The President dealt a stinging blow to the Republican Party and Mitt Romney last night, winning decisively across the country, accumulating over 300 electoral votes and likely causing Republicans some serious introspection. What happened?
1) The Perfect Storm. Leaving aside economics for the moment I refer you to Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who said in today’s New York Times:
“There will be some kind of war,” predicted Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican Party consultant, suggesting it would pit “mathematicians” like him, who argue that the party cannot keep surrendering the votes of Hispanics, blacks, younger voters and college-educated women, against the party purists, or “priests,” as he puts it, who believe that basic conservative principles can ultimately triumph without much deviation.
“We are in a situation where the Democrats are getting a massive amount of votes for free,” Mr. Murphy said.
I think Murphy has it right. Democrats are getting plenty of free votes, and that comes from Republicans essentially killing themselves with gays, women, and Hispanics. My Republican friends who were really pulling for Romney just could not understand that the country has moved beyond the type of rhetoric that has so alienated those groups. I do not mean to be overly harsh, but candidates like Mourdock in Indiana, and Akin in Missouri, really injured the Republican Party with their stupidity. Not only did they lose two Senate seats that they should have won, but they caused problems for Republican candidates throughout the nation. Marriage equality is winning on the ballot, with Republicans so far behind the country on that issue. Romney’s primary rhetoric on immigration was so offensive that President Obama got more than 70% of the Hispanic vote. But to be brutally honest Romney helped himself with Republican primary voters by talking that way, and the ideological warriors in the Republican Party will be resistant to real immigration policy changes. Beyond rhetoric the actions of the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, and near imbeciles like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, have shown Hispanics what life would be like under total Republican rule. They don’t seem to like what they see, and voted that way. Who would have believed that the right prescription in this area, for Republicans, was held by George W. Bush, who warned Republicans of the danger of alienating this growing voting bloc.
2) The Buffoon Factor. Republicans have, through the primary process, damaged their brand badly. But to add buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump into the mix really does add fuel to that fire. Voters look at some of the things those two have said (among a whole group of buffoons) and quite clearly see that Republicans were not willing to renounce them, and that just does not help.
3) A great early move by the Obama campaign team. The Obama team took advantage of an early money edge, and managed to paint Romney in a very unfavorable light with an early advertising barrage. Until the first debate and the Romney pivot to moderation most felt that the election was safely Democratic based on this great strategic move. The first debate placed that in doubt, but Romney never really managed to change the image given to him by the Obama campaign team. Four stars to Plouffe and Axelrod.
4) The auto bailout. My Republican friends just hem and haw when this issue comes up, but Romney saw the freight train coming at him, and tried to take what remedial steps he could. Unfortunately those steps were so fundamentally dishonest that they just did not help. Romney’s attempt to establish his free market bona-fides with that New York Times op-ed cost him dearly. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan warned Republicans way back when about the opposition to helping GM and Chrysler, saying that Republicans would write off the industrial heartland for a generation. Don’t know about a whole generation, but certainly for 2012.
5) My own gut tells me that the Obama hurricane response, and his partnership with Republican Chris Christie, was so very helpful. People want to see effective government, and effective bi-partisan government is such a big plus with the public. A big positive for the President.
The prior mentioned Republican Mike Murphy wrote a column for Time back in 2009 that today looks a bit prophetic today. Read it to understand what a smart Republican was saying after the last Obama win. Just a piece of it here.
Young voters need to see a GOP that is more socially libertarian, particularly toward gay rights. With changing demographics come changing attitudes, and aping the grim town elders from Footloose is not the path back to a Republican White House. The pro-life movement can still be a central part of the GOP — it has support among all ages (and a slim majority of Latino voters) — but the overall GOP view on abortion must aggressively embrace the big tent.
Latinos need to see a quick end to the Republican congressional jihad on immigration. That shouldn’t be a hard lesson for the GOP to learn; every 2008 presidential-primary candidate who went for the cheap applause of the anti-immigration right couldn’t win even the Iowa caucus, let alone the nomination. Instead, the GOP should support practical immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Republicans should differentiate themselves from the left by heating up the lukewarm American melting pot with a firm insistence on learning English and a rejection of the silly excesses of identity politics. A smart GOP would be deeply in the microloan and free-English-lessons business in immigrant communities. Illegal immigrants can’t vote. Their children will.
Much of this is still heresy to the party as it stands now. Many will support an alternative strategy: stand pat, fight it out on fiscal issues on which the GOP has strong support and exploit liberal-Democrat excess. In the short term, that could work, but eventually the demographics will win out. Saving the GOP is not about diluting conservatism but about modernizing it to reflect the country it inhabits instead of an America that no longer exists.
Murphy describes himself as a “partially defrocked” Republican consultant. That defrocking should explain part of the Republican Party problems last night. He should have been running the Romney campaign.
6) And finally the ground game. Much misunderstanding about money, and of the comment that the Republicans tried to “win it with money”. That comment is reflective not of a Republican fundraising advantage, or of a Democratic view that our fundraising was more “pure”. No, it is reflective of how the money was spent. I referenced the Obama early spending, which was of a more traditional nature. But the Obama team spent heavily for technology that sharpened their ability to both identify and get voters to the polls. The difference on the ground was quite clear. My Republican friends mocked the idea of a superior Obama ground game. They are not mocking it today. That heavy financial investment paid big dividends for the Obama campaign. Romney spent, but I believe he did so in more traditional ways.
Some boxing history to close a post that is far too long. George Foreman won the heavyweight championship by knocking Joe Frazier down six times (down goes Frazier). He faced Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” as the feared and undefeated heavyweight champion. The Kenyan crowd chanted “Ali Bomaye” (kill him Ali), and Ali showed his greatness by knocking Foreman out in the eighth round. Please excuse my inclusion of this clip, but “Obama Bomaye” just keeps popping into my mind. Maybe Donald Trump will point to that as proof of Obama’s Kenyan citizenship. (Ok, ok maybe a little too much gloating.)