The #2012Election and what it means for the future
On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama secured a second term in the White House. The Obama campaign handled the Romney campaign in almost every way imaginable, and a night that many Republicans felt has some promise (despite firm polling to the contrary) ended in disappointment on nearly every level.
I was fortunate enough to spend the evening in Washington DC at the NPR Headquarters. NPR held its second-Social Media #nprMeetup with thirty people from around the county. The group gathered in a meeting room with muted televisions tuned to CNN and FoxNews, big screens projecting NPR’s Presidential Election Results webpage, all while NPR’s live radio broadcast played throughout the room. It was a really great experience, and I have to say I learned quite a bit about how others view our nation and the direction it is heading. You can see who else was there at this Storify link.
I spent the better part of the evening tweeting and blogging about what I was seeing based on exit polls, actual voting counts and other indicators that allow us to make educated observations about how things could end up (see @FiveThirtyEight of the NYTimes Political blog for more about how that works and why he’s the best). I’ll be blogging again soon with images and links to the articles that really helped explain what happened, why it happened, and what we should learn from the numbers. But first, let’s discuss why Romney lost.
One interesting thing happened at the #nprMeetup. As I was running my numbers on the election, it became clear to me that Romney’s path to victory was becoming more and more steep. At 8:54 pm on Tuesday night, I calculated that based on other numbers from the east coast, Romney wouldn’t win Colorado or New Mexico (which was much less a swing state than CO) and could not possibly run the table in FL, VA, MI, WI and OH. I called the race over with nothing but pride at stake. Within moments, two of the other folks in the room asked why I was calling the race. It struck me that as excited as Republicans were at the prospect of a GOP President, Democrats were equally uneasy about a loss for President Obama. When I explained my rationale, the folks around me became more relaxed (though they didn’t officially celebrate until CNN and NPR had both called the election for President Obama – That is what street cred gets you). Just an observation, and one that showed me that no one believed the polls because of the outliers that showed a different reality.
For the record, this gets really long. Apologies.
Here’s what we know for sure: Romney and the GOP had almost none of the perceived momentum widely reported by the GOP and the Romney campaign. In an election year where stated unemployment is hovering around 8%, Barack Obama was able to win the Presidency against a man who made a very good living turning around failing businesses. How this happened will be debated for years to come, but the crux of the matter is this: It Wasn’t Even Close.
Romney earned only 206 Electoral Votes, and won only two more states than the McCain/Palin ticket was able to win in 2008. Those two states (Indiana and North Carolina) had been red before 2008, so they aren’t wins as much as they are bringing them back into the fold after wandering in the wilderness for four years.
States like Florida, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, and Wisconsin were never as close as reported polling (read: biased) led supporters to believe. Pennsylvania is still (as I have discovered) where GOP campaigns go to die slow, expensive , public deaths. Throughout this entire time, major political media outlets were reporting Romney was losing major ground to the President, rapidly going from possible winner to long-shot to dreamer.
I’ve been running numbers on the election and checking exit polls and other metrics to find out where the GOP went wrong. The causes of Romney’s loss will be attributed to many things: he wasn’t conservative enough, he’s too wealthy, he was out of touch with the lower and middle class, he was too robotic, he picked the wrong VP candidate, his religion was a problem, the GOTV efforts failed, or any number of other reasons. However, in my estimation, the reason he lost has little (if anything) to do with those options.
Here’s the thing – the GOP isn’t a party people want to join right now. The mix of GOP voters is pretty stagnant, and key demographics are leaving the party in droves. Single women voters and minorities fled the party to either the liberal or libertarian side. Minority support of the GOP is down nearly 100% in two election cycles. Religious voters are showing up less and less with each national election. And then you have older voters. They can’t stay forever.
What’s worse is that this isn’t a new realization. This has been developing for twenty to thirty years. But the Presidency of Bill Clinton threw the GOP off the scent. Clinton, a southern Democrat Governor, held the white house for eight years during one of the largest periods of growth in America. His presidency was surrounded by twenty years of GOP reign in the White House (Reagan – 8, GHWB – 4, GWB – 8). And during that time, these core groups were either leaving the GOP, or they were growing VERY quickly and the GOP didn’t bother to notice. And now, the party is looking at an electorate that is completely foreign to them. Nearly 67% of voters don’t identify with the GOP.
