It's been more than a week since Election Day, and the process through which the GOP figures out where everything went terribly wrong in its quest to retake the White House is ongoing. It's definitely a debate worth having: President Barack Obama's reelection bucked many of the conventionally accepted historical trends relating to incumbents in a poorly-performing economy.
Eventually, I feel pretty confident that those tasked with diagnosing the failure to unseat Obama in 2012 will eventually settle on something like, "Well, we ended up with a pretty implausible nominee who couldn't relate to normal human-Americans (and who, indeed, often demonstrated an open contempt for them) after the nativist clique that took over the party in 2010 ran off many of our more talented prospects from the race and kept them on the sidelines. And our long primary season was pretty goofy and alienating. Also, as subpar as our candidate was, it probably didn't help matters that we spent the lion's share of the campaign season slagging him publicly until he turned in that one decent debate performance. In retrospect, maybe we shouldn't have done that. Oh, and why did we force our candidate to run away from his signature legislative achievement -- Massachusetts health care reform -- when that was the very thing that first drew us to him as a potential presidential aspirant in the first place? That seems like a pretty big cock-up on our part, too."
Once they get through that, Republicans will probably realize that they have a lot of talented prospects who do not resemble "sneering plutocrats" and who have fairly humane approaches to issues like comprehensive immigration reform, and they'll start feeling pretty good about 2016. (Especially if the best the Democrats can offer is, say, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.)
But, you know, it's a process, and right now, the self-analysis hasn't progressed beyond, "We lost because of something somebody else did, that wasn't fair, waaaahh." Let's examine a few of these.
Hurricane Sandy. It's actually pretty hilarious that the way Hurricane Sandy was sized up as a potential game changer went from being the Thing That Could Cost Obama The Election to The Thing That Definitely Halted Romney's Momentum. For what it's worth, there is a body of interesting political science on the effects of exogenous weather events on elections. But, if we are strictly keeping to the facts, Romney's "momentum" was halted well before Sandy became a news event, full stop.
One of the secondary effects of this narrative is that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been labeled something of a turncoat because he coordinated with Obama on the disaster response. It's lamentable, I guess, that Sandy didn't have the decency to hold off destroying so many lives until we were all shot of the 2012 horserace, but it seems to me that everyone should reflect on whether a world in which people of different political parties can't come together to work on something bigger than themselves is something that we should all rush off to join.
Obama's "gifts." This is Mitt Romney's explanation for what went wrong, anyway -- he told a group of donors that he lost only because the president gave a bunch of "gifts" to young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.
It really can't be denied that the Obama administration demonstrated cagey timing in rolling out policies like his "DREAM Act-lite" executive order. But it should be pointed out that reforming the immigration process, allowing college graduates to stay on their parents' insurance for a period of time, keeping contraceptive care affordable and reforming student loans were all campaign promises Obama signed onto back in 2008, and presidents do try to keep their campaign promises. More importantly, these policies are not "gifts" -- they were earned, by American citizens who manifested enough political clout to pressure their lawmakers into acting on their behalf. (It's much, much easier to do that when you can afford an army of lobbyists.)
Besides, if you want to properly analyze the two candidates in terms of gift-giving, let's recall that Mitt Romney repeatedly promised to restore $716 billion to a program that was speeding the demise of Medicare, as well as pledged to deregulate the energy sector and keep the EPA out of coal country. So, if "easily snowed elderly people" and "owners of coal mining interests" had been a larger share of the "gift-getting" electorate, maybe Romney would have won.
Black people probably did something unfair. The head of Maine's Republican Party heard some rumors about black people voting in his state and is pretty sure he can't recall that many black people who live in Maine. Not that he's checked! (And not that it would have made a dime's worth of difference to Obama winning Maine with breezy ease.) He just thinks it's pretty weird, and if everyone would give him some money to spend on sending "thank you notes" to Maine voters, he's pretty sure he'll be able to catch some fraudsters!
Meanwhile, people are straight up flabbergasted and concerned about these voting precincts in Philadelphia and Cleveland that failed to record even one vote for Mitt Romney. How could this have happened? Well, if I pull out Occam's Razor, the conclusion I cut to immediately is that these districts contain zero Romney supporters. And hey, here's Dave Weigel noting that back in 2008, some of these same districts "pitched a shutout" for Obama, while on the other hand "the common thread" that unites all the concern-trolling over these voter precincts is "a total lack of evidence that any fraud occurred." So, my theory that voter precincts devoid of Romney supporters yield zero Romney votes is looking pretty good.
Beyond that, Paul Ryan just thinks it was manifestly unjust that the "urban vote" even turned out for the election. Were the "urbans" even allowed to vote? Not fair, obviously. Ryan, of course, lost his home town of Janesville, Wis. pretty decisively, which is weird because I had not ever considered Janesville to be all that "urban." But it must be!
This is just my crazy pet theory, by the way, but I rather think that if you want to earn the "African-American vote," then the first step in that process should probably be, "Stop being so fanatical about making it harder for black people to vote." Call me crazy, but I have a feeling that as soon as the GOP curbs its voter-fraud tin-foil hattery, they'll actually start to chew into these traditional Democratic constituencies and bring larger and larger shares into their ranks. You know how they say, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?" Well, let's just say that you catch more voters with mature appeals to their better natures than you do with -- you know ... wild-eyed hostility to their very existence.
The GOP needs a "50 State Solution": This is from Karl Rove:
"I hate to say it, but we need to copy what Howard Dean did, and that is make our ground game in all 50 states," Rove told Sean Hannity on Monday. "While we had a reasonably good ground game in places like Ohio and Florida -- look, we didn't have a ground game in a lot of these states with Senate races and so we lost North Dakota by 3,300 votes. We lost [Montana] by 17,000 votes. We need to have a better ground game in all 50 states."
And Karl Rove is ... absolutely correct, actually! Of all the post-game analysis I've heard, this is definitely one I'd recommend the GOP keep and consider. The only thing that I'd point out, here, is that long before Karl Rove was suggesting that the GOP swipe the "50 State Strategy" from Howard Dean, Howard Dean was suggesting that the Democrats swipe the "50 State Strategy" from the Republicans. (If I recall correctly, in fact, Rove was the guy who inspired Dean in the first place.)
So, why Rove went with the "get a bunch of crackpot millionaires to finance ineffective advertisements" plan instead of a strategy that's been universally deemed as smart is anybody's guess, and does not make much sense. Unless of course, Rove's American Crossroads was just a straight-up hustle designed to funnel dumb-donor money to political consultants and ad-men in a campaign season where Rove overconfidently assumed that Romney and his downticket colleagues were all sure to win their races in any event. That would sort of explain why his new idea is "let's maybe actually do politics, again."
At any rate, Republicans are working through all of their post-election issues, and it's rough-going, but they should eventually get to the part where they realize that having a candidate that everyone -- including the important GOP pundits and thought-leaders -- distrusts and despises, and who is best known for a policy innovation that's now considered to be socialist Big-Government poison, is probably not optimal.
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