The GOP convention is over, and I learned more than anticipated. Nothing approached my surprising reaction to George H. W. Bush’s call for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his 1988 convention speech, which left me concerned that Democrat Mike Dukakis was in trouble. And the falsehoods and arguments made in the 2012 speeches were foreseeable. Rather, what I most learned from the convention is how disconnected the Republican Party is from the “silent” national majority, and that GOP activists and leaders do not care about this. This is not the party of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan seeking to frame issues to win majority support; instead, the GOP is the party of Pat Buchanan, staking its ground regardless of moral, political or policy logic. Here are my top five lessons from the Tampa event.
1. Chris Christie Not Ready for Prime-Time
I’ve seen Christie speak many times but not from the sustained frontal view that he provided viewers in his keynote. Looking at this bloated angry man I could not believe anyone thought he could be a future presidential nominee; his act does not play well outside the white ethnic voting blocks of the northeast and mid-Atlantic states, and will likely prove short-lived even there. Add Christie’s failed economic record and you have a guy who will be fortunate to win a second term as governor, and at best be a future vice-presidential pick.
2. The GOP Thinks 2012 is a Base Election
Instead of using their Convention to prove they offer a “big tent,” Republicans believe they can win the same way they won in 2010 – by mobilizing their base. And because the Party did so well in 2010, they are not going to deviate from this strategy even though it has no chance of bringing them the presidency.
3. Electing Romney not Top Priority
Many have commented on this point, noting that Christie barely mentioned Romney and that the presidential nominee acted like a disinterested bystander at his own convention. Many Republican leaders openly described Romney as a “transitional” figure, hardly a vote of confidence in someone you are claiming will be elected and serve eight years.
The GOP base looks at the success it has had since January 2011 and figures its agenda will do just fine despite President Obama’s re-election. It is far more motivated to elect people it trusts to the House and Senate, and as Romney’s poll numbers in swing states decline as the campaign proceeds, expect most donors and activists to completely jump ship from the presidential contest.
4. It’s Time to Replace Chris Matthews
I’m not a fan of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, but his arrogance and ignorance hit a new high in his convention analyses. Whereas even Republicans criticized Christie’s speech, Matthews insisted it was a “barnburner” and was “Churchillian.”
What an intellectual poseur! Winston Churchill’s famous speeches occurred over sixty years ago, and achieved fame for their occurring in the context of World War II. The only thing Churchill has in common with Christie is the first letter of their last name.
I don’t know what Matthews defines as a “barnburner,” but if he thinks Christie’s speech fit the bill he apparently has never heard a speaker really ignite a crowd. Matthews is so politically ignorant that he even claimed that Condi Rice could win statewide office in California, and talked about how she could have been elected U.S. Senator from the state.
After Jeb Bush gave a speech about politicians having to choose between the interests of students and teachers unions, Matthews backed Bush's anti-union stance. This brought vigorous dissent from Al Sharpton, Chris Hayes, Ed Schultz and the other MSNBC commentators, and left the audience wondering why Matthews was at MSNBC rather than FOX News.
Rachel Maddow moderates MSNBC’s coverage, but she and other commentators have a hard time getting words in over Matthews’ bloviating. He makes MSNBC’s coverage hard to watch.
5. The GOP Looks Nothing Like America
We knew going in that the GOP convention would be overwhelmingly white, as it was in 2008 and in nearly every convention before it. But the demographic disconnect between the party’s activist base and the electorate becomes more striking each year, making every presidential election going forward a very uphill battle for the GOP.
For all the Tea Party excitement about a Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio presidential run in 2016, the Republicans cannot win that year by continuing to lose Latinos, women without children, and young voters by huge margins. Republicans act with contempt toward these key voting blocs, which is why the GOP national brand either continues to lose or is discontinued.
Since 1968, national Republicans have claimed to represent the “silent majority” against Democratic “elites.” The chief lesson of the 2012 convention is that the GOP no longer cares about wooing the national majority, but is instead driven by financial and religious elites disconnected from the struggles of most Americans.
Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.