Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Day After
First off, the economy. Obama clearly won the macro argument here. No matter how hard Republicans tried to paint a picture of doom and gloom, the simple truth was that, overall, the country is in much better shape now than it was four years ago. The financial sector is stable, the stock market on the rise and the auto industry is once more thriving. The only argument Mitt Romney had was the micro argument, which went like this: Okay so the economy isn't on the brink, but how are you doing personally? For some, things aren't better; but for others, that argument didn't pay off either. In the end, the President was tied with Romney among voters as best able to handle the economy. When you're chief reason for hope of victory is no better than a horse race, you know it's going to be a long night.
Secondly, the Obama campaign's ground game was second to none. You have to give credit where credit's due. They dictated the electoral map and, in so doing, boxed Romney into a corner. The trip to Pennsylvania by Romney in the last few days of the race was an act of sheer desperation from a campaign that knew it was in trouble. Voter turnout among minorities surpassed that of '08, with a larger percentage voting for Obama - no doubt an unintended consequence of the vitriol on the far Right - and that almost always spells trouble for the GOP. The fact is that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans and when both groups turn out to the polls to their full potential, that is simply too much of an edge to overcome, even with independents, which Romney won.
But last, and hardly least, we come to the real culprit in this election. You clearly saw it in the Senate races last night, where Democrats not only held their majority but increased it. The Tea Party has badly wounded the Republican brand to such a degree that its long-term hopes of prevailing nationally are in dire straights. For the better part of four years, the Right has done everything imaginable to alienate the three fastest growing voting blocs in the country: women, African Americans and Hispanics. It literally was the difference last night. Obama, as expected, lost with white men and seniors, but won with every other demographic.
A look at states like Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado reveal a disturbing trend for Republicans. All three have large populations of Latinos and that population is growing faster than its white counterpart. The same is true in Virginia and Florida. With all the talk about Obama's Rust Belt firewall, it is the southwest and Mid-Atlantic states that are the wellspring of growth for Democrats. A party that cannot attract at least a substantial portion of those blocs is doomed to failure. If Romney had managed to pull, say, 10 percent more of the Latino and African American vote, he might well have snatched Colorado, Virginia and Florida. Of course, had he not shot himself in the foot by being against the auto bailout, he might've also gotten Ohio. Add up those four states and that was where the election was lost.
I say lost because, while it may rub a few of my progressive friends the wrong way, this election was as much lost by the GOP as it was won by Obama and the Democrats. Think about it. Before Todd Akin went and shot his mouth off, he was leading Claire McCaskill by four points. The same was true of Richard Mourdock in his race against Joe Donnelly. No matter how tempting it may be for Democrats to pound their chest, the reason for their success has more to do with the self-inflicted wounds Republicans sustained at the hands of the Tea Party than anything else. To use a baseball analogy, it's hard to get a hit when you keep coming to the plate with two strikes already against you.
If you look at it realistically, Obama and the Democrats dodged one helluva bullet last night. A weak recovery and a restless electorate historically doesn't bode well for incumbents. No president since FDR had been reelected with unemployment so high. And yet, Obama accomplished two amazing feats: he won decisively and he attracted at least 50 percent of the undecided vote.
Over the next few months, the Republican Party will have to do a lot of soul searching. On every social issue out there - birth control, immigration, gay rights - they are severely behind the curve. As the economy improves, these issues will likely dominate the political landscape in future elections. The GOP will have to decide whether it wants to continue to pander to the extremist elements that currently dominate it, or whether it wants to expand its horizons and join the United States of the 21st century. There will be hell to pay for the latter, but the former means eventual extinction.
When Walter Mondale got his clock cleaned by Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Democrats received their first wake-up call. They ignored it, and four years later Michael Dukakis got his butt kicked by George H.W. Bush. Reality eventually seeped in and the result was Bill Clinton, a center/left president who restored the Democratic Party to national prominence. To this day, he is still revered as the most successful Democrat to hold the office since FDR. But it took tremendous soul searching before progressives finally embraced him.
The Republicans must find their Clinton. Their future depends on it. Maybe Chris Christie will fill that void. Who knows? After Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, the governor showed true leadership by forgoing politics as usual. His "pandering" to Obama, as the Right called it, was simply an attempt to enlist badly-needed help for his state. That he was able to transcend politics when he had to, might be the ray of light the GOP desperately needs. So far, he's been the only prominent Republican to call out the Tea Party over the nonsensical Sharia law insanity. I'll give him this, he's got balls.
And that's not a bad start. It's something at least. Certainly, if you're a Republican, anything is preferable to what happened last night.