The Election, Mitt Romney, and the Future of the Republican Party

It’s election day. We’re finally here. This grueling, seemingly non-stop campaign ends today. President Barack Obama made his last campaign stops yesterday. Mitt Romney hopes to pickup what undecided voters remain during visits to Ohio and Pennsylvania today.

Despite public polls showing a close race in swing states, though Obama has a slight advantage, Romney’s campaign says that their internal polls show him leading in Ohio and tied in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Writing at National Review yesterday, Jim Geraghty saw reason to hope that Romney will pull off a win tonight. And Aaron Blake surmised that the early voting numbers suggest that the race will be tight. However, Blake points out that “[i]n basically every state, Democrats’ early vote edge is between four and eight points less than it was in 2008.” That could mean trouble for Obama, especially in Colorado, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

But some Republicans are already beginning the blame game, anticipating that Romney will lose. Some are saying that Hurricane Sandy gave Obama enough of a bump to halt what momentum Romney’s campaign had gained after the presidential debates. That, however, doesn’t really seem to be the case. Others, such as Jonathan Tobin, are blaming media bias.

Some analysts say that Romney ran too far to the right in the primary to come back to the center during the general election, which ultimately cost him votes. It’s true that he tried to appeal to conservatives, but the biggest complaint about Romney in the primary was that he wasn’t giving enough red meat. Sure, Romney carried the line on abortion and supports Federal Marriage Amendment, a truly misguided policy. He wants to extend current tax rates and talked tough about cutting spending (he won’t make deep cuts if he’s elected because politics will win out). However, Romney stuck by his RomneyCare, which later served as the blueprint for ObamaCare, which was the biggest reason conservatives didn’t trust.

Romney won the Republican nomination, not because he was the most conservative candidate, impressive on public policy, or because he was some great communicator, he won, as my friend George Scoville mentioned yesterday, because it was his turn.

That is prompting talk in the media of a “civil war” inside the Republican Party, where conservatives will begin to fight back against the establishment after consecutive losses by moderate-ish candidates — John McCain in 2008 and, likely, Mitt Romney this year.

My question to the people saying that is, “Where have you been the last four years?” That “civil war” started in 2009 with the creation of the Tea Party movement. Sure, that came as the sum of bad policies pushed in preceding months by George W. Bush, who signed TARP and the first auto bailout into law, and Barack Obama, who was pushing several policies through Congress that would later prove to hamper the economic recovery. Most activists in the Tea Party movement haven’t hid that they’re goal is to force the Republican Party back to its fiscally conservative roots. Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of FreedomWorks, has frequently called this a “hostile takeover” and has said that “sometimes you have to beat the Republicans before you can beat the Democrats.”

If Romney wins tonight, I would suspect that most conservatives will fall in line, much like they did during the Bush Administration. The most hardcore of the Tea Party movement will continue to serve as the conscience of the GOP, keeping Republicans in Congress accountable, either by public pressure or primary challenges, should they begin to waiver.

However, if Romney loses, the question turns to the definition of conservatism. Will it be the Tea Party movement (a focus on fiscal issues) or social conservatives who define core conservative beliefs? The former will no doubt continue to make their presence known, but latter is where all eyes need to be looking.

Social conservatives, who feel that they’ve been cast aside the last four years, are more prone to big government policies — all you need to do is look at their favorite candidates in the last two cycles, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both of whom had terrible records on fiscal issues when they were in office.

This battle has been waged for some time and has boiled over on occasion. But with no clear favorite in 2016, which ever faction comes to define conservatism in the next four years will set the direction of the Republican Party for the forseeable future.

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