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LESSONS FROM AMERICA: Under Abbott, Australia’s Coalition has so far avoided the Big End of Town Republican party’s mistakes

RomneyturnbullRomney’s defeat contains valuable lessons for the Liberal Party argues Brandon Welsh.

In popular political history Barry Goldwater was an extreme right wing zealot who led the Republican Party to a landslide defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson. To those with a more nuanced understanding of American political history, Goldwater was actually a saviour of the Republican Party and paved the way for the electoral success of Nixon and then Reagan.

It is certainly true that Goldwater was confined to electoral oblivion by Johnson but in defeating Nelson Rockefeller in the primaries Goldwater also saved the Republican Party from becoming nothing more than a liberal organ of the eastern Brahmin establishment.

If the liberal Rockefeller had been successful it is likely he would have also suffered a resounding defeat in 1964. What is also likely is that Nixon would not have been the candidate in ’68 and Ronald Reagan would have only ever been Governor of California. The conservative cause would have been sunk.

Although conservative Republicans owe a debt to Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan had the political and ideological smarts to carry the conservative torch and turn it into electoral success. In the 1972 presidential election the AFL-CIO (the US version of the ACTU) declared its official position with respect to whether it supported/opposed Nixon or McGovern as neutral. Given the AFL-CIO has always been strongly Democrat aligned, this was a momentous achievement on Nixon’s part. Nixon knew that the key to his success was what he called the ‘silent majority’ which was made up of a large chunk of blue-collar Americans.

Like Nixon, Reagan recognised the importance of blue-collar voters to his electoral success, the so-called ‘Reagan Democrats’ were both socially and economically conservative. When President, Reagan was not afraid to bail out Chrysler and put up trade barriers to slow down what was then a flood of cheap Japanese auto imports. Obama would follow his lead 30 years later with the bailout of GM.

Fast-forward to 2012 and what can be called the ‘Rockefeller eastern establishment wing’ of the Republican Party has become dominant and with this dominance has come electoral defeat.

Recent Republican Presidential candidates, such as Romney, McCain and Dole, who were all anointed by the eastern establishment, thought the road to electoral success was assured by moving to the liberal centre. George Bush – for all of his political foibles – appears to have been an aberration. Bush never felt the need to move to the centre, he campaigned and governed from the right and won two elections. It is however telling that even he was at the mercy of the eastern establishment with his political svengali Karl Rove being a big Romney supporter and an ardent hater of Gingrich and Palin.

There will be much made of the claims that Romney and the Republican Party were/are victims of the changing demographics of the United States, ie. the decline of the white majority and the rise in the number of Hispanics and other migrant voting minorities. This is nothing more than a convenient excuse used by the eastern establishment to explain away their electoral failures.

The reality that the Republican Party needs to face up to is that they have abjectly failed to attract blue-collar working class and aspirational voters. It makes not one jot of difference what their race is. The current Republican Party have betrayed the social and economic conservative traditions of the republican cause in the misguided belief that their only hope is to appeal to the centre and so called independents. During the campaign there was a devastating video of Romney doing the rounds from when he ran against Ted Kennedy for a Senate seat in 1992. In the video Romney declares that he was no supporter of Reagan. He lost that Senate race. Obama had it right when he labelled Romney as simply the candidate for Bain & Company.

If Presidents Reagan and Nixon were both alive today they would surely despair at what Republicanism has become and the havoc that the eastern establishment has wreaked on the Grand Old Party. Rockefeller on the other hand would be nodding with approval, secure in the knowledge that any remnant of conservative vestiges within the Republican Party had been killed off.

And therein lies the lessons for the Liberal Party. The undoubted political strengths of Tony Abbott are his social and economic conservatism. He connects with the concerns of those Australians who live beyond the end of the tram tracks and who are preoccupied with job security, paying the mortgage, getting ahead financially and raising loving families.

Gay marriage, fighting climate change, winning a temporary seat on the UN Security Council and free trade agreements with China are simply not on their radar.

These people were also known as the Howard battlers and not surprisingly when John Howard lost their support, he also lost government. The polls show that Abbott has managed to win this group back to the Liberal Party, this has been no small feat and to those who are urging him to become more positive (ie. lay off the carbon tax) or for the Liberal Party to be more centrist (ie. make Australia’s version of Nelson Rockefeller aka Malcolm Turnbull the leader), Abbott should politely point to the result of this week’s presidential election.


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  1. The two politicians who most and best reflect the concerns of those from beyond the tram tracks are Barnaby Joyce and Cory Bernadi. No coincidence that both are hated by the left liberals within their party but widely loved in the community.

