Conservative principles and candidates have no chance, according to conventional wisdom. Democratic core groups — minorities, single women, social liberals in favor of LGBT reforms — keep increasing and cities keep growing. Liberal progressivism is ascendant in politics, and the era of the Republican Party is over.
Recent elections have blown this theory out of the water. Not only did the GOP take the U.S. House in 2010 and the U.S. Senate in 2014, but this year the GOP won again — by championing strong conservative values, especially on social issues.
This Year’s Victories
As Molly Ball wrote in The Atlantic, “liberals are losing the culture wars.” At the beginning of this month, liberal Democrats lost five issue-based elections that conventional wisdom says they should have won. Voters rejected recreational marijuana, a transgender “non-discrimination” law, so-called “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, and gun-control candidates. Voters elected a Tea Party activist — who publicly embraced Kim Davis — as governor. Liberals took a shellacking.
Ohio voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize medical and recreational marijuana by a 30-point margin. Governor John Kasich opposed the measure, saying the U.S. needs a coherent drug policy. “When you run around telling kids not to do drugs, young kids, and then they read that we might legalize marijuana, I just think that’s a mixed message,” Kasich said. Voters may have rejected the initiative’s production cartel, rather than legal marijuana, but in any case, weed is still off limits in Ohio.
Voters in Houston — the most liberal city in Texas — overwhelmingly defeated a non-discrimination ordinance that would grant “equal rights” to those who identify as transgender. In this city, where whites are less than a third of the population, 61 percent of voters opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).
As National Review’s Kevin Williamson put it, the ordinance would “have made the abolition of penis-bearing persons (we used to call them ‘men’) from the ladies’ locker room an official offense in the same category of wrongdoing as shoving Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.” Opponents said the law would lead to “men in women’s bathrooms,” and for some reason, no matter how HEROic this may seem, voters overwhelmingly rejected it.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who defended the city’s “sanctuary city” policies — not returning illegal immigrants to national immigration authorities — was defeated by 31 points. Illegal immigration gained the national spotlight following the alleged murder of 32-year-old Kate Steinle by previously deported Mexican illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez on July 1. This issue boosted Donald Trump early on, and has now returned to oust Mirkarimi.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, targeted two GOP state senate candidates in Virginia. One did lose, but the other won, leaving the State Senate in Republican hands.
Finally, Matt Bevin, the Tea Party candidate who failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 GOP primary, won the Kentucky governorship by nearly 10 points. Bevin campaigned on phasing out the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, and championed social issues — going so far as embracing Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to violate her conscience by signing marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
Voters Are More Conservative Than You Might Think
One night dealt huge losses to the transgender and gay marriage movements, the left’s embrace of illegal immigration, and Obamacare. Gun control again fell short, as did marijuana legalization. While liberals may poo-poo these results as the outcome of low voter turnout, they also illustrate a resounding backlash to an unpopular and overreaching president.
Kentucky, despite consistently voting for Republican presidential candidates, has only had one other Republican governor since the 1970s. Bevin’s Tea Party support illustrates a key theme of the last five years — Obama has been terrible for his party.
Under President Obama, Democrats have lost over 900 state legislature seats, 12 governorships, 69 U.S. House seats, and 13 U.S. Senate seats. While some have argued that Democrats need not worry about losing all these elections, it may be wishful thinking to repeat the old mantra that the Democratic party has every advantage going into 2016.
Indeed, as Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle argues, “parties are most vulnerable at precisely the moment when they feel themselves strongest.” McArdle recalls the 2004 elections — when commentators speculated about a “permanent majority” for Republicans which had faltered in 2006 and clearly broken in 2008. Similarly, Obama’s impressive 2008 victory led the Democrats to overreach, giving birth to the Tea Party in 2010.
“The passage of Obamacare despite the fact that it was unpopular, despite the fact that no one in the opposition party wanted to touch it, despite the fact that the voters of Massachusetts sent a Republican to the Senate to vote against it, was hubris,” McArdle notes. “Did Democrats just accept that their goal of national health care was worth alienating voters and losing control of lower offices?” Perhaps unconsciously, that is exactly what they did.
In addition to the signature health care law, President Obama has overplayed his hand as chief executive in the immigration arena. Last week, a federal court ruled that Obama had misused his authority by providing work permits and protecting a huge swath of illegal immigrants from deportation. The president has requested a review by the Supreme Court.
Despite the historic wins of 2006 and 2008, and the argument that the Obama coalition will continue electing Democratic presidents going forward, McArdle argues that the current presidential candidates ought to be a warning sign for the party. “It should worry Democrats that their two leading contenders for the nomination are a self-proclaimed socialist and a center-left candidate with her roots in a much earlier, more bipartisan era,” she wrote.
Why Conservatism Won
The electorate may not be as liberal as Democrats believe. When Obama won his resounding victory in 2008, he ran as a moderate on social issues. He did not yet support same-sex marriage — a position he subsequently “evolved” into. In 2012, he won re-election, but with a smaller margin of the popular vote and the electoral college.
Perhaps most telling, socially liberal overreach has failed at the ballot box, not just this year, but last year as well. Abortion starling Wendy Davis suffered a severe defeat in the Texas gubernatorial election last year, as did Senator Mark Udall who campaigned on the tired talking point of the Republican “War on Women.” Bevin’s victory and the loss of the transgender ballot initiative in Houston merely solidify a trend against progressive overreach.
Hillary Clinton seems to have missed the lesson. Rather than realize the failure of Obama’s overreach, she is doubling down on the same leftist policies that propelled Bevin to victory, and Udall and Davis to defeat.
In a country with record gun sales for six months in a row, and where the NRA’s approval rating is a record 58 percent, Hillary chose to make gun control a centerpiece of her campaign. After the voters of Houston — of all places! — rejected a transgender initiative, Clinton continues to back similar laws.
As Democrats lurch left, the GOP scores electoral victories. After the recent election, Republicans will have “total control” of 24 states, holding the governorship and a majority in the state legislature. Out of 50 states, 33 now have Republican governors. Out of 99 state legislatures, 67 belong to the GOP.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, conservatism wins at the ballot box, especially after liberals overreach. Republicans need to learn this going into 2016. A strong conservative message will give Americans a true choice next November — and the GOP may just like what it sees.