The Transitional Voter: Winning the Actual ‘Bitter Clingers’
If you have undergone a Left-to-conservative philosophical switch, you should recall the progression of your “moderate” period, those months or year or two you preferred the label “Clinton Democrat.” You preferred this to the more accurate “Clinton-dragged-kicking-and-groping-by-Gingrich Democrat,” or didn’t realize this was the case and chalked up Clinton’s pragmatism to his apparent-only-to-liberals brilliance.
Recalling this period of your life, you may also sense that 2012 America contains the highest proportion of Clinton Democrats since the dotcom bubble. This was when a sizable majority of the Democratic Party believed Clinton’s and Alan Greenspan’s Ivy intellects alone were responsible for a booming market, rather than the worldwide tolerance of a historically terrifying normalized P/E ratio. Now, however, the Clinton Democrats are without a bubble to "affirm" the correctness of a moderate leftist ideology, nor a single prominent Clinton Democrat of note to give the comfort of being able to defer to their brilliant leader. They simply don't know where else to sit; they are in a transitory position and some could be pushed right with a feather.
This emergence of transitional voters is, of course, difficult to quantify; the opinion is formed from four observations:
-- The present enthusiasm gap is clear and overwhelming. Obama’s 2012 crowds don’t go to eleven. Democrats are either recognizing Obama is further left than they are comfortable with, or they are migrating in conservatism’s general direction.
-- The few arguments currently advanced by the Obama campaign focus on the GOP’s supposed misogyny, a bigoted argument carried over from the worst of the Clinton era’s gender-superiority feminism. (Clinton being -- ironically, or not at all -- the beneficiary of a “one free grope” policy from a self-described feminist.)
-- A social observation: each Democrat willing to discuss the election with me gets irritated by the same simple economic challenge (“Tax revenue decreases when capital gains taxes are increased. You really want Romney’s tax bill to be higher? But not John Kerry’s? Please do not operate the garbage disposal while I am speaking”).
After this, they insist on the description “fiscally conservative but socially liberal.”
The frequency with which I am hearing “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” intrigues me, as no Clinton Democrat has ever posted a Match.com profile that did not include this phrase. It’s like a mating call.
-- Romney/Ryan has developed a polling lead in Florida and Ohio on Medicare, which is both a fiscal issue that would attract a Clinton Democrat’s attention (see above) and the most important development of this campaign.
Either a poor turnout by the transitionals, or their rapid philosophical transformation leading to high turnout for Romney, could swing the presidency and Senate. The “Reagan Democrat” was a similar phenomenon; this time around “Ryan Democrat” would be more apt as he is the philosophical leader.
Team Romney can test this market best by soliciting advice from former transitionals regarding their “pre-op” days, if you will. [Ed. Note -- I will not.] I would advise we describe to them our process, because that process is more a common experience rather than the result of each individual’s unique set of circumstances. Ex-leftists can all relate to each other; it’s kinda like growing up:
Likely, you had been alienated from leftist fiscal behavior first, as U.S. financial policy was not as tied up with your identity as other political decisions, and no one -- not even a socialist -- is immune to feeling anger at tax dollar waste.
The revelation that government planning rather than individual property rights was destined to be wasteful did not occur to you yet. You just thought, for the first time in your life, that having a Republican in charge of spending might not be such an awful idea, as they at least seemed more concerned about waste, as long as there were never ever enough Republicans to overturn Roe v. Wade ever EVAAAR.
Next: you became concerned about State Department pronouncements. First you felt empathy for the safety of those oppressed in nations Leftists continually reach out to or apologize for. You noticed that Putin slaughters journalists, Castro jails and starves them and everyone else (and folks who flee through sharky waters on homemade rafts are people progs are supposed to hold summer folk festivals for, right?), and that Islam detests women.
Then, you eventually grew disgusted by Leftist foreign policy when noticing the plague of anti-Semitism infecting much of it. (If you are Jewish or close to the American Jewish community, you already knew this, but never much cared, as you were so convinced of Leftism’s moral superiority that you forgave the Left’s opinions on “Zionists.” Until you couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when your friends disappeared.)
Finally, it struck home: Leftist foreign policy initiated a concern for your own safety and that of your children, who were coming home with “get to know Islam” worksheets and hearing that “the wrong people were in charge” of the Soviet Union, and you saw that, "are you f***ing kidding me?", students were having dinner with Ahmadinejad at Columbia.
You ended up of one of two minds:
A) All that restrained you from defining yourself as conservative was the belief that conservative's prescriptions were correct, yet their motives impure.
Prior to the Second Iraq War, I referred to myself as a pro-war Democrat, following the reasoning of Chris Hitchens and Paul Berman. Removing Saddam was the moral thing to do as he had violated some 20 or so UN resolutions/sanctions, and his country was listed as the world’s worst offender of human rights by Human Rights Watch (a group which ironically, or not at all, doesn’t primarily concern itself much with human rights. They do perform a tremendous amount of "watching").
So I supported Bush’s behavior -- yet I insisted on the conclusion that Bush was doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
I presumed this war about his father, or about -- wait for it -- oil. But I was OK with that, despite it being a revolting example of political demonization and scapegoating. I just couldn’t consider the possibility of a moral Republican, or that acting in the best interests of the United States is always moral. I later understood this as a defense mechanism I invented to keep from facing that I was a conservative, with nothing left separating myself from conservatism but my bigotry. The bigotry was a safety blanket.
This voter is extremely susceptible to Romney and Ryan, but Romney and Ryan do not have much time, and they would benefit by being confrontational towards this voter: a direct challenge to provide evidence of immoral behavior, of unethical living, or to shut up, because you wouldn’t tolerate that crap for a moment, and we’ve put up with it for a century.
This would have worked with me -- George W. being aggressive. The discomfort with calling myself conservative would have been overwhelmed by the guilt and shame of how I had scapegoated a race, gender, a geographical region and culture, a religion and a demonstrated kindness. At that point, becoming a conservative would have been a relief. (Also, telling me to read Who Really Cares and then to shut up would have worked. I would like to see conservative politicians reference important works more often.)
This leaves one other possible point along a transitionals journey:
B) All that restrained you from defining yourself as a conservative was abortion.
I suspect that for many considering conservatism in 2012, the whole thing comes down to abortion. So let's talk abortion. (Bright folks disagree on this, but I am not convinced cowardice on abortion, or any other plank of conservatism, is advisable. Conservatism is still a mystery to most leftists, whereas Reaganian, Ryanian, Breitbartian presentations of reason are our greatest communication successes.)
Sooner or later, Romney and Ryan should expound upon “I believe life starts at conception” and must discuss the logic and rationality, even beauty of a pro-life stance. I think this springs the dam. Even those not yet ready to consider being pro-life will feel comfortable voting Republican if they can respect pro-lifers enough that fiscal and foreign policy conservatism leapfrog Roe on their issue hierarchy. Call me crazy, but a pro-life shot across the bow starts a preference cascade, and a country in transition.
How about that: prescribing unapologetic, proud conservatism, using reason to win the country rather than catering to bigoted fears. The latter tactic has never, to my knowledge, won anything.