In the days to come, conservatives of various stripes will ponder the mystery of Obama’s victory. Birthers will offer colourful conspiracy theories that explain why America voted for a Muslim/black man/foreigner not once but twice. Some will blame it on Sandy, others on Romney. Still others will opt for denial — like Karl Rove having mini meltdown on Fox News over Ohio turning blue.
In the end, the Republicans had to cede the numbers, but they will be damned if they’ll give him a victory.
“An election has to have a consequence. Voters have weighed in tonight and both the Republicans and Obama have to respect their view,” says old Democratic hand James Carville, a patently absurd idea that House Speaker John Boehner was quick to dismiss. And never mind that he won the majority of the popular vote — contrary to rightwing prediction — conservative commentator Tunku Varadarajan underscores the real lesson of this unambiguous victory: “Let’s not forget: HALF of America did not re-elect Obama. He needs to digest that.”
Whatever the path of blinkered reasoning, it leads to the same, wrong conclusion: Rightward ho!
The day after is exactly as Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak already predicted:
If Governor Romney loses on Tuesday, the party’s reaction will be stinging. They will not blame conservative principles, the isolation of large portions of the American electorate, or the inability to convince voters of a suitable plan for economic recovery. Instead, they will blame Moderate Mitt for the loss.
… Ultimately, the party will claim their mistake was nominating a man who lacked truly conservative bona fides—a candidate who once supported gay rights, abortion rights, and universal health care. A Romney loss will ignite passion within the GOP to move ever rightward. Never again will the most vocal in the party settle for a moderate candidate. The path to Republican presidential success will not be to redefine its appeal, but to double down.
Doubling down on a losing hand may seem like madness, but it is preferable to acknowledging that far more frightening truth. A truth that New York Times‘ commentator Ross Douthat spelled out: “The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have.” Say farewell to riding into the White House on the coattails of born-again Christians, rural whites, and fiscal conservatives. Back in August, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) read out the writing on the wall: “The demographics race we’re losing badly… We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
One Donald Trump shrieking “revolution” does not a winning coalition make.
But why join the “reality based community” when it’s easier to pretend, as Bush advisor Ari Fleischer, that the 50-plus white guy is a ticket to the White House. Far better to insist that it’s Obama who has to worry about losing out on all those white folks in Indiana and North Carolina — the only two states he lost this year compared to 2008.
“Demography is destiny,” observed CNN pundit Gloria Borger. And so it is, and will be in the years to come for the Republicans who find themselves saddled with the grand old white man’s party.
“It’s extremely unhealthy for the nation to have one party that relies primarily on whites for votes, and the other is based on inclusive big tent politics,” says David Gergen, a self-identified right-of-center conservative. Well, it’s certainly unhealthy for the GOP’s electoral prospects. Barack Obama owes his victory to three constituencies: women, people of colour, and the LGBT community. Or to put it differently, Mitt Romney and the Republican party were defeated by the very same constituencies. And the reason they lost their vote isn’t hard to discern.
The calendar may say it’s 2012, but the party’s most prominent and visible leaders are still partying like its 1955. Over the past decade, the Republican rhetoric has moved backward in time. George Bush entered the White House in 2000 with the promise of a compassionate, more diverse conservatism — the kind that flaunted Condi Rice and Colin Powell, promised immigration reform, and wore its pro-life beliefs lightly. The traditional Democratic bastions such as the Latino vote were suddenly under threat, and the Donkey became the symbol of outdated identity politics — the kind that relied on sops and quotas to keep the minorities in line.
Then 9/11 happened and the Republican party — Bush included — collectively lost its mind. The hyper-patriotism that reenergised the base also demonised and alienated everyone else with its virulently white brand of xenphobia. Compassionate conservatism was consigned to the history books, and Bush’s victory in 2004 seemed to confirm every white conservative’s wet dream of a Rightwing nation, driven and defined by the Bible belt.
What appeared to be a long conservative boom turned out to be a mirage. A lost war and burgeoning deficits made the impossible possible — a black president with a foreign-sounding (read: Muslim) name. What ought to have been a reality check for the conservatives drove them ever loonier, bringing out in the open the Birthers, Tea Partiers, and outright misogynists. They drew exactly the wrong lesson from Obama’s victory: The Republican party needed to move further to the right. An error of interpretation reinforced when the Tea Party candidates won big in 2010. An error the conservatives seemed determined to commit once again — even though those very same Tea Party candidates have cost the GOP at least six seats in the Senate.
The American people have spoken, but the Republican party seems in no mood to listen.
Rare Republican analysts like Margaret Hoover have already seen the writing on the wall, writ large in the seismic shift in party identification among young Americans: “This generation is lost to the Republican party. And party identities solidify over time. It’s not just about geography, it’s about demographics.” The Republicans have lost not just the women, Latinos, but also the youth. And we’re not counting the ones they never had, ie the African Americans, gays, lesbians et al. To rephrase one Democratic consultant, Obama is winning “the America of the future,” while Romney lost with “the America of the past.”
Some are predicting a “civil war” within the GOP, but those are the optimists like Tom Friedman:
Granted, the morning after an election defeat, angry G.O.P. hard-liners would surely vow to obstruct Obama more than ever. I’m not afraid. Because the morning after the morning after, G.O.P. governors, mayors and business leaders would see where the country really is and finally do what needs to be done: either crush or separate themselves from a radical base that has forced Republican candidates into a war against math, physics, biology, Hispanics and gays and lesbians — all at the same time.
Well, good luck with that.
The next generation of Republicans — i.e Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Marc Rubio, Tim Ryan etc — are not exactly moderates, except by lopsided Republican standards, and none have a solution to GOP’s biggest problem: The base is growing more conservative, while the country is steadily moving towards the centre. Republican primaries throw up candidates that are too rightwing to be elected — or as in Romney’s case, candidates too fake to be elected. The result is a party that is out of touch with mainstream America — a charge once smugly leveled at liberals by the very same party.
For all the talk about “introspection” and “self-correction,” it is likely that Hudak’s assessment will hold true:
In the immediate aftermath of a second Obama term, Republicans will do some soul-searching. That search may come up empty. Rather than changing with a changing nation, the Republican Party will reflect the proverbial definition of insanity…
The Republican Party is not doomed. It will not disappear nor divide. It will come to grips with the realities of a changing society. It will learn that a changing electoral map will work against them in the future—no matter the outcome of the 2012 election. In time, they will realise their path to survival.
Just don’t expect it to happen any time soon.