You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else – Winston Churchill
I think our Constitutional Republic is the least worst form of government. That sounds like damning with faint praise but it’s not. It’s a triumph. We can argue and disagree and governments can change hands (or not) without a drop of blood being spilt. No matter what the result, that is preferable to the previous hundred thousand years of human history. No matter how bad you think Obama or Romney are (or would be), there is no country and no time I would rather be in than American in the 21st century. We stagger and take wrong turns — see the Churchill quote. But the arc of American history, while tangled, is still toward progress.
Whatever the results last night, we Americans will soldier on and do our best, as we always have. I think it was one of the Reason commentators last night who said it’s ironic that we vote in the real bastions of civil society: schools, churches, community centers, etc. We are the strength of this country, not the men in expensive suits thinking they can change the world.
So what did I think of the results?
On the whole, I was pleased with how things went on the ballot initiative front. Virginia passed reform for one of the worst imminent domain regimes in the country. Gay marriage won in Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota, consistent with a rapidly shifting public opinion on the issue. Marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington and for medicine in Massachusetts, which should give us some amazing legal battles. And issue 2, which would have given unions perpetual power, was defeated in Michigan.
The big blight was California, which continues its slow decline. They passed issue 30, which will “temporarily” raise taxes. They defeated issue 32, which would have limited union payroll deductions. They defeated issue 34, which would have ended the multi-hundred-million dollar death penalty regime that has resulted in zero executions recently. They passed issue 35, which could lead to heavy sentences on anyone connected with prostitution and they passed issue 39. The redistricting issue 40 passed and issue 36 passed, which will only impose three strikes on felonies. But overall, this was a horrifying slate of voting for California.
This was probably the single most important fight of the election and the Republicans won. This means they will control the purse strings for at least the next two years. They can force a deal on the deficit, although I suspect they will have to cave a little bit on taxes (I’ll have more on this later).
Allen West and Joe Walsh went down in flames while Michelle Bachmann barely held on. Alan Grayson is apparently back in. So the clown college contingent is unchanged. But I can’t tell you what a relief the Republican victory in the House is. If it were a choice between Romney and a Democrat House vs. Obama and a Republican House …
I’ll have more on this below when I talk about Romney. But I want you to think of these names: Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Richard Murdouck, Todd Akin. Right now, the split in the Senate is 52 Democrats, 45 Republicans and 2 independents, both of whom are likely to side with the Democrats. Let’s posit a Berg win in North Dakota. That’s 54-46. Had it not been for those four looney tunes blowing extremely winnable seats, the Senate would be tied. Hell, without their bullshit, we might have seen Thompson pull out Wisconsin or Allen pull out Virginia and Republicans would have the Senate.
Just to be clear: I like that the Tea Party is challenging the establishment. I do not like that they have put up four far religious right lunatics in winnable races. The problem is not that they put up conservatives. The problem is not even that they put pro-life religious right people. Sane pro-life conservative christians have won their races. It’s that they put up people who were so far out on the wing that even Republicans didn’t want to touch them. A Republican senate would have been very nice things to have for the next two years, particularly when it come to SCOTUS.
That said, we at least have enough senators to filibuster. Although I think the filibuster abuse needs to stop, I’m not against it’s occasional use to stop bad laws.
I’m disappointed that Scott Brown lost but I really think he should come back in two years to try to take out John Kerry. Kerry’s an institution but I don’t think he’s invulnerable, especially after two more years of Obama. And wouldn’t you just love to see another Kerry concession speech? Come on, I know you would.
Ah, the big one. I know we’re going to have a long discussion about this. But here are my initial thoughts.
I do not think Mitt Romney was that bad a candidate. I think he’s a good man and a capable manager and he ran a solid campaign. That really came across in his short but gracious concession speech last night. And the surge in the polls he enjoyed was a reflection of America realizing that. I think his flip-flopping hurt him. We’re used to politicians tacking to the base in the primaries and the center in the election; but Romney completely reversed on many issues. That did not go unnoticed by the electorate. I spoke to at least one person last night who voted for Romney because she wanted something different but admitted she didn’t knew what she’d get with him.
Romney’s being criticized for not attacking Obama enough, but I find that absurd. He spent three debates raking Obama over the coals. In the closing days, they ran ads in Pennsylvania that were all about the President and barely mentioned Romney. If you want to get tactical, the problem was not that he didn’t attack Obama enough. The problem was that he didn’t give people enough to vote for except vague promises to balance the budget in about 10 years, maybe.
I’m reminded an awful lot of the 2004 campaign. The Democrats thought it was enough to just run against Bush and his unpopularity would carry the day. But Kerry never gave us an idea of what he wanted to do.
But I think the problem is far deeper than that. We seem to be missing the writing on the wall, which is that 2008 was not an anomaly. The Republicans have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Why? Well, check out the Presidential cross-tabs. Check out which groups Obama and Romney won:
Obama: women, everyone under 40, blacks, latinos, asians, liberals, moderates, catholics, jews, muslims, non-religious.
Romney: men, everyone over 40, whites, conservatives, protestants (especially evangelicals).
There’s some overlap in those, of course, but the message is clear: Republicans are rapidly becoming a party of old white protestant men, the one demographic that is not growing. What’s particularly alarming is the plunge in certain demographic groups. Republicans used to get 80% of the Muslim vote; now they get less than 5%, almost certainly because of anti-Islam rhetoric from the party fringe. Bush 43, to his enormous credit, made great efforts to court the Latino vote and regularly polled in the mid-40’s. Romney got 27%, almost certainly because of anti-immigrant rhetoric. The drop in Latino support alone is basically Obama’s margin of victory. Young people have been driven away by anti-gay rhetoric. I’ve said that I think the near-record 18-point gender gap is more a product of different philosophies than the “War on Women”. But the remarks of people like Akin certainly didn’t help.
Just to be clear: none of that is Romney’s fault. He dropped culture issues as fast as he could. He tried very hard to be inclusive. I think it very likely he would have governed as a social moderate. But the simple fact is that Republican brand has become toxic in many segments of our society. And this isn’t about pandering. These people are Americans; their voice matters.
There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching over the next four years and certainly cries to avoid “moderates” and “RINOs” in the future. But the way I see it is that the Republican Party needs to focus itself like a laser on fiscal and economic issues. Mitch Daniels had the right idea: declare a truce on culture issues. Try to maintain the existing framework of abortion law (parental notification, no public funding, etc.) while not extending it. Move to a neutral position on gay issues while protecting religious freedom. Come out in favor of serious immigration reform with the difference from the Democrats being rigorous enforcement. Purge the Todd Akins and Michele Bachmanns of the party to find people more like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan: conservatives who are religious and proud of their faith but not crazy; men who embrace immigration but reject law-breaking.
We do not need to change our values, but we do need to find ways to communicate them in an engaging and welcoming manner. We need to think creatively about big issues, philosophy, and how we can relate conservative values to the needs of a wider range of voters. Conservatism cannot become constrictionism, or the realignment will continue, and it will become ever more difficult to win national elections.
This will require a new set of national leaders for the Republican Party and conservatism. We need men and women who can think creatively, produce a positive agenda that isn’t defined by an oppositional nature, and who can eloquently communicate that agenda and the values that drive it. That should be our focus over the next two years before we start thinking about who to nominate as the party’s presidential nominee — and if done properly, that process will naturally produce the right leader for conservatism. And if that is done properly, too, perhaps we’ll be in position for another realignment four years from now.
As I said during the convention, I see hope on the horizon. Nicky Haley, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Susanna Martinez, Scott Walker — these are serious conservatives who are more interested in governing and leading than in demonizing the opposition. These people are making serious changes on the state level, rescuing entire regions from fiscal apocalypse and putting together broad coalitions. These are the men and women who can rebuild the GOP into the center right party it is supposed to be: one focused on fiscal responsibility; one that believes in a hand not a handout; one that respects and sustains faith while not pushing it.
And this works. Scott Walker won his recall and the Republicans took back the Wisconsin legislature last night. Christie may have a tough fight next year, especially if the very popular Cory Booker runs; but he remains popular. Other Republicans are finding equal support and success with this approach.
(And, in fact, I would say Mitt Romney was a part of that renewal. He did earnestly try for a broader appeal. Had he not, this would not have been as close as it was.)
The GOP has now spent six years wallowing in the darkness, trying to find its voice. Its only unification was a hatred of Democrats and of Obama in particular, interrupted by the occasional circular firing squad and ritual suicide.
We literally can not afford that anymore. I’m cooking up a post on what I expect for the next four years, but the short story is that, while I don’t expect apocalypse, I don’t expect things to improve much either. I think we might be able to limp through to 2016, but not much beyond that. Beyond that, we really do need change we can believe in. And that requires a much healthier GOP.
Random Post Scripta: Anyone notice that, apart from a few idiots, Romney’s Mormonism never came up? I am extremely grateful for that.
Gary Johnson is polling at 1% right now. The media will ignore this obviously. But I’m not sure the politicians will, especially if Johnson can build on that in 2016 (preferably at Clinton’s expense, not Daniels’).
In the end, we spent billions of dollars to flip two states over to the GOP. This was a status quo election. What was the message from the electorate? I have to think it was a lack of confidence in either party. It was mostly a “come on now, grow up” message.
I find the talk that this was a fundamental shift in America to be hilarious, especially the talk that this is fundamental shift to the Democrats or to dependency. There was very small shift last night — and it was to the right. NYT’s cover page has an awesome graphic showing how the country moved redder this time. But I think the insanity of the GOP fringe tempered that rightward shift just enough to keep Obama in office.
I’ll post more analysis as I come by them. I linked to Morrissey’s essay above, which is worth your time. Here’s Ken at Popehat and Bernstein at Volokh and you should read everything Doug Mataconis is posting at Outside the Beltway..
I didn’t say much about Obama because there’s nothing much to say. He held serve. He had a formidable ground game, just like he did in
20122008. But I have to think he’s looking at a narrow re-election (he’s the first incumbent to lose popular vote be re-elected while losing popular vote share since Roosevelt in ’40 and ’44), zero coat-tails, a Republican House and a slight rightward shift nationally. If he wants any sort of legacy other than a massive pile of debt, he’s going to have to work with the Republicans. There’s simply no other way.