Don’t immediately start looking for lessons.
Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
In many respects, the 2012 election played out as a close cousin of the 2004 contest. A vulnerable incumbent president in a bad political environment faced a weak challenger who lacked a core ideology and who articulated no clear vision for the country. In both campaigns the challenger chose to present himself as a default choice, rather than an insurgent. In both campaigns the president pursued a base-turnout strategy. And in both years the president won, by a margin of victory just around 2.4 percentage points.
The similarities continued following the elections. After Mitt Romney’s defeat, many Republicans and conserv-atives were caught surprised. In the days that followed there was fatalistic talk about how America had undergone a fundamental change. Some of this analysis centered on demographics. There was concern about a permanent shift in the racial composition of the electorate and about how changes in the institution of marriage—more divorce, more cohabitation, and later marriage—might be permanently increasing the pool of single voters. (The first worry seems mistaken: Romney’s main problem with white voters wasn’t that they were in decline—it was that so many of them didn’t show up for him. The second is more plausible.)
There was also a lot of talk about how Romney’s loss was a sign of a fundamental change in America’s character. People contended that this was no longer a “center-right” country. Or that the nation had turned its back on the free market. Or morphed into Greece. One of the more prominent lines of thinking was that the “takers” in America finally outnumbered the “makers” and that, per Ben Franklin’s warning, the electorate had entered a death spiral where it would continually vote itself more money. It all sounded eerily like Romney’s contention that 47 percent of the country isn’t responsible for itself and can no longer be persuaded by conservative argument. Doom to follow shortly.
The existential despair was familiar because liberals and Democrats said the same sorts of things immediately following the 2004 vote. Like Mitt Romney’s, John Kerry’s final polls before Election Day—not to mention the early exit polls on the day itself—suggested he had a reasonable chance of victory. So when defeat came, Democrats were both discouraged and shocked. And their first reaction was to conclude that America had changed in a fundamental way.
A week after the election, a group of African-American journalists gathered at Harvard to discuss the implications of Kerry’s loss. Summing up the meeting, the Detroit Free Press’s Rochelle Riley concluded that “it could be the end of civilization as we know it” because “Bush’s next term is not four years. It is 30 years, based on its impact.” In the Baltimore Sun, USC professor Diane Winston worried that Democrats were “ill-prepared for this new, faith-based world.” A Seattle Times columnist wrote, “after three decades of cultural and religious struggle—including a fair amount of concerted, premeditated political exploitation—the religious right is more mainstream in America than once-mainline denominations. This election confirms the influence and clout of those described by scholars as the socially conservative, theologically evangelical. They are our friends and neighbors, and unlike 18-to-29-year-olds, they vote in big numbers.” All of which led columnist Leonard Pitts to wonder, “Maybe this is where America ends. . . . Small wonder that everywhere I go, people are talking about moving to Canada. That’s the kind of joke you make when you no longer recognize your country.”
At the New York Times the hysteria was even more pronounced. Garry Wills called Kerry’s defeat “the day the Enlightenment went out.” Democratic operative Andrei Cherny wrote, “On Wednesday morning, Democrats across the country awoke to a situation they have not experienced since before the New Deal: We are now, without a doubt, America’s minority party.” Thomas Frank identified the Democrats’ problem as being one of perpetual weakness on the “values” subject:
Democrats still have no coherent framework for confronting this chronic complaint, much less understanding it. Instead, they “triangulate,” they accommodate, they declare themselves converts to the Republican religion of the market, they sign off on NAFTA and welfare reform, they try to be more hawkish than the Republican militarists. And they lose. And they lose again. Meanwhile, out in Red America, the right-wing populist revolt continues apace, its fury at the “liberal elite” undiminished by the Democrats’ conciliatory gestures or the passage of time.
The Democrats’ success was Obamacentric.Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By FRED BARNES
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.
But they were Obama’s values and his voters. Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Had this presidential campaign been a chess match, one move would have merited a row of exclamation points. A chess master will violate the rules of strategy as neophytes understand them (“You’re gonna lose your Queen!”) but only because he sees possibilities on the board that are invisible to others.
Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
After his defeat in Britain’s 1945 general election, Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine consoled him: “It may well be a blessing in disguise.” Churchill replied, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”
To the 2012 campaign. Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By FRED BARNES
Aside from who won or lost, there was a lot not to like in the 2012 campaign. I say this as one who has followed campaigns from the local to the presidential level since I was a teenager and mostly enjoyed every moment of it. But not this year.
Josh Mandel’s uphill struggle.Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By KATE HAVARD
You might think an über-liberal like Democratic senator Sherrod Brown would be losing big time in moderate Ohio this year, but he isn’t.
Four scenarios for the next four yearsNov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JAMES W. CEASER
For the small school of political analysis that draws its inspiration from the great French 17th-century philosopher René Descartes, the cardinal methodological rule is to begin from what one can know “so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.” The only important fact about the election contest today that meets this stringent threshold is that someone named either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will be declared president, most likely on November 7.
Romney’s advantage with unaffiliated voters could prove key. Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JAY COST
With a week to go until the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney has a decided leg up on President Barack Obama.
Entrenching his first-term ‘achievements.’ Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Observers on both sides of the political aisle have noted, often with surprise, President Obama’s failure to offer an agenda for a second term in office. It would be a mistake, however, to assume Obama has no second-term agenda; he simply doesn’t have one he can express aloud. In truth, the president’s main agenda item for a second term is to cement the result of his first term that Americans like least—Obama-care.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Six months ago, in an editorial titled “President Romney,” I speculated that Mitt Romney—then behind in the polls—could prevail this fall: “If Romney can speak to Americans’ sense that it’s a big moment, with big challenges, and if he can make this a big election rather than a petty one, then he can win—perhaps big.” I continued: “Romney needs, over the next six months, to convince some number of swing voters he can and should be the next president.
How Biden and Obama blew it.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
Joe Biden was forewarned. When he did a walk-through at the site of his debate with Paul Ryan, he asked if there might be double screens when the debate was broadcast. Yes, indeed, he was told, though it would be up to each TV network and cable channel whether to show both candidates at once on a split screen.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced on August 11 that he had selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, the consensus was that he had made a daring choice with a huge risk: being demagogued on Medicare cuts.
That’s Ryan’s hope.
Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Speaking at a Tea Party rally on a sunny Saturday in June in southeastern Wisconsin, Paul Ryan confidently predicted Governor Scott Walker would win the recall election he was facing that coming Tuesday, June 5. “On Tuesday, we save Wisconsin,” Ryan said to applause from the crowd of 4,000. “And on November 6, Wisconsin saves America.”
Oct 29, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 07 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Viewers of the 2012 debates have witnessed an extraordinary turnaround. John Stuart Mill famously spoke of “a party of order and stability, and a party of progress or reform.” Once upon a time, Barack Obama and Joe Biden could claim the mantle of change and progress. But the televised exchanges between Mitt Romney and Obama and Paul Ryan and Biden have revealed that this is no longer the case.