What’s Next for the Grassroots?
Since 2009, America’s grassroots activists dedicated millions of hours to taking the country back from a central government leading us down the debt-laden path to European-style socialism. In the months and years leading up to November’s elections, engaged conservative activists warned that President Obama’s reelection and continued Senate control by the left would signal the end of our Constitutional Republic and confirm establishment of a permanent winning Democrat electorate. 127,683,108 voters decided the outcome on November 6, but apathy may be the big winner in 2012 with 2.76% fewer voters making the effort when compared to 2008 – disheartening to activists who put aside family and friends to knock doors, place signs and make calls. Anecdotal evidence suggests a cowardly Congress and pandering President have played the key role in driving citizens away from the polls. Efforts by grassroots activists, endless candidate appearances by both political parties, supplemented by hundreds of millions in PAC ads only increased turnout by a meager .08% in those hotly contested swing states this year. A sad commentary; the time and money spent only shifted voter choices, but didn’t spur more people to shoulder their civic duty. So the question must be addressed - If conservative success is judged by Election Day 2012, has the message of fiscal responsibility, limited government and expanding freedom been rejected by Americans? The answer to that question will either lead to our demise or point the way to our restoration as a free people. Those activists who did the heavy lifting may not grab the reins for future campaigns unless they believe the country may still reject the soft tyranny of the current majority. Before passing judgement, let’s consider that winning majority. The Democrat electorate was a coalition of the dependent (both voluntary and otherwise), unions, government workers and their families, single-issue organizations like LaRaza, Planned Parenthood, and countless “green” organizations,. The electorate was carefully misinformed by a fawning media while taxpayers tolerated a growing number of Democrat voters best labeled as the “takers” – enjoying government largess courtesy of the undefined “most fortunate among us.” The Dems enjoyed a majority of votes in November (54%) from women. Many single women accept a surrogate spouse in paternal government as provider and protector. Conservatives were rightfully appalled at the ever-dependent “Life of Julia” website and OFA’s “War on Women,” yet they secured the single moms and undergrad/post-college female vote (Google offers 700 million results for this fabricated controversy). Finally, Democrats and the President, through their policies, locked-in a stagnant economy and high unemployment. This prompted record numbers of people to apply for government assistance – bringing a 70% increase in food stamp (SNAP) recipients, surpassing 47 million. During the recent election cycle, Organizing for America (OFA) perfected the formula for turning out the vote from their base with 813 field offices. More noteworthy, they began the 2012 Presidential campaign in March 2009, only two months after Obama was inaugurated; selecting the campaign leadership staff and keeping numerous offices open throughout Obama’s first term. OFA field staffers continued registering Democrat voters (1,793,881) over the last few years. Both parties saw a voter fall off in 2012 compared to four years earlier, but new registrations helped Obama close on 65 million (64,820,413) as the final totals begin to settle. The Democrats did an exceptional job of defining Mitt Romney (albeit falsely), especially in swing states like Ohio, long before his campaign ads left the starting gate. The food stamp President was able to shift the blame and demonize Romney as the wealthy corporate elitist. Mitt Romney logged a stellar performance in the first debate, but his character was savaged in swing states prior to the debates or the GOP convention. By the way, the Republicans didn’t help their cause fighting the Conservative grassroots movement as they urged fiscal restraint. The state and national GOP wasted precious resources fighting the same motivated people who supplied a majority of the volunteer base. The grassroots, on the other hand, were tireless in their efforts, but often preached to the choir. Grassroots educational efforts never reached far beyond the echo chamber of already engaged citizens. Should we place any blame on the candidate or his campaign? Mitt Romney was careful not to espouse America’s founding principles in the same passionate terms as Senator-elect Ted Cruz or Senator Mike Lee and that may be why he couldn’t draw those bold distinctions on free markets versus the government-command economy. The Campaign, made a decision not to expend resources courting the Latino or African-American vote, even though the GOP proclaimed, we are the big tent, but it’s up to you to figure out how to fit in. No one spent the last few years in urban (or even suburban) neighborhoods explaining how conservative principles could help the Latino family or the single mom. So, the question remains, did conservative patriots spend the past four years trying to save a Republic that has already flat-lined? Not by a long shot. It’s easy to overlook the thousands of liberty groups flourishing across the country that did not exist four short years ago. These groups have established sturdy networks, working effectively across counties and states lines. Fiscal conservatives also started the process of getting elected to local Republican precincts, to the chagrin of state GOP leaders. Taking over the party apparatus may well be the most promising part of the movement. Still, many GOP officials and party operatives have managed to learn nothing about the founding principles that drive the grassroots conservative movement, taking exactly the wrong message from the Election Day drubbing. The answer to rejuvenating grassroots passion may also rest with the performance of Republican Governors over the next two years. The Conservative faithful will demand that Republican Governors push back against state health care exchanges (as Ohio recently did) and bare the fangs of state sovereignty on every issue showing the Tenth Amendment still has teeth. The House has already shown little desire to stand firm against new taxes and the grassroots will search for a tougher breed of Constitutional conservatives to primary the worst actors in Congress. Assuming the grassroots will reignite for the next round, conservatives must become a media force (both new media and replacing the Progressive Dinosaur media) while projecting both an urban and campus presence. The Conservative movement must reach a younger audience, not only 18-29, but high school teens and younger through the curriculum. State legislatures can renew the call for a civics curriculum that portrays America and our political system in a positive light (Ohio recently enacted legislation for civics from grades 4-12). At the same time, it will serve conservatives well to secure smaller government at the local and state level rather than wait around for the next national races. The grassroots dare not wait for the GOP to realize they must connect with latino families, young adults and single moms. Each of these groups still value the family and yearn for a happy prosperous life for themselves and their children. Some issues are a perfect fit for all these constituencies, like Parental choice in Education. Today is not too early to focus messaging at the local level and not just during the campaign season. The libertarian/conservative message of individual freedom always wins, but we must reach the depressed conservative base and infiltrate the groups that form the Democrat coalition and understand that on the left, campaigning never ends.