If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week.
Now that elections season is over, Washington has returned to obsessing over the “fiscal cliff,” a collection of tax increases and spending cuts that—if triggered—would gradually remove hundreds of billions of dollars from the economy and put the United States on the path to another recession.
He’s cute as a button. He’s a charismatic speaker. He’s young and he’s brown. And the moment the election was called for Obama on Tuesday night, he was immediately anointed as the Republican savior for 2016. "If there's a winner tonight,” George Will opined as ABC News analyzed the results, “it's the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.
New York, where not many Republicans live. (Flickr/iPhil Photos)
There are a lot of ways to parse a loss like the one the GOP suffered on Tuesday, but what ought to be increasingly clear to smart Republicans is that there's something fundamentally problematic in how they've gone about assembling their electoral coalitions. Conservatives are complaining a lot in the last couple of days that Obama ran a "divisive" campaign, I guess because he once called rich people "fat cats" or something, but the truth is that Republicans have been experts at division for a long time. Much of their appeal, at one level or another, has been "We don't like those kind of people." Sometimes it's welfare recipients, sometimes it's undocumented immigrants, sometimes it's people who come from big cities or have too much education or enjoy a coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk. They've been very good for a very long time at telling voters, "We're just like you, because we both hate those people over there."
As a political strategy, this can be very effective, so long as the "them" at whom you're directing your contempt isn't too large a group. But once "them" grows too big, you've dug yourself an electoral hole. That's the problem they now have with Latinos. Their anti-immigrant rhetoric sent two simultaneous messages, one about policy and one about identity. The first message was that we don't support policies you do support, like the DREAM Act. The second message, which Latinos heard loud and clear, was this: We don't like people like you.
Two years ago, amid the shellacking of congressional Democrats in the midterm elections, three Iowa Supreme Court justices—Marsha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit—lost their seats after conservative activists launched a campaign against all the judges who joined the unanimous Varnum v. Brien decision in 2009, which legalized gay marriage in the state.
Iowans shifted gears Tuesday, retaining David Wiggins, another of the Varnum judges that conservatives had sought to oust. Wiggens was the only judge up for a retention vote, which Supreme Court justices in the state face every eight years.
After the Republicans swept to power in state legislatures across the country in 2010, the situation for state-level Democrats couldn't get much worse. The Grand Old Party won control of 21 house and senate chambers, and gained supermajorities in several states. Progressive and independent-leaning states like Maine and Minnesota were suddenly dominated by conservative legislators.
Forty years ago, the campaign of Senator Ed Muskie, until then the presumed nominee of the Democratic party, effectively ended on a snowy day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Angered by the attacks on him and his wife by the conservative Manchester Union-Leader, Muskie held a press conference outside the paper's offices to denounce them. Reporters at the scene thought that Muskie was crying, though he later said the wetness on his face was only melting snow. But David Broder's story in the Washington Post about the press conference began, "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion..." He was obviously not presidential material.
Eight years later, a different kind of president was elected, one who understood intimately how to convey emotions through television. Ronald Reagan wasn't afraid to get choked up at appropriate moments — when lauding the heroism of an ordinary person called to do something extraordinary, or just when speaking about how great America is. Reagan made it possible, even uncontroversial, for a male politician to cry (though it's still extremely dangerous for a female politician to cry, lest she reveal herself as unstable and weak).
Which brings us to this remarkable video of Barack Obama thanking his campaign staff for all their hard work.
I’ve told this story before in one venue or another, but I think that—72 hours after the election—it’s good for one last recounting before I retire it. Two and a half years ago, I was on a flight from Los Angeles to New York when the woman in the next seat picked a fight with me about the Affordable Care Act, which was on the verge of passing the Senate. She and I had gotten along well enough until then, though our interaction mostly entailed me helping her find the outlet to plug in her laptop; peering over my shoulder, however, she surmised (not incorrectly, it should be acknowledged) what my position was based on the website I was looking at, and she wanted to set me straight. “You know what the difference is between us?” she finally concluded about 15 futile minutes later. “I’m a responsible person and you’re not.” I confess I didn’t know what to say to this other than what I didn’t ask, which was whether she had children, who rather exponentially up the responsibility quotient of one’s life; I didn’t ask because I knew the answer, and I also knew that, as a woman, she was of an age when this could be a profoundly painful matter. I couldn’t bring myself to win an argument at that cost. It may also be that it was as unfair of me to assume this was someone for whom responsibility was something she took only for herself as it was of her to assume it was something I didn’t take at all.
After declaring a new national post-election holiday yesterday—Liberal Schadenfreude Day—we’re starting to think it should be a week-long celebration. So much to gloat over after all these years of despair! Our favorite gloat-worthy item on Thursday came courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation. The money-in-politics watchdog did a nifty calculation of the returns that 2012’s big spenders got for their money.
Writing at The American Conservative, Michael Brendan Dougherty makes a few smart points about how the GOP can move forward. He contends that there is no reason for Republicans give up social conservatism—abortion will always be a contentious issue in American politics, and social conservatism is still prevalent. And he argues that there is no way to reconcile less restrictionist immigration policy with the GOP base, which consists of people who feel most threatened by mass immigration:
Now that the election is over, the next big item on the government's agenda is dealing with two sets of changes that are scheduled to begin at the start of 2013. The first is changes to the tax code: the Bush income tax cuts will expire, bringing rates back to where they were during the Clinton years, and so will the payroll tax cuts enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus package and later extended. The second set of changes is the "sequester," under which a series of rather dramatic cuts to government spending will take place. Collectively, these events are being referred to by everybody as the "fiscal cliff," a term that is both misleading and dangerous. Which got me wondering: Where did it come from? And whose fault is it?
It's made for a great narrative: Tuesday night, female candidates prevailed in nearly all the tightest, most-watched Senate races around the country. A historic number of women will now serve in the upper chamber, once the boysiest of boys' clubs. If that wasn't enough to prompt some girl-power cheering, there was the news out of New Hampshire that, with the election of Maggie Hassan to the state's top executive spot, the governor, senators, and congressional representatives now all carry XX chromosomes.
At this point, there’s wide agreement that the GOP faces a profound demographic problem—its longtime coalition of middle-aged whites is not enough to win national elections. Rush Limbaugh’s lament is correct: Republicans are (increasingly) outnumbered. President Barack Obama won the overwhelming majority of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos; overall, his nonwhite share of the electorate was larger than any winning presidential candidate in history, and it contributed to his wins in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada.
Liberals like me have spent a lot of time in recent years mocking conservatives for the silliness of their media, wherein Steve Doocy is a star, Sean Hannity is an insightful analyst, and Rush Limbaugh is a brave crusader for truth. Beyond the jokes, we've talked a lot about the pathologies produced by the self-reinforcing worldviews propagated in those media. One of the key features of those media, and what differentiates them from partisan left media, is the way they talk about the rest of the media. Liberals may like to watch MSNBC, but if you watch MSNBC you won't be reminded ten times an hour that everything you see in your newspaper or on another television station is a vicious lie concocted by conservatives to deceive you as part of their plan to destroy the country you love.
But that is what you'll get if you watch Fox, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or consume many other kinds of conservative media. It's not just a diet of information congenial to your beliefs; it's also a message of distrust of any other source of information that isn't explicitly conservative. Which is why it's not in the least bit surprising that many conservatives were so shocked by the results of Tuesday's election. Because if you're soaking in that rhetoric, the idea that a majority of American voters could voluntarily choose to give Barack Obama—the socialist, the foreigner, the apologist, the black nationalist—another term in office just makes no sense whatsoever. It cannot be.