After losing five of the last six popular votes in Presidential elections, bungling their shot at taking back the Senate majority for the second straight cycle with some truly embarrassing candidates, and watching their main coalition of voters precipitously fall as a share of the electorate yet again, it’s fair to say the Republican Party is officially in the wilderness.
Elections, of course, have consequences, and one of the main ones stemming from this cycle will be swing voters’ direct repudiation of extremism on the right. Some have called Tuesday night a mandate for liberalism, others say it’s simply an extension of the unique Obama 2008 coalition, but it appears to be more of a mandate for centrism in American politics than anything else.
Look no further than the Senate, where the Democrats netted three seats in a year where Republicans had an easy path to the majority, to illustrate this point.
In Missouri, Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin, Mr. “legitimate rape,” by 15 points. In Virginia, the pragmatic Tim Kaine beat George Allen by four and a half points. In Indiana, true blue-dog Joe Donnelly beat Richard Mourdock (the guy who said if someone gets raped God intended it, so they shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion) by five and a half points. Shockingly, incumbent moderate Democrat Jon Tester beat Denny Rehberg by four points in Montana. And Democrat Heidi Heitkamp beat Rick Berg by a point in North Dakota.
What do all these races have in common? Republicans should have won each and every one of them and walked into the majority. Instead, extremism won out, the tea party got whom they wanted and the Democrats have simply strengthened their hold on the deliberative chamber of Congress.
The extremist problem has seeped its way up to the highest level of our body politic -presidential elections. In 2008, the once unabashedly moderate John McCain started talking like a tea party hobbit (as he once described his colleagues in the House on the Senate floor) to gain the far right’s approval as a candidate, and this year, the center-right Mitt Romney was forced to cow-tow to the fringe as well.
The Republican nominating process irrecoverably weakened Mr. Romney, which is partially his fault. He never needed to run to the right of Rick Perry on immigration or refer to himself as a “severe conservative” to win, but he did it out of fear. Fear that the far right would put up Rick Santorum to beat him.
Fortunately he didn’t, and thank God for that since Santorum would have been the national-candidate version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock. He only wasn’t because Romney was willing to sell out.
And when he sold out to the far right, he lost the majority of America. His last minute sprint to the middle clearly did not matter, or go far enough, in the mind of early deciding voters.
Mitt Romney likely lost on Tuesday because, even though they always trusted him more to fix the economy, Americans did not trust him to stand up the most extreme elements in his own party.
Many said this would be the last time Republicans would try to win a national election solely by driving up turnout among their white base, due to changing demographics. And as pretty much every analyst has said in wake of this election, demographics are destiny. I’ll amend that statement a bit: if Republicans aren’t willing to change in some way, demographics are death for the GOP.
In 1992, white voters made up 89 percent of the electorate, while Hispanics made up 8 percent – Bill Clinton won 43 percent of Hispanics beating Bush 41, who won 37 percent, and Ross Perot, who won 19 percent. Tuesday night the white number fell all the way to 72 percent, and Hispanics rose to 10 percent of the electorate. But most importantly, President Obama won 71 percent of Hispanics – Mr. Romney received 27 percent of their vote. The difference was the most-stark in the swing state of Colorado (one Romney had to win), Obama won Hispanics 87 percent to Mr. Romney’s 10 percent in Colorado.
The nosedive began after the 2004 election when Bush won 44 percent of Hispanics. In 2008, John McCain won 31 percent.
Republicans’ harsh rhetoric on abortion and other social issues has also sunk them with many female swing voters. In 2004, George W. Bush received 48 percent of the women’s vote to John Kerry’s 51 percent. Tuesday night, Mr. Romney lost women to the president by 11 points (55 percent to 44 percent).
Finally, young people broke 60 to 37 percent for the president and made up 19 percent of the electorate (up from 18 percent in 2008).
The numbers make it clear. It’s time for conservatives to do some soul-searching. The Reagan revolution is over. Republicans no longer have a legitimate coalition to win national elections.
There will be three main schools of thought among Republicans as to why they lost this election, and where the party should go from here.
The first is the status-quo crowd who will blame it all on Mr. Romney and his campaign. Romney, many will argue was always a flawed candidate that could never win. They will be somewhat right (in fact, I always suspected Romney couldn’t win), but this is an over-simplification, and ignores the basic demographic issues Republicans face. This is part of the establishment crowd who will push to try the white turnout strategy in 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election once again.
The second is the true ‘don’t tread on me’ crowd. These are the Libertarian Ayn Rand-devotees and Ron Paul supporters. This segment will never really win out, but their voices, which are committed to social liberalism and economic conservatism to their furthest extent will grow louder. Traditional conservatives must fight this growing segment with all they have because these folks represent the antithesis of conservatism. Libertarians don’t want conservatism. Instead they want a radical politics with no moderation or expectation of virtue. They are worse than the Tea Party economically and worse than Nancy Pelosi socially.
Third and finally, there’s the crowd that will call for moderation because of basic demographic math. They will push for comprehensive immigration reform on the Hill with broad Republican support (and yes, probably with some type of path to citizenship) to stop the bleeding with Hispanics. They will push the party to at least accept civil unions for gay couples in an effort to line up with swing voters. And finally they will call for the party to adopt a more moderate position on abortion – still pro-life, but with exceptions in the cases of rape and incest, so as to not offend swing-voting women.
There’s no doubt the path out of the wilderness is number three, but I fear the weak-kneed tacticians in Washington will cling to path number one, at least for one more cycle, when the repudiation of these far right positions will likely grow even stronger.
Political parties like to win. It’s what they’re made for, and it’s time for the establishment to reassert itself and tell the grassroots enough, enough losing and enough extremism.
America is a center-right country. It’s likely to remain that way. Now all we need is a center-right party ready to lead the country where it wants to go.