Ever since the Democrats were trounced in the midterm elections, they and the media have been trying to figure out how Republicans triumphed so thoroughly. Wasn’t the GOP supposed to be in permanent decline, on the wrong side of history, demography, and the issues? So far the soul searching has been almost nonexistent. National Journal’s Ron Fournier, a weathervane for centrist Beltway journalists, tried to dismiss the GOP’s triumph out of hand: “The Republican Party didn’t win the overall election—not with numbers like that. The winners,” he wrote, “were disgust, apathy, and a gnawing desire for a better choice.”
The media probably won’t do much better than that unless they are prepared to revise the clichés and myths about Republicans they’ve been propagating for years, namely:
The party is being dragged down by its extremist base. This is actually a more telling critique of Democrats. In August 2012, the New York Times commented on Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential selection by noting that “a long history of social extremism makes Paul Ryan an emblem of the Republican tack to the far right.” If Paul Ryan is emblematic of GOP extremism, you can say for sure that this alleged GOP handicap has been wildly oversold.
On the other hand, Democratic social extremism is very real but barely discussed. The party has no high-profile dissenters on abortion rights, and its fealty to the abortion lobby proved to be damaging in the election. After crowing for years about turning Texas blue, Democrats nominated state senator Wendy Davis to run for governor. Davis’s chief recommendation as a candidate? She had become a media darling for launching a filibuster against proposed restrictions on late-term abortions (which later passed). Democrats bought into the hype, even though late-term abortion restrictions are broadly popular, well, everywhere. (Even Sweden has more late-term abortion restrictions than Texas.) Davis ran an embarrassing campaign and lost by 20 points, despite raising a staggering $30 million—money that might have tipped a few close races elsewhere had Democrats distributed their donations more wisely.