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Election 2012
Saturday, 2012 November 17 - 11:56 am
With Obama's re-election two weeks in the rear-view mirror, there's been a lot of soul-searching and hand-wringing in the Republican party lately. Obviously most of the pundits have already weighed in on this topic, but I wanted to add my take on what happened in the election, what's in store for the Republican party, and what we might see in 2016.

Why Romney Lost

I sometimes wonder: is Mitt Romney simply delusional?

Two things have come out recently: that he believes Obama won because of extraordinary financial "gifts" he handed out to his constituency (free health care! free contraceptives! free everything for illegal immigrants!), and that he fully expected to win Ohio right up until it was called for Obama on election night. This tells me something: he really believed that "normal" hard-working people would turn out in droves, and that the lazy free-loading Democrats wouldn't. It also tells me that he was insulated by a bubble of yes-men, people who didn't impress upon him that he was really in trouble. The rumor is that he didn't even prepare a concession speech until the election was over.

What Romney should be waking up to, is the fact that his message was never broad enough to reach the whole country. To be sure, his "47%" comments underscored that fact, and those remarks did a lot of damage to his campaign. But they did damage because they showed the real Romney, and people could see that. This is the Romney that wanted the auto industry to go bankrupt, and Ohioans in particular were turned off by that. This is the Romney that wants immigrants to deport themselves. This is the Romney that, despite his frantic debate backsliding, wants to give more tax breaks to the wealthy. The real Romney showed through the facade, and that guy was simply unelectable.

Maybe there was some inkling that those insular Republican views were an issue, but that led to Romney's next problem: flip-flopping. By sliding around on his positions on taxes, abortion, and Medicare, Mitt Romney suddenly looked a lot like John Kerry. I've often said that John Kerry ran one of the worst campaigns in modern history... now I think Romney may have one-upped him. How do you lose an election where the economy is struggling to rebound and the President's approval rating is below 50%? By being even less likable and less trustworthy than him.

The thing is, this is the guy that the Republican party chose to be their standard-bearer. They didn't choose an intellectual, inclusive moderate like Jon Huntsman, who unlike Romney didn't sell out his moderate positions to appease the Tea Party during the primaries. Guess what, Republicans: I think Huntsman might have won the general election.

So there we get to the heart of the Republican party's structural problems: the increasing power of the far-right wing. This is not strictly the Tea Party or the social conservative wing: it's kind of the intersection of those two groups, the part of the party that is fiercely religious, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and anti-science. They deny global warming, they want to close the borders, they want to prevent gay marriage, and they want religious principles codified into law.

For some reason, the Republican party has let this wing take over the agenda. But meanwhile, the country has shifted in the other direction. Attitudes on gay marriage have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades, and now a majority of people support it, for the first time in history. Meanwhile the youth of the country is increasingly secular, and political arguments based on religion have less sway. The immigrant population of the country is growing rapidly. And with the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, global warming is finally back in the discussion.

And don't even get me started on all the rape comments by Republican congressional candidates.

Some in the Republican party want to double down on the right-wing, saying that the reason they lost is because they did not clearly articulate their message. They would have won if only people understood what they stood for, they say. But the message of late has been that rape is the victim's problem to deal with, and that equality for everyone is a bad thing. Articulating that message made things worse, not better.

Some Republicans point to the fact that they sustained their House majority as evidence that the party is still viable. But let's note that if not for the redistricting that came about in 2010, that majority would be gone. More people voted for Democratic House candidates than Republicans, but the district lines are drawn to favor the Republican candidates. That structural advantage will stay with the Republicans for a little while, but demographic shifts will continue to erode it.

So smarter Republicans are saying that Republicans need to change their message. They can't be the anti-science party. They can't be the anti-gay party. They can't be the anti-immigrant party. Bobby Jindal even said "We can't be the stupid party". It's encouraging talk; now they just need to follow it up with real concrete action.

What Happens Now

The big thing that's facing us now is the so-called "fiscal cliff", the automatic decreases in domestic spending and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts scheduled for the end of the year. We're facing this because Congress failed to come up with a deficit reduction deal last year, after the showdown over the federal debt limit.

There are two solutions that apparently no one wants. One is to eliminate the issue entirely by simply raising the debt ceiling and retaining existing spending and taxations levels. The Tea Party won't let this happen because they insist the deficit is a critical issue; the White House won't let this happen because they really want taxes for the wealthy to go up, having conceded that issue for the past four years.

The other is to simply let the fiscal cliff happen. While it may not be as catastrophic as some people fear, it would certainly damage the economy, which no one wants. I think this outcome is much worse for Republicans, who would now find themselves negotiating tax rates from a different (higher) starting point, and would bear the brunt of the political toll in the 2014 elections. Democrats would dislike the cuts to the social programs, but I think that damage would be easier to reverse.

So I think what has to happen is this: the Republicans must concede something on taxes on the wealthy. They have some political cover, pointing to the fact that Obama did win the election and that they have to listen to the people. The Tea Party and Grover Norquist will be outraged; but as I've pointed out, Republicans want to survive as a party, they'll have to change; and part of that is distancing themselves from Norquist.

On other issues: Obamacare? That issue is dead and done. There'll still be some fighting at the state level, but you won't see another Presidential candidate run on the platform of repealing Obamacare. By 2016 most of the law will be implemented; eliminating it is not an option.

Obama's other domestic priorities for his second term will be to pass a jobs bill, to reform the country's energy policies, and to do something about immigration reform. I think Obama would like to see energy independence be his lasting legacy; of all the things he talks about in his speeches, this is the one that seems to look furthest into the future.

2016 Republican Field

Chris Christie is an interesting guy: he's clearly not the typical obstructionist, anti-everything Republican. He's a get-things-done kind of guy, as evidenced by his close workings with Obama during the Hurricane Sandy recovery. It's hard not to like him, though I definitely get the sense that his candor will get him to trouble somewhere down the line.

Bobby Jindal is smart, reliably conservative, and a minority. He'd appeal to the fiscal conservative wing of the party while perhaps appealing to moderates by being pro-science and less religious. Would rural religious conservatives support him? Perhaps not, but that may not matter if he can draw enough of the rest of the party behind him.

Marco Rubio is a Tea Party favorite, and Republicans would love to see a Latino on the ticket to help draw back that part of electorate. I think he'd be an early front-runner in the primaries; I don't know how well he'd do in the general election, despite the possible demographic advantages he'd bring.

People who shouldn't run (because I believe they can't win): Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush.

People who won't run (but maybe should): Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman.

2016 Democratic Field

This may be an open field if Joe Biden chooses not to run, and will be a competitive field even if he does.

The heavyweight, of course, is Hillary Clinton, who is resigning as Secretary of State (possibly in part to help her prepare for her campaign). Her popularity has increased dramatically recently and she'd be an instant favorite for both the primary and general election. The historic possibility of electing the first woman President after the first non-white President would be appealing to a lot of people.

The other potential candidates are less well-known nationally. Cory Booker? Andrew Cuomo? Elizabeth Warren? Brian Schweizter? An intriguing possibility if Kirsten Gillibrand, who is a young rising star in the party; however, it may be too easy to portray her has too inexperienced for the presidency.

People who shouldn't run (because I believe they can't win): Martin O'Malley, Joe Biden, Deval Patrick, Mark Warner. This country has had enough of generic white guys, to be honest.

People who won't run (but maybe should): Michelle Obama, Jon Stewart, Al Gore.
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Posted by Ken in: politics


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