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Lessons the GOP Need to Learn From the 2012 Election

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It became apparent fairly early in the evening last night that the Republicans were going to get thumped.  As state results began to march across the map, with major battleground states turning blue, and Tea Party candidates losing, Republican hopes waned.  Their plan simply didn't work.  The hundreds of millions of billionaires' money didn't work.  The politics of division didn't work.  The Tea Party revolution of 2010 failed. Despite almost unanimous prognostication that the race was going to be close and that we were going to be up all night, Obama won handily during prime time. Even though they did win some key races and keep control of the house, the GOP lost almost every hotly contested race, sometimes in a spectacular fashion.

What were the lessons here that the GOP should learn before 2014?  Well, I have few thoughts:

  • Unlimited dark money doesn't necessarily buy votes.  Karl Rove's and others' Super PACs poured hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, much from anonymous sources, into key races to win Congressional seats, Senate seats, and the presidency.  Now working in Colorado, I became a victim of this unlimited money, where 100 percent of the ad time was bought up, and I was carpet bombed during morning news shows, evening news shows, and primetime programming.  The electorate here became numb, and I believe all those millions had little to no effect in major races.
  • Voter participation matters.  The GOP became complacent and over-confident after the 2010 mid-term "landslide," and badly over-reached.  They won in 2010 not because the electorate suddenly became more conservative with the addition of Tea Party members; they won because regular people didn't vote that year.  In presidential years, turnout is around 60 percent (which is deplorable), but in off years, turnout is an anemic 40 percent or less.  Candidates are often picked in the primaries by 5 percent or less of the electorate.  In 2010, turnout was 41 percent nationwide.  With only 20 to 25 percent of the electorate's support, the Republicans claimed a landslide mandate, thumping their chests about how the country had suddenly become extremist, and introducing radical social legislation by the truckload.  Freshmen Tea Party darlings almost drove the economy into the ditch by trying to hold it hostage over simple debt limit votes.  Their problem, though, was that the mandate they claimed didn't exist.  They had simply benefited from low voter turnout, and had hoped that no one noticed.  In 2012, however, results were vastly different.  The voter ID laws and other voter suppression efforts by Republicans in 2011 and 2012 generally failed and/or were thrown out by the courts.  Voters turned out.  I haven't seen voter turnout numbers yet for this election, but based simply on reporting of long lines on election day and in early voting, turnout was big.  When turnout is big, Democrats do well.
  • Candidates matter.  Especially after the 2010 mid-terms, GOP leadership has been hijacked by the Tea Party, and as Steve Schmidt said this morning, ran "loons" in key races, especially for the Senate.  In the last two cycles, Republicans lost six Senate pickup opportunities by running nutjobs like Sharon Angle, Richard Mourdock, and Todd Akin.  Neanderthals don't get elected by normal people, at least most of the time.  If the party wants to start winning again, they have to run people who are actually qualified to hold office by killing off the candidacies of crazy people in the primaries.
  • Non-white voters don't support candidates whose issues important to them are used as weapons against them.  Some sources this morning are reporting that 75 percent of hispanics went for Obama last night.  To get nominated during the clown show of the primaries, Romney lurched to the right of even Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, idiotically declaring that we need to make things so bad for Hispanics that they would "self deport."  He played to the worst proclivities of his base, and it cost him big time in the general.
  • Lying doesn't work.  The most shocking strategy of the Romney campaign was a conscious decision made by the candidate that winning was more important than truth.  He freely lied about the president, the economy, welfare reform, the auto bailout, major companies, history, and even Americans themselves.  He flipped on every single social issue that he had advocated as governor of Massachusetts and stridently concealed his own tax records.  Almost without exception, he doubled down on his lies and shifting positions when publicly called out.  In the end, he badly damaged his reputation by the freeform lying, reducing confidence in his candidacy.  Many other Republicans followed suit.
  • Pandering to an immoral base doesn't work in a general election.  The GOP, driven to the extremist fringes of our society by screwballs who have taken over the party carries a cost when you have to appeal to normal people in a general election.  The base now consists of Bible thumping, gun-toting, war mongering weirdos who squawk about being pro-life while advocating for capital punishment, starting new wars, destroying personal rights, and country music.  They were actually successful at re-opening long settled issues like contraception and equal pay for women, scaring the hell out of millions of potential voters.  This pandering threatens to turn the Republican party into a regional body dominated by hillbillies, rednecks, bigots, religious zealots, and simpletons.
  • You have to live in the reality based world.  The GOP's response to every single bit of bad news during the campaign was to impune either the data or the people generating the data.  During the campaign, the candidate, or his surrogates, accused the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget of "cooking the books" whenever any of these non-partisan agencies issued reports with which they disagreed.  They engaged in free character assassination of every analyst, blogger or pundit with whom they disagreed.  Nate Silver of the New York Times 538 blog, who is a well-respected statistician, was openly attacked for his conclusions, even though he has a spotless track record in calling races (and baseball).  Their other dimension existence was put on full public display last night after Fox News statisticians called Ohio for Obama when Karl Rove, a paid flack for the GOP and Romney, demanded to be put on the air to retract the call, making a fool of himself and his network in front of millions of viewers.  I believe Rove's attempt to alter the results caused the awkward hour and a half delay before Romney finally conceded.
In order to stay a national party, the GOP must abandon the politics of fear, division, xenophobia, and religious extremism.  They have to abandon absolutist ideology in a number of areas including social policy, religion, taxes, and spending.  They also have to acknowledge that the electorate is changing and that they can no longer win by simply cornering the market on old, white, male bigots.  States like Texas, which can easily become a Latino majority in the next decade, are prime hunting ground for the Democrats in coming years, especially if the Republicans don't drop their xenophobic platform.  There simply aren't enough Bible thumping rednecks in the state to maintain their stranglehold, and bright, young Latino Democrats like the Castro brothers from San Antonio could very well be politicians of national stature in the next few cycles.  In fact, Joaquin Castro was elected to Congress just last night.

I'm not naive enough to think that the Republicans are suddenly going to become more compassionate, kind, caring, less white, less racist, less strident, and more female overnight.  However, if they don't embrace these truths, they will imperil their own future relevance or even existence.

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332 206
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Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
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Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
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