Republicans never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. In 2010, they failed to win the Senate when it was theirs for the taking. Now they’ve lost the White House to President Obama, despite his poor record and the likelihood things won’t get any better in his second term. And they failed again to capture the Senate, though a takeover was initially thought to be a cinch.
The result was a status quo election, with Democrats entrenched in White House and Senate and Republicans firmly in control of the House. As it turned out, the election wasn’t historic at all, except that Barack Obama, the first African American president, became the first to be reelected.
The numbers and the faces in Washington have barely changed at all. We’re stuck with them. As hard as Republicans tried, they were unable to upset the balance of political forces.
What’s their problem? In Senate races, it’s bad candidates: old hacks (Wisconsin), young hacks (Florida), youngsters (Ohio), Tea Party types who can’t talk about abortion sensibly (Missouri, Indiana), retreads (Virginia), lousy campaigners (North Dakota) and Washington veterans (Michigan). Losers all.
And those are just the Senate contests decided yesterday. In 2010, it was similar. Republicans threw away two of their best chances to gain seats, choosing pathetically incapable candidates in Nevada and Delaware. It’s as if they have a political death wish.
Losing the presidential contest to Obama was different. Mitt Romney was the best possible candidate among the Republicans who ran for the presidential nomination. He had baggage from his days as a corporate turnaround artist and liberal Republican governor. Yet he actually seemed presidential.
However, there was huge hole in the GOP field. The entire younger generation of smart, attractive Republicans didn’t run: Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Pat Toomey. They were missed. Several of them might have been stronger presidential candidates than Romney. No doubt some or all of them will run in 2016.
They represent the Republican future in the best possible way. They are the heirs of Ronald Reagan and advocates of a reform conservatism that is more relevant than ever, given the country’s fiscal mess and foreign policy troubles.
No doubt the media will insist that Republicans must change, must sprint to the center, must embrace social liberalism, must accept that America is destined to play a less dominant role in the world. All that is hogwash, which is why Republicans are likely to reject it. Their ideology is not a problem.
But there is also a hole in the Republican electorate. There aren’t enough Hispanics. As long as two-thirds of the growing Hispanic voting bloc lines up with Democrats, it will be increasingly difficult (though hardly impossible) for Republicans to win national elections. When George W. Bush won a narrow reelection in 2004, he got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. If Romney had managed that, he would have come closer to winning. He might even have won.
So we’re left with four more years of Obama, the man with no plan and no mandate. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could have a successful second term with a booming economy and a de-polarized Washington. It’s just highly unlikely.
He still doesn’t understand what spurs private investment, robust economic growth, and job creation. He thinks raising taxes on the wealthy won’t alter their economic decisions. He’s under the impression that building roads and bridges is the key to a growing economy – that, plus making sure that no government worker at the federal, state, or local level gets laid off.
The president said recently he’s “confident” he can work out a “grand bargain” with Republicans on fixing the deficit and alleviating the debt crisis. This won’t be easy for him after winning reelection by taking the low-road: by demonizing his opponent as a moral midget and all but accusing Republicans of being unpatriotic. He opened wounds that won’t quickly heal. His victory speech didn’t help. It was pure boilerplate.
But he did one thing that surprised the Romney campaign, Republicans, and political writers, myself included. He and his campaign delivered a massive turnout by Democratic voters who were supposed to be unenthusiastic, dispirited, and less inclined than Republicans to go to the polls. By voting in droves, they offset the increased Republican turnout.
This was a remarkable achievement. Obama did it partly by providing favors – policy favors – to every interest group in the Democratic coalition. It was a very old fashioned type of politics, lacking a higher purpose or an inspiring vision. But it worked. And now Obama has what didn’t seem likely a year ago: four more years.