Liberals will take great delight in the Democrats victories on Tuesday, but they have yet to process the damage their campaign strategy has done to “progressive” principles. It is constitutional conservatives who should be inspired by the Democrats’ wins, not because Democrats deserved to win, but because they had to run as conservatives to secure victory.
The mantra of the conservative grassroots movement since 2007 has been “lower taxes, less government, more freedom.” Committed conservatives, small-l libertarians and the Tea Party repopulated the Republican Party and the Congress in 2010, but it was the Democrats who successfully applied the lessons of 2010 to the 2012 campaign. That lesson: run on fiscal responsibility.
There are certain fiscal priorities most Americans can agree on: ending corporate welfare and crony capitalism; reducing the deficit and paying down the astronomical debt; eliminating wasteful spending. The demand for these policies is the direct result of how grassroots citizens have changed the conversation over the last 4 years. The insiders were perfectly comfortable spending your money with reckless abandon until the American shareholder finally showed up to hold management to account.
That the American people have woken up to Washington’s failures is not surprising. The shocking result is that it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who won on fiscal conservatism in 2012.
Bill Nelson, incumbent Democratic senator of Florida, managed to win reelection with a campaign based on “fighting” for “lower taxes” and against “special interests [that] bend the rules and walk away from their responsibilities.” Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana certainly benefited from a well-timed gaffe by his opponent. But make no mistake; Donnelly won because he ran as a fiscal conservative, even bragging about his support for the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which Democrats have spend years demonizing as the source of all that is evil in the world.
Even Democrats running in rather safe races have taken a hard turn right. Joe Manchin, the former Democratic governor of West Virginia and incumbent senator, suddenly claimed to support a balanced budget amendment. Claire McCaskill, once the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate, suddenly discovered the virtues of capping federal spending and banning earmarks. (She was, of course, also the underserving beneficiary of an aggressive bout of foot-in-mouth disease contracted by her Republican opponent Todd Akin).
The list goes on, with Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Heidi Heitkamp, and Jon Tester all defining their campaigns around commitment to fiscally conservative principles. Meanwhile, Obama ran against a Republican challenger who effectively took many of the policy failures of the incumbent’s administration off the table. Could Mitt Romney have ever run against Obamacare, having been one of its primary architects? Not likely.
The race for president ultimately became a personality contest, and too many voters could not see a positive alternative to the status quo. So that’s essentially what we got. They are still shopping for a government that is transparent, accountable and fiscally responsible. The party that can credibly offer American shareholders that will win the future.
Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks and Author of the book "Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government's Stranglehold On America."