IT says something about President Barack Obama's campaign machine that despite his dismal record on the economy, which left voters of all stripes uneasy enough that he earned a smaller percentage of the popular and Electoral College votes than he had four years earlier, he still won re-election. This says just as much about the national Republican Party, too.
Simply put: The GOP must change in the next few years or it faces the prospect of more stinging defeats such as the one it felt Tuesday night.
In Mitt Romney, the party offered voters a candidate who was able to get things accomplished while governing a dark blue state, a man with the sort of strong business and leadership skills that seemed well-suited to attacking the nation's pressing economic and fiscal concerns, a man untainted by personal or political scandal. And yet Romney couldn't pull it out.
The reasons for this are many, but a primary one is seen in the demographic breakdowns. The Romney/Ryan ticket did fine among the traditional Republican base — older, white voters. But younger voters went for Obama/Biden in a big way. Democrats also won the female vote and they carried the minority vote, particularly the Hispanic vote, by a wide margin.
The Hispanic vote is particularly telling. Republicans haven't seemed to grasp that, like it or not, Hispanics comprise the fastest-growing demographic in the United States. This year they made up 10 percent of the electorate, and they broke for Obama by a 71-27 percent margin. That's no doubt due in large part to Republican-led efforts across the country (including Oklahoma) to enact punishing immigration-related legislation.
Romney erred during the primaries when, in an effort to lure hard-right Republicans, he tacked to the right of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on immigration. He later pitched “self-deportation” as a possible solution to illegal immigration. In the end he drew less Hispanic support than John McCain had four years earlier. “We have got to pay attention to Latinos,” Republican strategist Karl Rove put it bluntly Wednesday on Fox News.
Doing so doesn't require abandoning conservatism, but finding common ground instead of ostracizing an entire group.
In the U.S. House, Republicans held serve on Election Day, coming away with a majority similar to what they have held the past two years. But in the Senate the GOP failed to gain any ground despite Obama and his poor record being at the top of the ticket. Republicans failed to win two highly attainable Senate seats — in Missouri and Indiana — because the candidates proved to be incompetent on the stump, with remarks about rape that rightfully torpedoed any chance of winning.
Liberal columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. suggested the GOP has “chosen to double down on its shrinking base. Worse, it has chosen to appeal to that base with a platform of fear mongering, xenophobia, demagoguery and inchoate anger so extreme as to make Ronald Reagan seem almost a hippie by comparison.” Yet criticism of the party isn't coming solely from liberals.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said after Tuesday night that, “Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.” And the Washington Post's George Will argued that “unless they (Republicans) respond to accelerating demographic changes ... the 58th presidential election may be like the 57th, only more so.”
Harsh, perhaps, but also true.