TAMPA, Fla. — There are a lot of pundits here in Tampa with no real politics to report on. So I thought now would be a good idea to do some explaining about the odd natives (well, natives for only a few days), whom the punditocracy has ventured out to poke and prod and report back, as if they are 21st-century Margaret Meads. Much of what the observers know is wrong, so simply dispelling 10 misconceptions that they have about Republicans should be useful:
1. The GOP has been taken over by tea party.
In 2012 the Republicans chose the least conservative candidate. If anything, the tea party has been absorbed into the GOP and accepted direction from party leaders. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, got majorities ( including the vast majority of freshmen) to pass a continuing resolution and then the debt-ceiling deal. The GOP continues to support budgets that spend more money every year (they slow the rate of increase) and extol Medicare and Social Security.
2. The GOP is obsessed with social issues.
Mitt Romney barely talks about social issues. It is the Democrats who have latched onto Todd Akin and reportedly set out to emphasize abortion at their convention. The gubernatorial race in Virginia in 2009 is typical of races these days. The Republican Bob McDonnell talked bread-and-butter economic issues issues while his opponent and the media raised social issues as a wedge to try to turn off independent voters. (McDonnell won by 17 points.) My rule of thumb these days is that the party that raises social issues first is losing on everything else. Right now that is not the Republicans.
3. The GOP doesn’t believe in community.
President Obama likes to say that Republicans want everyone to be “on his own.” In fact, conservatives, as Romney put it in a speech at Liberty University this year, believe family, communities, churches and other civil institutions are critical building blocks in society. They favor investing authority in the level of government closest to the people (locales and states), which they believe is most responsive and governs best. Republicans look upon some liberal statist schemes as both ineffective and destructive of those critical civil institutions.
4. The GOP wants to undo the New Deal.
Never has it been so clear how devoted mainstream Republicans are to Social Security and to Medicare. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget actually does not reduce spending in absolute terms; it merely slows the rate of growth. Republicans, to the dismay of libertarians, have essentially accepted a large, vigorous federal government.
5. Republicans have a problem with women voters because of abortion.
The pro-life and abortion-rights divide is not gender-based. Moreover, Republicans tend to do fairly well with married women. (In 2004 President George W. Bush won married women by 11 points.) It is among single women that Republicans struggle. The reasons are complex, including Republicans’ unwillingness to promise “Life of Julia” cradle-to-grave support.
6. The GOP is out to hurt the poor.
Liberals tend to equate the amount the federal government spends on the poor with concern for the poor. Liberals are also suspicious of the free market. Conservatives think exactly the opposite and point to welfare reform as the greatest social program enabling people to move from the dole to self-sufficiency. When, for example, Republicans want to follow the welfare reform model (e.g. block grant Medicaid and other poverty-oriented programs) they do so in large part because they think these programs can be better managed by the states.
7. Republicans are against regulation.
GOP presidents and Republican-controlled Houses and Senates over the years have not moved to do away with the SEC, FDIC, FDA, EPA or other regulatory bodies. What they object to is burdensome and/or irrational regulation. Republicans understand there is a cost associated with regulations that affects growth, employment and innovation. Moreover, Republicans find the idea that you can eliminate all risks to be foolish.
8. The GOP’s entire agenda is about tax cuts.
Obama says this quite a bit, but he’s wrong on two counts. First, Republicans have plenty of other ideas, including domestic energy development, entitlement reform, school choice and increased trade. Moreover, Romney has explained that he wants tax reform (flattening of the rates and broadening the base), which would be revenue neutral.
9. The GOP is stuck in the past.
It is an odd charge from a Democratic Party that has reverted to a tax-and-spend pre-Bill Clinton philosophy. Republicans are the ones attacking the status quo in education, recommending innovations in Medicare and other entitlement programs and setting a goal for North American energy self-sufficiency by 2020.
10. The GOP won’t cut defense.
Republicans accepted some $78 billion in cuts from Republican Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Virtually every Republican national security leader from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to House Armed Service Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., has expressed willingness to look for cost-saving reforms and to tackle big drivers of defense costs, including procurement. What they are not willing to do is to enact cuts that Obama’s defense secretary said would be “devastating” or cut defense to help pay for the astronomical run-up in domestic savings. They consider national security to be the first and highest obligation of the federal government.