Some Republican survivors in Congress say nothing in Tuesday's presidential election result suggests that the times they have a'changed. I guess the drugs have finally kicked in.
Despite eight years of incompetent governing, a foolish Iraq war and an economic collapse, it is conceivable (barely) that John McCain might have eked out a win if he'd made a pitch to the great swath of Americana that lives in the political middle, longing for change.
Conservative hardcores wouldn"t allow it, and some of them think his campaign should have gone negative earlier than it did. The approach chosen was ultimately spotty: Sarah Palin was allowed to accuse Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," but the Rev. Jeremiah Wright card was never played.
Still, absent a serious, forward-looking appeal to centrist voters, going negative alone couldn't lead to victory for McCain. Not in these times. Not this year.
In the end, the senator from Arizona chose to tack rightward for the general election, a path he'd been slowly clearing since losing his party's nomination in 2000. I thought he'd sneak back to the middle for the home stretch, but he didn't. This left the bulk of the playing field to Obama, who calmly staked his legitimate claim. That's the key to this historic election, and voter demographics show how Obama won and why this is a sea change:
Hispanics and those under 30 went for Obama overwhelmingly. Official exit polling shows that Obama captured 66% of each group, an increase of 25% for Democrats from 2004. This is huge because they represent the two fastest-growing demographic blocs. You lose them, you run the risk of losing them for a generation.
Educated whites were virtually tied for Obama. That's apparently a first for a modern Democratic presidential candidate. Whites without a college education supported McCain by 18 points.
According to the Wall Street Journal, those with incomes over $200,000 went for Obama by 52% to 46%. Obama also won among those making less than $50,000, with middle income voters split about evenly. The lousy Bush economy, education, health care, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and overseas relations thus carried more weight with rich and poor alike. This is somewhat remarkable because those making over $200,000 were no doubt under the impression their taxes would go up, reverting to Clinton-era tax rates of the 1990s. The Journal article speculated that the wealthy may have placed a higher emphasis on the state of the nation after a disastrous eight years than on the state of their wallets. The two are related.
Clearly the Republicans were out of sync with "the people." It means nothing to cite the relative closeness of the popular vote, as some are now doing. If that's a big argument on the Right, let's remember that Al Gore actually won the popular vote in 2000. More telling than the popular vote, in our electoral system, is who voted which way and where they voted. That's why Bush v Gore mattered in the first place....Florida.
Do Republicans want "Joe the Plumber" -- from Ohio -- to suddenly be the face of their party? Do they think he's an adequate stand-in for Main Street USA, something they've ignored for years?
Obama, of course, carried the Buckeye State, so "Joe the Plumber" didn't get the job done. He even missed a lunchtime McCain rally in Toledo. (In fairness, however, Joe did say he'd be there sometime between noon and 6:00, as Conan O'Brien cracked.)
The ethnic vote and educated whites: repubs need to decide which of these groups they want to appeal to going forward, because Obama got 'em both, as well as independents. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he also tied McCain in the nation's suburbs.
That leaves the Republicans with what, exactly? As longtime GOP strategist Ed Rollins noted Wednesday night on CNN, his incredibly shrinking party has largely retreated into the southern states, with a sprinkling in the Rocky Mountain west. They won't hold that ground much longer without applying some critical updates.
Moving from updates to mandates, there's talk on conservative radio that Obama didn't earn one. Funny. Bush secured only 271 electoral votes the first time, and 286 four years later. Obama, now with 364 and counting, would have won even without his giant prizes of Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20) and Florida (27). That's how strong his mandate is. Think about that, and compare his election night graciousness to Bush.
The outgoing White House occupant won re-election in '04 on the strength of just one state, Ohio, yet immediately bragged, "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it." His numbers soon tanked and never recovered.
Bush earned no capital with the public in either '00 (the Supreme Court saw to that) or in '04, and he willfully destroyed the greatest capital any leader could amass, post-9/11. Without question, President-elect Obama has earned quite a ballot box mandate.
Nothing is permanent, but we're a sea change from where we've been. Republicans are delusional to think otherwise.
Revealing Blue Map: The Thursday, November 6 N.Y. Times published a map that makes the case better than words. It shows a county-by-county shift in voting patterns, nationwide, toward Obama from four years earlier, when John Kerry was the dem nominee. It isn't a map of states won by Obama. Some of the blue parts are McCain territory (many of them western areas with more rocks and coyote than people). Instead, it's a shift map, and this change really began in '06 with a Democratic gain of 31 House seats and the defeat of six incumbent Republican senators.
All of this begs a question: With the base of the Republican Party 100% white, increasingly sectarian (see John Danforth's book) and geographically confined (note the swath on the map that has gotten redder than it was in '04), are elephants at risk of ceasing to be a major electoral player if this trend continues? Are they becoming a "regional" political party? Remember: nothing is ever static, at rest. Things are always headed one way or the other. "He not busy being born is busy dying," as the Bard sang.
What does this look like to you: