The last thing Republicans need is an identity crisis. The losses in the 2012 election shouldn’t be sugarcoated. President Obama’s reelection does mean Obamacare will go into effect, and another shot at capturing the Senate was squandered. But the election was a setback, not a catastrophe.
Contrary to the media’s narrative, Republicans aren’t tumbling into any abyss of permanent minority status. No soul-searching is required. Republicans retain the advantages and strengths they’ve had for decades.
The biggest advantage: America is a center-right country. The election reflected a slight tilt to the center, nothing more. Conservatism lives on. In the exit poll in 2008, voters were asked if government is doing too many things better left to the private sector. By 51-43 percent, they said no. This year, those numbers were reversed, a 16-point swing against government activism.
Yes, a solid majority favors higher taxes for the rich. That’s been true since the dawn of man. More telling in the exit poll was the verdict on Obamacare. Forty-nine percent said it should be repealed in whole or in part. Forty-four percent said it should be expanded or left as is. And just wait until it’s imposed on all of us in 2014. That will be backlash time.
Another advantage: Republicans have viable solutions for the fiscal crisis and the sluggish economy. Obama and Democrats have zilch—unless you think soaking the rich and building more roads and bridges qualify.
What’s the Obama plan for taming the soaring cost of Medicare, Medi-caid, and Social Security? He has none. To his credit, he does admit that entitlement spending must be curbed. Most Democrats don’t agree with him. They’re willing to trim Medicare only if the money goes to fund Obama-care. Republicans, thanks to Paul Ryan, have conservative reforms to save Medicare from bankruptcy and Medicaid from eating the budget of most states—without slashing benefits.
The electorate has given Repub-licans two more advantages. One is the white vote. Its share of the electorate is shrinking, but slowly. Whites are the nation’s dominant voting bloc today and will be for many elections to come. In 2008, 74 percent of voters were white. That percentage might have held in 2012 as well, if millions of white voters from 2008 hadn’t stayed away from the polls last week.
In any event, the white vote is a Republican stronghold—and not because of racism. In 2008, Obama fared better with white voters (43 percent) than Democrat John Kerry had in 2004 (41 percent). In 2012, Obama’s white support fell to 39 percent. He won 55 percent of the women’s vote overall, but only 42 percent of white women.
Republicans shouldn’t feel guilty about their white support. Nor should they apologize for winning the male vote again this year (52 percent). Whites, particularly white men, are simply more conservative than African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. Their natural home is the Republican party.
This is also true of the middle class, no matter where you set its parameters. The largest body of voters (31 percent) have family incomes between $50,000 and $99,000 a year. Romney won this bloc, 52-46 percent. Voters in the $100,000 to $199,999 income category (21 percent) backed Romney, 54-44 percent.
Among the Republican strengths is one that’s visible. Voters under 30 vote disproportionately for Democrats, but in doing so, they bolster a party led by geezers. In sharp contrast, Republican ranks in the House, less so in the Senate, are stacked with members under 50. A sizable group is under 40.
Best of all, the Republican bench of potential presidential candidates is young, deep, and impressive. Here’s the short list: Senator Marco Rubio (41), Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (41), Paul Ryan (42), Senator Kelly Ayotte (44), South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (40), Senator-elect Ted Cruz (41), and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (45). Democrats don’t come close to matching this group. With the exception of Obama, they’re the age of the Republicans’ parents.
With Pat McCrory’s election in North Carolina, Republicans hold 30 of the 50 governorships. This is no small feat. Governors invariably are the strongest political leaders in their states. They have statewide organizations. They’re politically astute. They’re effective vote-getters in areas where other Republican candidates come up short. They’re important players in national politics.
When Republican Bob McDonnell was elected Virginia governor in 2009, he won the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where a third of the state’s voters reside. He not only captured
solidly Democratic Fairfax County (51 percent) but swept the exurban counties of Loudoun (61) and Prince William (59). Three years later, Romney lost all three—Fairfax (39), Loudoun (47),and Prince William (41)—
and so lost Virginia.
Two additional strengths. The 13 Republican Senate seats up in 2014 look unusually safe, while at least 4 Democrats in red states are vulnerable. Win those and 2 more and Republicans would control the Senate. But after the debacles of 2010 and 2012, hope of taking the Senate no longer springs eternal.
Finally, we turn to Barack Obama in his alleged role as the Democrats’ Ronald Reagan. The Reagan comparison is inapt except for one aspect. Democrats couldn’t beat Reagan, and Republicans couldn’t beat Obama, even though he was tied to unpopular policies, a sputtering economy, and a debt crisis. Could any other Democrat have held the White House in 2012 under such poor conditions? I doubt it.
For Democrats, Obama is the man. When he leaves, they’ll no doubt yearn for the “new Obama,” just as Republicans are constantly on the outlook for a “new Reagan.” Neither exists. That means four years from now Republicans won’t have Obama (or a clone of him) to kick them around any more. That’s more than a strength. It’s a relief.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.