Congratulations to President Obama on having won a second term. He and his campaign did the job they had to do, and did a very good job indeed in maintaining the president’s 2008 coalition in the Electoral College. They deserve the kudos that they have gotten and are getting in the media, and future presidential candidates will measure their staffs against–among others–the quality of the people who worked for Barack Obama’s election four years ago, and his re-election this year.
Now is the time for pundits like me to reckon with any past predictions we made regarding the election. Back on September 17th, I predicted a 53-47 split in favor of the president, and a 322-216 margin for Barack Obama in the Electoral College. The popular vote margin turned out to be a dramatic overstatement on my part (and thank God for that and other small favors), but as of this writing, the president leads Mitt Romney 303-206 in the Electoral College; if Florida ends up falling to Team Obama (there has been no call yet by CNN, which is what I am watching), the president will have exceeded my initial expectations for his electoral vote count by ten. I tried to combat my pessimism of the intellect with optimism of the will, but pessimism of the intellect found itself justified in the end. PBS Newshour noted an electoral map that I drew up; it assumed what I thought was a best case scenario for Romney–and represented a tightening compared to my initial electoral estimations–and still had Romney losing to the president by twelve electoral votes. The morning of the election, I tweeted two new estimations; both of which had the president winning, and both of which undercounted the total he will eventually rack up in the Electoral College, with or without Florida.
I would give anything to have seen Mitt Romney shock and surprise me by winning. Anything at all.
As of this writing, the president leads Mitt Romney by a little over one million votes in the national popular count. That is quite the comedown from the over nine million vote Obama margin four years ago, and even in defeat, Governor Romney can take pride in having whittled down the margin so significantly. The president’s narrow popular vote victory was of course due to the conditions in the country, but it was also due to Team Romney’s own hard work. Mitt Romney and his campaign fell short (alas), but they fought the good fight. The Romney campaign may not have won, but they denied the president a popular mandate, and they made clear that we are a very divided and polarized country. This means that for his continued political viability–and continued political viability is a major issue for a president who cannot augment his power with the threat of re-election anymore–Barack Obama will have to recognize the fact that roughly half of the country is not with him, and he will have to compromise as a result. And if he doesn’t, he and his party will pay a price down the line. For checking Barack Obama’s broader political ambitions, at least, Mitt Romney and his campaign deserve credit.
I would hope–for the sake of unity, if nothing else–that people will refrain from getting the knives out for the governor, his staff, or any of the people who worked hard to bring about a Romney presidency. Now is not the time for such recriminations. In fact, if we never engage in such recriminations, that would be fine with me. Focusing instead on the things we can change as a party and as a movement so that we are the ones celebrating in two years, and again in four, would be the best course of action. And that means forgetting about media bias, forgetting about what effects Hurricane Sandy may have had on the race, and forgetting about every other thing that we don’t have control over. By focusing on what is within our power to change and improve, we increase our chances of being victors the next time Americans head to the ballot box.
And yes, there is a lot that we can and ought to change. For one thing, we are going to have to do something about the pronounced and profound inability of the Republican party and the right in general to attract the support of Hispanics/Latinos. Irrespective of what we think about the issue of immigration–and as the child of immigrants, I would hope that we are always welcoming to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free–we have to address the fact that Hispanics/Latinos simply do not want to partner with the Republican party and the right in general because they believe that the Republican party and the right do not have the best interests of the Hispanic/Latino community at heart. Whether or not this is an accurate assessment, it is the assessment that exists, and unless it is addressed in a constructive fashion, Republicans will continue to find themselves losing elections. Simple math and obvious demographics suggest as much.
And of course, while dealing with this issue is the beginning of a thoughtful self-examination, it is not and should not be the end. From time to time, parties find themselves in philosophical funks when they realize that their ideas and beliefs are not shared by enough of the populace to constitute a governing majority. At such times, parties must adapt or die. The Republican party transformed itself from the Nixon/Ford days with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, and won a resilient governing coalition in the process. The Democratic party transformed itself from the McGovern/Carter/Mondale/Dukakis days with the third way of Bill Clinton which fundamentally transformed the party during the time that he headed it (remember when Democrats were for free trade?).
