silence equals assent, and his job-approval numbers prove it. The lesson here is clear: When you’re in a fight with street brawlers, you can’t unilaterally abide by the Marquis of Queensbury rules.
My friends, let me also say we also can no longer afford to nominate for president the person whose supposed “turn” it is to be the nominee, as if by the divine right of kings, which we did in 1996 and — ahem — 2008. We can also no longer run a 20th-century campaign in the era of Obama and expect to win. Ridicule “community organizing” if you will, but the fact remains he ran a masterful campaign. The 2008 campaign was tortoise-and-hare, but this time the tortoise didn’t win.
First and foremost, it should go without saying that our nominee in 2012 must be telegenic and articulate — “articulate and bright and clean” in Joe Biden’s formulation — and capable of speaking cogently and coherently. We have not had such a candidate since Ronald Reagan. We have won three times since the Great Communicator in spite of that, but chiefly because of the shortcomings of the other party’s nominees. We didn’t have that good fortune this time around. Like it or not, in the TV age, that is a sine qua non for a presidential candidacy, a test I concede I failed profoundly.
We can likewise no longer engage in unilateral disarmament on campaign finances; Obama relegated McCain-Feingold and public financing of presidential campaigns to the ash heap of political history. Speaking of which, where was my friend Russ when Obama was making a mockery of our legislation? He was strangely silent, as were Common Cause and the rest of self-styled good-government groups and editorialists.
But I digress. Our nominee in 2012 must be prepared to raise and spend whatever it takes to match the Democrats, dollar for dollar, and must have the technological infrastructure to do so. We have four years to replicate the Obama fundraising juggernaut, and it is not too early to start now. I’m as serious as a heart attack on this, my friends. Any would-be presidential candidate who is not prepared to do so should not get a second look in the primaries.
(And speaking of primaries, in states where our party allows open primaries and caucuses, they need to close them, so that whomever is nominated in 2012 is nominated by Republicans, and Republicans alone, and not by crossovers who wish our party no good.)
It’s important to remember, too, that despite raising and spending a staggering $650 million — or perhaps close to $1 billion if you add in the liberal 527s and Obama’s Big Labor allies and the in-kind contributions of his tingling-leg sycophants in the media — Obama won only 52.7 percent of the vote. So despite his Electoral College landslide (which was exaggerated by red states he won narrowly; notably, Florida with 50.9 percent, North Carolina with 49.9 percent and Ohio with 51.2 percent), Obama has no mandate for his far-left wish list, and we should fight it every step of the way.
And how many of those states we lost so narrowly were a result of our failure to make our highest priority voter registration the way the Democrats did — or a result of voter-registration fraud perpetrated by ACORN, which is now under investigation by the FBI in at least a dozen states? I urge you to join me in calling on Attorney General Michael Mukasey or U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald to bring a Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organization prosecution against ACORN and for cutting off all of ACORN’s federal funding.
I also now belatedly realize it was a fatal mistake to engage in another form of unilateral disarmament; namely, to leave some of the best weapons we had against Obama out of the arsenal. For starters, my campaign should have made the Rev. Jeremiah Wright literally Obama’s running mate. From the day after the Republican Convention ended until Election Day, I should have run commercials tying Obama to that anti-American, hatemonger preacher in whose pews he sat for 20 years. Had the situation been reversed, do any of you doubt the Democrats would never have let voters forget it?
Lastly, I regret I also took off the table the very issues on which Obama was potentially most vulnerable; namely, the social issues — partial-birth abortion, gay marriage (bans on which have now passed in every state they’ve been on the ballot), gun control, judges legislating from the bench, affirmative action, border security, and more. Sure, the media elite would have excoriated me had I used what they derisive refer to as “wedge issues,” but so what? They characterized my campaign as “dishonorable” regardless, so why not use them? Doing so could have kept those swing states in our column.
In conclusion, the election was always going to be an uphill climb, particularly in the face of the current economic headwinds — headwinds unlike any we have faced before — but there is reason to believe we still might have prevailed, had I not made all these mistakes.
But that’s all “what-ifs” and “what-might-have-beens” now, my friends. We need to learn from my mistakes and start preparing now for the 2010 midterms and beyond. If we do, and if Obama and the Democrats attempt to steer the ship of state sharply left as is likely, we could see a repeat of 1994 in 2010, and a repeat of 1980 in 2012.”
• Peter J. Parisi is a senior copy editor at The Washington Times. E-mail Pete Parisi.