It’s not that conservatism isn’t a governing philosophy, it’s that lunacy isn’t a governing philosophy.
— Joe Scarborough
The election of 2012 is over and Obama and the Democrats have given Romney and the Republicans a sound thrashing. After the Republican sweep in the 2010 Congressional elections, this analyst wondered whether 2012 would be a repeat of 1980 (when the challenger swept out a weak incumbent) or 2004 (when a weak incumbent fended off a weak challenger). Once the Republican field took shape, I felt certain we would witness a repeat of 2004.
I was wrong. Despite a weak economy and the shadow of Benghazi hanging over his administration, Obama won handily. He won an absolute majority of the popular vote, and garnered almost 3 million more votes than Romney. His electoral vote count will probably reach 332, a decline from 2008 to be sure, but still impressive. Democratic gains in the Senate were equally impressive. With Democrats in 23 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs, there was every expectation that the Republicans would gain at least four seats, giving them control of the Senate. Instead Republicans lost ground, and were defeated in senatorial contests in the red states of Indiana, Missouri, and Montana.
The Republicans have no one but themselves to blame. Mitt Romney ran possibly the worst presidential campaign in our history. He tried to pander and lie his way to the White House, and the electorate called him on it. All politicians pander and lie. Mitt was the first to do nothing but. The better Romney came through in his concession speech — the first and only honorable act of his campaign. The man clearly lacks an inner core of character and belief, and the nation is well off without him in the top job.
Voters were also wise enough to reject Republican loonies such as Todd Aiken (the “legitimate rape” candidate) and Richard Mourdock (who maintained that a pregnancy resulting from rape is God’s will). One Republican shibboleth after another went down in disgrace on Tuesday. There was no voter fraud — indeed, the only electoral fraud perpetrated during this cycle consisted of Republican legislative moves to suppress voter turnout. The voters didn’t buy the contention that 47% of their fellow citizens — including veterans and serving soldiers, sailors, and airmen — are parasites. Gay marriage was endorsed by voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington, and yet the sky did not fall. It is now clear that full equality for gays and lesbians can only be delayed, not denied.
It is difficult to see how the far right of the party can reconcile itself to moderation. Pragmatists win elections, but fanatics prefer to go down in flames.
Even on Tuesday night there were rumblings from Tea Partiers that the defeat was caused by the Republican establishment’s determination to foist a moderate upon them. This is an illusion that the far right of the party will continue to cling to, perhaps to its dying breath. It is quite clear that had Mike Huckabee run in 2012, he would’ve won the nomination. It is equally clear that Obama would have beaten him, and by an even wider margin. The fact is, despite mass unemployment and huge budget deficits, only a truly moderate Republican — fiscally conservative, socially liberal — could have beaten Obama. The real Mitt Romney — the Massachusetts moderate of ten years ago — could’ve won this election. But that Romney would never have gotten the nomination. This is the dilemma the Republican Party must solve if it is to remain a force nationally.
The country has changed. Whites of European descent no longer dominate our politics, at least when it comes to electing presidents. Romney got 60% of the white vote and still lost. Had Romney been able to garner the same percentage of the Hispanic vote as McCain in 2008, he would’ve been elected. Yet he failed to clear even that low bar. Hispanics, young people, and women are trending not so much for the Democrats, but rather against the far right that now dominates the Republican Party. The not-so-subtle playing of the race card (Sarah Palin’s “shuck and jive” comment; John Sununu’s “learn to be an American” diatribe) fell flat with an increasingly nonwhite, female, and tolerant electorate. White males no longer constitute a big enough bloc to win national elections. The Republican Party must recognize this, or die.
Prospects for 2013
Obama’s victory and the hard blows suffered by the Tea Party ensure that a budget deal will be struck in 2013, probably along the lines proposed by Obama in the summer of 2011. That is, tax increases as well as spending cuts will be enacted. The Republicans are desperate to prevent sequestration, as the defense cuts will hurt their home base in the South disproportionately. The Tea Party caucus will not be able to exercise a veto on the House Republicans as a whole, given that the 2012 election results represent a repudiation of its ideology. A compromise will be reached, unless Obama doubles down yet again on revenues. The need on both sides for a deal is so great that something will almost certainly get done. Whether it will be the best deal for the nation or a band-aid solution remains, of course, to be seen.
In terms of foreign policy, Obama’s reelection causes the prospect of war with Iran to recede somewhat. Time is in fact on the side of the US and Israel, rather than Iran. Should Iran persist in its present course, its economy will collapse before it can obtain a nuclear delivery system capable of striking its neighbors. The Obama administration realizes this. The John Boltons of the world, who would’ve been empowered by a Romney victory, don’t.
This is not to say that Obama’s victory represents morning in America. The US faces almost insurmountable problems — economic, fiscal (any likely budget deal aside), and in terms of foreign policy (we seem to be addicted to a world policy that we can no longer afford to carry on). The $2 trillion American businesses have been keeping on the sidelines will be put in play over the next few years, albeit with less enthusiasm than would have been the case had Romney prevailed. But even this will not guarantee that an economy buffeted by debt, globalization, and structural problems in education and healthcare will recover its place as the dynamo of the world.
Prospects for 2016
The Republican Party must become more moderate if it is to have a chance of recapturing the White House in 2016. It is difficult to see, however, how the far right of the party can reconcile itself to such a move. Pragmatists win elections, but fanatics prefer to go down in flames. The problem is complicated by the fact that the far right is itself divided between libertarians and social conservatives. Presidential contenders from the right wing of the party in 2016 will probably include Rick Santorum (who finished second to Romney in the primaries), Paul Ryan, and Rand Paul (whose libertarianism makes him the most interesting of the three). Each of these men is capable of winning the Republican nomination, but none of them is likely to win a national election. New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Florida senator Marco Rubio both possess a more broad-based appeal, but neither will be seasoned enough for a successful presidential run in 2016. Christie, of course, would find the primaries hard going after his embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy. The possibility exists that an intramural brawl could wreck the Republican Party for 2016 and beyond.
The one candidate who could unite the Republicans in 2016 is Jeb Bush. The nomination is probably his for the taking, if he wants it. A Bush-Rubio or Bush-Christie ticket would be a formidable one, particularly as the George W. Bush administration fades from the national consciousness. A battle of the titans, Jeb versus Hillary, would be a spectacle beyond even the 2008 campaign. If the Democrats succeed in muddling through the next four years, it’s hard to see how Hillary could be beaten; the gender gap would be just too much for Jeb to overcome. That these two might be contesting for the right to preside over a nation and empire in decline probably would not deter them. The cheers of the crowd will drown out the sound of creaking floodgates.