Now, the Republican party and the right in general once again faces a philosophical reckoning. We do not need to ditch wholesale our ideas–and we shouldn’t–but we do need to be open to new ones. We need to hear what the electorate has said in the past two presidential elections, and we need to work to incorporate that message into our own political makeup in as honest and as conscientious a way as we can. It will not do to pretend to be something that we are not; the voters will see right through that. But it also will not do to keep going the way we are. The Whigs are history. The Republican party will be as well and the right will be marginalized in the process if we pretend that all is well. We have made progress since the 2008 election, but we need to work faster, think more, and reach out more effectively if we are to achieve the governing coalition that we want to achieve, a coalition that will give us not only the responsibility of governance, but a genuine mandate to lead.
And to do that, we need to pick better candidates. We will need to pick them on the presidential level, to be sure, but we will also have to pick them down-ticket as well. I can understand and appreciate the desire for candidates that find themselves completely and entirely at home on the conservative end of the philosophical spectrum, but to be perfectly and entirely blunt, we have taken RINO-hunting much too far. Had we chosen Mike Castle as our Senate nominee in Delaware in 2010, had we chosen a more appealing candidate to take on Claire McCaskill–perhaps the weakest Senate incumbent in this election cycle, who still won re-election instead of getting ready to spend more time with her family–had we asked Dick Lugar to represent us yet again in a general election fight in Indiana (one that he would have won without having broken a sweat, I might add), we would have had three more Senate seats. Three more votes for a Republican Senate majority leader and whip. Three more votes for Republicans to wield gavels in committees and subcommittees. Three more votes to have a majority that would dictate the Senate agenda, that would have more power to shape legislation to our liking, that would have caused Harry Reid to think about retiring from the Senate and returning to Nevada to play the slots. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would have been more than happy to put up with six years from Dick Lugar, six years from Mike Castle, and six years from a non-Todd Akin for all of that. Senate seats cost a lot to lose, and if I may be so bold as to ask, what is the use of an ideological and philosophical purification project that goes awry and just causes our movement to lose elections?
Having written all of this, I want to end this post on a note of hope. Yes, this election was a disappointment–even for those of us who expected to be disappointed. Yes, we should have won this one. And yes, it is no fun to lose. But that’s life in politics; you win some and you lose some. The good news is that just as no victory is ever permanent, no defeat need to be either–not if we do what we need to do to get ourselves off the mat and in fighting shape again. The wheel goes round and round, and someday soon, we’ll be the ones dancing and singing in the streets as we listen to the words of a victorious candidate who represents and embodies our hopes, our dreams, and the better angels of our nature. In the meantime, while you and I are rightly concerned about the future of our country, there is no need to be pessimistic. We have seen worse days as a nation, and we have overcome the challenges of those times triumphantly and dazzlingly. I have faith that we will again. I have noted before Adam Smith’s comment that “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” America is, above all things, resilient. She can stand a lot of bungling on the part of our nation’s political leadership class and still find ways to bounce back. We ought not to give up on that essential and winning quality of the country we love.
I know that at least some of you must have spent some time on Twitter and reading blogs on the other side of the partisan and philosophical divide. They are having a grand old time on that side, believing–as they are wont to do in their characteristic fits of astronomical arrogance–that only their victories are permanent, that only our defeats are inevitable and fatal, and that the sun will shine on their faces until the ending of the world. They would have you suffer under this conceit. Do not give them the satisfaction of seeing you suffer. I quote Smith again:
Are you in adversity? Do not mourn in the darkness of solitude, do not regulate your sorrow according to the indulgent sympathy of your intimate friends; return, as soon as possible, to the day-light of the world and of society. Live with strangers, with those who know nothing, or care nothing about your misfortune; do not even shun the company of enemies; but give yourself the pleasure of mortifying their malignant joy, by making them feel how little you are affected by your calamity, and how much you are above it.
We are above the calamities our opponents would deal out to us. Now is the time to show it, and if we play our cards right, in elections to come, we will indeed prove that we are above the misfortunes of the present.
I am going to sleep with the comfort that tomorrow will be better. Because tomorrow, we will get back to work. And only good things can come from working hard, working smart, and rising above to realize better days.