COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Six months after the undeserved re-election of Barack Obama, the skies aren't all dark for conservatives.
The blue skies of Colorado greeted those attending an early May symposium sponsored by The Weekly Standard at the Broadmoor. Part pep rally and part reality check, panelists assessed the fallout from November and the prospects for the next two election cycles.
Consensus: The death of conservatism has been greatly exaggerated, but Republicans are no certain bet to win back the White House in 2016.
Any optimism should be tempered with the reality that winning a national election (the presidency) is far different from winning an election that's been nationalized (the 2010 shellacking of Democrats in congressional races). Had Mitt Romney gotten 70 percent or more of the Hispanic vote (as opposed to the 29 percent he actually got), Obama would still have won, partly because so many disenchanted white voters stayed home.
Turning this around will be a major challenge in 2016. Republicans need a new, forward-looking agenda. This should include an embrace of libertarian values that appeal to young voters and more moderate views on immigration, gay rights, climate change and the war on drugs.
Taking control of Congress also means rejection of what some symposium speakers referred to as Republican “chuckleheads” — fringe candidates who win primaries but lose general elections.
The panelists (including The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, Steven Hayes and Fred Barnes, and The Washington Examiner's Michael Barone, Byron York and Mark Tapscott) lamented the weak field of 2012 GOP contenders but also noted the aging bench of the current Democratic leadership. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer — these are party stalwarts who've passed their sell-by dates. Rising stars in the Republican party — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — are much younger.
Few scenarios are extant for Obama to achieve his dream of turning the House back to Democratic control, but panelists expressed little optimism that the Senate will go to the GOP next year. Elections held in the sixth year of a president's time in office traditionally favor the opposition party; this should happen in 2014 but not necessarily enough to flip the Senate.
Remember: Obama wasn't supposed to win a second term after failing to revive the economy.