Republicans Will Have To Analyze What Went Wrong And Do Better
This is a painful morning after. It brings me back to the mournful faces at Yeshiva College in November 1968 after Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey. We were then liberal Democrats. It is somewhat easier surveying the scene from the distance of Israel, but as Abraham Lincoln said about stubbing his toe, we are too old to cry but it is too painful to laugh.
Now the postmortems will begin. A defeated party like the Republicans is going to have to ask itself whether it lost for tactical reasons or for more strategic causes.
One decision that is already being second guessed in the postmortems was the failure by the Romney campaign to respond to the barrage of Obama attack ads that essentially proved to be Mitt Romney's undoing. Romney headquarters in Boston mistakenly believed that the Obama attacks on Romney's business career would eventually backfire once the voters got to know the real Romney.
For a while after the October 3 debate, it appeared that they were correct, but last night's exit polls showed otherwise. Romney was still perceived as a person who cared more about the rich than about the common man, and again, to paraphrase Lincoln, there are a lot more common men than rich ones - and thanks to the sophisticated Obama organization, they came to vote.
The Republicans also failed to counter the argument that the economic mess was not Barack Obama's fault, but he had inherited an impossible situation from George W. Bush. In this way, Bill Clinton could pose the argument that four years were not enough to turn the ship around. Therefore, the Romney camp's assumption that the parlous state of the economy essentially made the case for Mitt Romney was mistaken.
While the exit polls vindicated the Romney assumption that economy was the big issue, Romney did not get the edge he had hoped for because the exit polls still showed many respondents blaming Bush. Therefore, the opposition to taxation and the failure to go into details about his program (that admittedly would have invited attacks) blunted the Romney argument that he had a way out of the economic mess.
Drawing lessons from tactics does not always provide a solution it can sometimes backfire. Republican strategists were impressed by the fact that in 2008 the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, prolonged by a system that did not award the winner of a primary all the states delegates, focused public attention on the Democrats. Suitably impressed, the Republicans followed suit and ended up subjecting Mitt Romney to a bloody war of attrition that wasted resources, left the candidate limping and prevented him from occupying center ground earlier.
We are in for painful debate within the Republican Party about whether the Tea Party was a curse or a blessing. The Tea Party revived Republican enthusiasm and also was responsible for bringing stellar candidates to the fore, but it also produced some clunkers - such as Sharron Angle in 2010 and Todd Akin in this year's senatorial elections.
This leads us into the strategic problem. One of the assumptions popularized by Bill Clinton and embraced by the Obama organization was that the United States had changed demographically and white Americans were no longer dominant. The minorities had become the majority and in cultural terms America was becoming more secular.
This debate has not been settled, but it is incontrovertible that the overwhelming support that Barack Obama received from black and Hispanic Americans made it necessary for Mitt Romney to win a much larger percentage of white Americans. He almost did so, but not quite.
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, the state that was narrowly won by Barack Obama thanks in large measure to the Hispanic vote, warned that the tough policy on immigration would come to haunt the Republican Party electorally. In his victory speech, Barack Obama signaled that he would renew his initiative on immigration reform. The Republicans have the votes in the House of Representatives to block such initiatives, but then they will pay at the ballot box. The only way to eat into the Democratic advantage among Hispanics is to place someone like Marco Rubio on the ticket in 2016.