Lest we forget that President G.W.Bush won two very close elections in 2000 and 2004. That is a completely different outcome than had been seen in the years before. Reagan won 489 and 525 electoral votes, GHWB won 426, and Clinton won 370 and 379. That’s 20 years of dominating wins. Then GWBush won with 275 and 286. I think that is worth mentioning, because Obama has now won 365 and 332 (pending Florida’s certification).
So, the main question that remains is what the GOP has to do… And that’s not an easy question. If there’s one thing the GOP doesn’t do well, it is playing well within the party. Look no further than the Tea Party, the religious right, the immigration stalwarts, the gun lobby, and any number of other sects of the GOP. It’s pretty hard to please them all, and threats of leadership takeovers and pushing the party further to the right are all around.
All of this stands in stark contrast to what I perceive as a Democratic party that fights hard in primaries and then works well together at the national level. There might be infighting, but I don’t hear of as much as I do from the GOP. A quick case in point would be the primary fights in TN for congressional seats and the Governor’s mansion. GOP candidates beat each other all across the state, then wonder why it’s so hard to come together and get work done. The only major internal fight I’ve seen/heard in the TNDP has been focused on the incredible lack of success TNDP Chairman Chip Forrester has presided over. The extent of that fighting? Pointed comments made by top-level Dems in Nashville frustrated with a lack of results at any level (other than having their preferred candidate elected President) made public by the media. That’s essentially it.
I personally believe something more effective is required here by the GOP. The party must take a step back and decide who they want to be going forward. And then once that platform is decided upon, they need to apologize.
The GOP needs to apologize for pushing common-sense conservatives away from the party. The GOP needs to apologize for claiming to be fiscal conservatives and racking up deficits in Washington. The GOP needs to apologize for not making an effort to engage all Americans, not just the party’s historical supporters. The GOP needs to apologize for marginalizing moderate republicans and good libertarians who once identified with the party and have since left to find other candidates to support. And finally, the GOP needs to apologize for ignoring the growing minority populations in America.
In a previous generation, the GOP didn’t need those votes to win. But now, it’s clear they need them, and they aren’t going to be getting them for a while. The only way to win is to get every Republican to the polls, plus a majority of Independents, and then hope the Democrats don’t turn out for their candidate. I don’t know what you think, but that doesn’t seem to be a good plan.
Now, if the GOP panders to minority voters by changing positions on key issues, they will have the same problems they already have: groups that are single issue voters that threaten to withhold support unless their initiatives are considered. The GOP cannot handle more of that. What it can handle is an open and honest dialogue about what matters to voters, and not just traditionally conservative voters. The religious right cannot be counted upon to vote, and most of the older generations won’t be voting in 30 years. That’s just life.
It’s time for an act of contrition. The GOP has no one to blame but itself for the mess that was finally revealed on November 6th, 2012 at 11:00pm est. with the re-election of President Obama. It’s unprecedented, really. No one had ever been re-elected with unemployment as high as it currently is. Obama failed to fulfill promises he made while campaigning in 2007-2008, and the GOP remembers those things. But they believed deep down that voters cared about the economy, the growing deficit, and the lack of good jobs in America. The voters overwhelmingly said that Obama’s failures as President didn’t dictate that Romney have a chance. And now that it’s over, the GOP has two options: adapt or die.
This does not serve as a treatise on a required move to the center of the political universe. This isn’t a call for the GOP to stop opposing Abortion or supporting tax and immigration reforms. This isn’t even a call to begin supporting legalization of marijuana efforts. It’s a call to open eyes and an honest dialogue about the direction of the party. A popular conservative meme throughout the campaign was an image of the Democratic party mascot, a donkey, running headlong off a cliff with a group of sheep following closely behind. That may be where we’re headed as a nation, but you could easily replace that donkey and herd of sheep with a herd of elephants all fighting to be first off the cliff, and no sheep following behind.
Next up, I’m going to highlight some interesting things about the data from the election.