    Posted by The lesson | November 9, 2012, 8:56
  2. i understand that Tony Abbott is praying that nobody looks into the funding of his 1994 elction victory- witin a couple of years his campaign manager was in jail for fraud.

    Posted by the Insider | November 9, 2012, 9:05
  3. You’re overegging it. Romney received 48% of the vote. The Obama campaign’s focus on interest groups and ethnics was successful and a sign of things to come from Labor here.

    Posted by heinrich | November 9, 2012, 12:15
  4. God help us.

    Posted by heinrich | November 9, 2012, 12:16
  5. Great points all around but Jimmy Carter bailed out Chrysler, not Ronald Reagan. Also, George W. Bush originally campaigned in 2000 as “a uniter, not a divider” and bragged about working with the ardent Democratic Lietentant Governor of Texas Bob Bullock during his tenure as Texas Governor. He found his conservative calling once he actually entered the White House.

    Posted by AmericanExpat | November 9, 2012, 16:56
  6. Obamas campaign focus on all Americans while Romneys campaign focus in the “good ol boys” who wear funny hats. This group is getting smaller and more extreme. The Republican party will gradually fade away in the next 20 years.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | November 9, 2012, 17:25
  7. Reagan actually bailed out Chrysler and Harley Davidson. Gingrich and Palin should have been Pres and VP republican candidates, they would certainly not have done any worse than Romney. Pat Buchanan would have also made a fine conservative candidate back in 1992.

    Posted by Dryasachip | November 9, 2012, 17:38
  8. Sarah Palin was the person who started the decline of the US Republican Party. What a joke she was and she is now a non entity.

    I cant understand why the reasonable John McCain had anything to do with her in the previous US election.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | November 9, 2012, 19:18
  9. Your analysis is 1/2 right and 1/2 wrong.

    Romney is part of the elite. His comments often betrayed his lack of understanding of the ‘common man’. This turned a lot of people off.

    But he beat a weak field of primary candidates that were worse – a bunch of extreme social conservatives and borderline lunatics. Which underscores the current problem in the Republican Party – they have tacked to the extreme right on many issues and have a pre-occupation with social issues that are not particularly relevant when unemployment is 8%+ and the economy is dreadful.

    You are right that appealing to the average person in the street with commonsense conservative values is a path to victory. But neither wing of the Republican Party is in tune with this right now.

    And MT is not the answer for the Libs. But I’m not convinced TA is either.

    Posted by Ronnie | November 10, 2012, 5:17
  10. As Tony Abbott’s numbers continue to fall, the party will look to someone else. But it won’t be MT. It will be Kevin Andrews. People are noticing he has managed to be a big C conservative in a small l liberal seat. He will be the next prime minister.

    Posted by anon | November 10, 2012, 16:41
  11. “Mrs Clinton will then visit Adelaide, where it is believed her entourage has booked 140 rooms of the Intercontinental Hotel, for a tour of Techport Australia, a huge shipyard”

    are you fucking serious? Is it any wonder the US is broke?

    Posted by world gone mad | November 10, 2012, 17:30
  12. Tony will be a great Prime Minister

    Posted by Tony for PM | November 11, 2012, 10:03
  13. Cory Bernadi loved WTF? By his mother…… maybe.

    Posted by Reggie | November 12, 2012, 15:05
  14. Tony Abbott is extreme right wing and scares the daylights out of me in every debate inspite of the media pushing the tory barrow Julia Gillard tears Abbott to pieces,every reform that she has managed to get passed has been rejected by the no no liberals she is an excellent prime minister who took over when it was obvious that Kevin Rudd was dead in the water after Murdoch had crucified him the same as he did to Gough Whitlam.

    Posted by Tony Waters | November 13, 2012, 17:47
  15. There is no guarantee that Julia Gillard will not be Prime Minister for Christmas 2013.

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | November 13, 2012, 22:24
  16. Attacks on a person’s character do eventually have an impact – even if people claim to hate negative advertising or political name calling. They absorb the negative material and eventually they believe it.

    Posted by Giuseppe De Simone | November 13, 2012, 22:26
  17. This is very poor analysis, both in content and style. Just awful. Why did vex even publish it? Lift your game.

    Posted by Freebird | November 14, 2012, 12:58
  18. Sad old Sen Ronaldson and his porn Helen. Forced to babble to RSLs.

    Posted by Ronnoe | November 14, 2012, 21:20
  19. Ronnoe (14 Nov 12, 21:20) – I think you mean “pawn” not “porn”

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | November 14, 2012, 22:46
  20. undergraduate drivel.

    Posted by voice of reason | November 18, 2012, 23:00