09 November 2012

Post-Election

You know that it's a good election day when you have trouble keeping track of your victories and when Alan Caruba is spitting so much bile ("It is a triumph of the stupid, the lazy, the mob.").  Obama won, the Democrats gained two seats in the Senate, the GOP House advantage was diminished, Puerto Rico had an initial vote for statehood (no taxation without representation!), and both gay marriage and legalized marijuana ran the table.  It was an amazing series of victories, and far beyond my best hopes.

I predicted an Obama win two years ago on the basis of broad trends that mostly came true.  I didn't foresee specific events, like the hilarious circus of the Republican primaries, but overall the trends had been clear a long time ago.  The Republicans have a host of problems, not least of which is a base electorate that is relentlessly whiter, older, and more male.  Those sorts of demographic trends made for some hard math for Romney, especially when a strong Democratic ground game and Republican antipathy boosted Latino turnout.  But Obama also earned this victory, which is something that should be remembered and appreciated.  The auto bailout is the clearest example.  It was incredibly unpopular in the wake of the financial bailout, and saving the industry was a risky move that took a hell of a lot of guts.  Even Obama's staunchest supporters were queasy about backing the companies with federal money.  But it was well-managed and succeeded, and that helped convince voters.  The Chicago speech, the stimulus, Obamacare, and Bin Laden are all other examples of gutsy leadership: the President earned this victory with four years of decisions.

And it was a hell of a victory.  In fact, the Republicans should have lost even more.  The wave election of 2010 put the GOP in charge of redistricting after the Census, and they gerrymandered themselves into a permanent House advantage.  But across-the-board incompetence lost Republicans almost everything that could be lost.

You will hear a lot of broad claims about the Republicans in the weeks to come, as they come to terms with their massive loss.  Some ideas will just be flat-out wrong and silly, like the idea that Obama got lucky with Hurricane Sandy.  The hurricane certainly provided an opportunity to show leadership and excel, but it wasn't a certainty.  Obama just did a great job.  Anyone who thinks that hurricanes are automatically popularity boosts should remember Katrina.

The members of the tea party, their hyperconservative base, will claim that the problem was messaging.  In this view, the GOP has the correct ideas, but just aren't communicating them well enough.  This is almost certainly not true, and it's reflective of the mindset that left the Romney campaign confident right up until Election Day.  The problem is not that the Republicans failed to sufficiently harp on Benghazi and socialism.  The problem is that the party was waging a campaign in an alternate reality.  In this reality, the polls were all wrong - hell, math in general was wrong, leading figures like Karl Rove to engage in embarrassing on-air meltdowns.  The party will have to understand that it must make some changes.

These changes will be good for the GOP and good for the country.  The Republicans have not been a very functional party over recent years, as they have tried to appeal to an increasingly small portion of the electorate by employing an increasingly fanatical level of obstruction.  Throughout Obama's presidency, they have stood in the way of every initiative without compromise, in a vicious and cynical attempt to exploit one of the peculiarities of our system: it is zero-sum.  They believed that if they could deny Obama any accomplishments, they needn't actually have any of their own.  Rather than trying to win, the GOP just tried to make the Democrats lose.

Clearly, this strategy failed - spectacularly.  The approaching "fiscal cliff" (expiration of Bush tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts of the sequester) is also extremely favorable to Obama, meaning that they cannot employ the strategy again, even if they chose to do so.

Don't think that the GOP needs change too much, however - ignore sweeping claims about a complete overhaul to moderation.  Instead, anticipate a tactical retreat on only a few key issues.  The Republican leadership is aware of the necessity, and has already begun the process.  They will endure the shrieks of the tea party, because they know that those votes are certain.  Immigration is probably the main issue on which the GOP will make a shift, as signaled by banner-waving Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).  It's not too far of a stretch: Reagan, after all, was responsible for the first "amnesty."  The issue of Puerto Rico will be a key moment of decision if it continues with its decision to apply for statehood: even though it would be an assured Democratic stronghold, the GOP has to accept that temporary loss in exchange for renewed credibility among a growing Latino electorate.

Whatever the pivot, it will need to be accompanied by one overriding change: the Republicans must return to reality, and open up their epistemic closure.  If they fail to do so, they will continue to lose.


 

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