Republican soul-searching continues. Today's contestant is Jonah Goldberg, for whom the last Republican President is looking somewhat better right now in the reflected light of Mitt Romney's flameout. Goldberg is newly respectful of George W. Bush's popularity among Hispanics, recalling that Dubya got 44% of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 election, while Romney won but 27% of that demographic. Attempting to account for the difference, Goldberg joins other Republicans who've focused on Romney's perceived contempt for common people. Even if exit-polled voters deemed Romney more capable of leadership and economic stewardship, they were more convinced, and it apparently mattered much more, that President Obama "cares about people like me." This brings Goldberg back to the recently-discredited Dubya brand of "compassionate conservatism." Goldberg had never been a fan of the brand, finding it an implicitly insulting redundancy -- the implication being that conservatives who differed with Bush on certain issues were less compassionate than he. As articulated, if the verb fits, by Dubya, compassionate conservatism struck Goldberg as "a philosophical surrender to liberal assumptions about the role of the government in our lives," the genuine conservative (or Republican) assumption being that "government is not the best and certainly not the first resort for acting on one's compassion." Goldberg apparently found Dubya contemptible when the Texan said "when somebody hurts, government has got to move." If that's compassionate conservativism Goldberg still doesn't like it. But "given the election results, I have to acknowledge that Bush was more prescient than I appreciated at the time."
Republicans are confronting the fact that perceptions matter, though many have chosen to confront it by pushing Romney out front to walk point. The first move of the 2016 presidential campaign, if not the 2014 congressional elections, is for Republicans to begin convincing the electorate that it was Romney, not Republicans as a group, who despised the poor or the larger 47% Romney dismissed as hopeless, irredeemable dependents. Against the instincts or impulses of their own electoral base, Republicans must convince a majority of voters that they actually do care whether any American lives or dies. Many Republicans have probably felt it beneath their dignity to have to make such assurances, since they most likely don't care sincerely and feel that those to whom such assurances have to be made have no dignity. Whatever Romney really feels, many Republicans definitely despise those who refuse to prefer death or deprivation to dependency. Nevertheless, those people vote, and despite Republican preferences they want some assurance from their political leaders that they will live, at least. Ideally, Republicans could find a way to convince people that dependence upon the state is the wrong way to live while assuring those people that the Republican party actually wants them to live. Compassionate conservatism may still strike Republicans like Goldberg as contemptible, but he at least begins to see the necessity of combining compassion and conservatism in some way, even if the one doesn't modify the other as much as Ole Dubya may have desired.