Barack Obama was reelected last night with a convincing Electoral College victory over Republican Mitt Romney. As I sit here deconstructing what happened last night, I can’t help but believe that it was less Mitt Romney than the identity of the Republican party that lost.
View it as Jeb Bush or Chris Christie versus Michele Bachmann. The fire breathing Republican that seeks to label its opponent as evil, a communist, or a socialist, is not going to win nationally. The fire breathing Republican who openly disrespects the President of the United States, like Arizona’s Jan Brewer did earlier this year, is not going to win nationally. Applauding congressmen who yell "you lie" during a speech the president makes to both houses of Congress might get you reelected in your conservative congressional district, but will not get you votes in state and national elections. The issue isn’t which party is more patriotic; the issue is which party has better ideas. Americans want civility and discourse and compromise. As Van Jones stated, this election was "a backlash against the backlash" of 2010.
This morning, I listened a bit to Dan Proft on WLS 890AM. In one breath he said that Democrats played identity and racial politics– by courting Latinos and women– and then blasted Democrats for keeping themselves dependent on government. The belief that the majority of people who voted for President Obama is dependent on government, is not only wrong, but will continue to make the party a regional one. The dependency argument is nothing more than the Southern Strategy 2.0, where Republicans imply that Democrats help minority voters stay dependent on government and that Republicans fight against that minority dependency. That argument is not going to win national elections. You want proof? Mitt Romney won the same percentage of white voters as George H.W. Bush in 1988 and the results were markedly different. So the national GOP needs to run– not walk– away from class warfare argument they claimed Democrats were making, the "makers vs. takers" argument, if it wants to win national elections.
The GOP must become inclusive to minorities. The most disturbing number for Republicans should be that President Obama won 71% of the Latino vote. 71%! If the architect, Karl Rove, can explain to me how the GOP will win national elections while giving up 71% of the fastest growing demographic, I’d love to listen. But you’re not going to hear it because its impossible. And, the party’s problems with Latinos will only become more pronounced. The GOP is losing in Florida because of the non-Cuban Latino vote. Same in Colorado. That trend– that wave– will only increase as states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia get larger Latino populations. Angry rhetoric on immigration drove Latinos to Obama. The GOP must tap Marco Rubio (and Jeb or even George Bush– who championed immigration reform and was denounced by his own party) and come up with a workable compromise on immigration, otherwise, its electoral map will continue to shrink.
Further, the party needs to moderate on social issues. Generally, women do not feel comfortable with the party. Obama won all women 55-44%. Unmarried women voted for President Obama 2-1. Comments on abortion and rape were singularly responsible for senate defeats in Indiana and Missouri– states that voted for Romney.
Perhaps the most important event last night were elections in Wisconsin, Maine and Maryland. In Maine and Maryland, voters voted to legalize same-sex marriage, a proposition that was unheard of twelve years ago. In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was elected to the United States Senate. Senator-elect Baldwin is a lesbian. That election was unheard of ten years ago. This country is becoming more progressive on gay rights issues. The GOP is welcome to stay where it is on gay rights issues, but it will just turn off an electorate that increasingly affirms those rights. And the GOP will find itself on the wrong side of history.
Ultimately, I think the GOP needs to figure out the type of person they want to be its standard bearer. I believe the nation wants Republicans like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, rather than someone like Jan Brewer, who will put her finger in the face of the President. Openly disrespecting the President of the United States might fire up the base, but it turns off the rest if the electorate. Independents want to see Chris Christie, who will sit and talk with the President, and disagree agreeably, rather than the open hostility and disrespect we see from people like Michelle Bachmann. Proof of that is in Donald Trump, who has quickly become a national laughingstock. The GOP must stop crossing its arms and come to and sit down at the table and discuss and compromise, otherwise, it will lose again in 2016.
That doesn’t mean agree with everything the president says. Issues like the national debt, the tax code, and immigration are not going away and we need the GOP’s voice and arguments on smaller government, decreased spending and personal responsibility. But when "The Party of No" becomes your brand, Americans will reject it. In a polarized political landscape that is essentially 50-50, the country expects that each party will have to give.
So that is where the party is. I agree with many Republican policies on personal and fiscal responsibility, but the open hostility towards the president and minorities makes me feel unwelcome. I would love to vote for a Republican. If Jim Edgar ran for governor again, I would vote for him in a heartbeat. I like Mark Kirk. I like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Scott Brown. I detest the angry screamer like Joe Walsh. But the more the voices like Jeb Bush’s are marginalized, the more the party will lose national elections. The more Mitt Romney needs to be more like Rush Limbaugh and less like the governor he was in Massachusetts, the more the party will lose nationally. Rush Limbaugh will get you 20 million votes, but he’ll lose you 25 million women and 71% of the Latino vote. And then it comes down to simple math. Math which will only get better for Democrats