You can dress up November 6th 2012 anyway that you want, but the truth is obvious: Last night was the worst night for the Republican party in 20 years. This was worse than the mid-term elections of 1998 when Bill Clinton gained Democratic seats in Congress despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This was worse than in 2008 when Obama came into office with coattails longer than Fred Astaire. Nope, I can scarcely think of a year when a party got beaten so bad both symbolically and strategically in a highly contested presidential election in the last two decades. Here are 3 major takeaways from last night.
1. Governing Coalition: One time is a fluke, the second time it’s the real deal. The Democrats have successfully turned a rag-tag bunch of under-polled, underestimated and overlooked demographics and turned it into an enduring presidential coalition that will be tough to beat for the foreseeable future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making the “White votes are more special than colored ones” argument that became all the rage last week, that was always racially tinged and faulty. What is worth noting however is that African Americans, Latinos and voters under 30 are all supposedly “low turnout” voters who are “hard to motivate”, and yet those groups along with a healthy smattering of Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and white Americans have handed Obama a huge electoral college victory over a wide geographic region that few pundits would have predicted 6 months ago. Consider the state of Ohio where the white percentage of the vote dropped from 83 to 79% from 2008 until now. Obama earned roughly the same percentage of the White vote in 2012 (42%) that he earned in 2008 (43%) but it was Hispanics and African Americans with high turnout that delivered the state a second time. This coalition could easily be re-motivated in 2016.
2. Republican Party: Let us dispense with any discussions of how the Republican Party is going to “Change” and modernize and adapt to the demographics and mores of America. It’s not going to happen, I spent much of last night watching Fox News and the GOP has simply dug in their heels. The closeness of the popular vote has led Republican talking heads to claim that this loss has nothing to do with Republican policies, only with how bad a candidate Mitt was, or even worse, all they have to do is downplay their most unpopular social policies and that will get them back into the White House. The GOP has made their bed and now they’re stuck in it. Outlandish social policies and conservative firebrands cost them at least two Senate seats, not to mention party leaders like Allen West, up and comers like Mia Love and quite possibly Michelle Bachmann. The Republican party is not by any means dead but these types of losses will not be corrected by simply picking a more charismatic candidate. The party must find a way to express their true values in a manner that is appealing to the modern voter. Racial tokens and rhetorical tricks like “Self-Deportation” aren’t going to hack it.
3. Money in Elections: In an election where billions of dollars were spent money did not play as definitive a role in who won and who lost as many would have predicted. When you add in the shadowy world of SuperPacs, where Republicans clearly had a financial advantage many Democrats were outspent by their Republican opponents but still won their elections. Romney outspent Obama, but lost, Josh Mandell outspent Sherrod Brown and lost, Scott Brown outspent Elizabeth Warren and still lost. Does this mean that money in politics isn’t still a problem? Of course not, but it does suggest that the issue may not be how much money a campaign has, but how that campaign spends the money. Mitt Romney spent his money on advertising and commercials and Obama spent his money on organizers and door knockers. I guess we see which strategy works best.