There’s a scene about halfway the movie Pleasantville where William H. Macy comes stumbling into the local bowling alley soaking wet, shell-shocked and sporting a thousand mile stare that’s a few shades shy of catatonic. All of the other guys immediately stop what they’re doing and help him sit down in one of those hideous plastic bucket-style loveseats that are endemic to bowling alleys and old airline waiting rooms and, after he gets settled, the mayor asks him what happened. Macy tells him that he came home that evening, like he does every evening. He opened the door and put his coat on the coatrack and his hat on the hatrack and shouted out, “Honey, I’m home!” But there was no answer. He yelled again, “Honey, I’m home” and still, nothing. She wasn’t there. So, he went into the kitchen to see if maybe she had made him something earlier and left it to warm in the oven, but the oven was empty. There wasn’t even one of those newfangled TV dinners. She was gone for the first time in his life and he had absolutely no idea what to do.
That same look—that pathetic mixture of desperation and disbelief—was on Karl Rove’s face last night as he tried to find 100,000 Romney votes hidden somewhere in the deep blue shores of Cuyahoga County. Even his conservative anti-journalist peers at Fox News were becoming fed up with Ole Turd Blossom’s display of wanton disregard for anything approaching real life. It was only after Megan Kelly had led us on a disjointed and surreal trip through the bowels of the studio to double check with their in-house statisticians that the ghost was formally given up and the network’s attentions turned to self-flagellation and thinly-veiled race baiting. This had never happened before. They had never been this wrong.
I realize that this was second time that Barack Obama took the GOP out back to the woodshed, but the circumstances were wildly different. In 2008, the Republican Party was saddled with the task of defending an administration that had created the greatest financial collapse in America since The Great Depression and was responsible for embroiling us in two unpopular and interminable wars. As far as the GOP brain trust was concerned, 2008 was an aberration brought about by less than favorable circumstances. They believed things would be back to business as usual in four years and the sweeping victories by the Tea Party in the 2010 seemed to validate this belief. Then, Tuesday night happened.
For the first time in four decades, Nixon’s grand Southern Strategy failed to carry the day. Sure, Democrats had won The White House before, but there were always valid excuses to point at to justify the loss away. You could argue that Jimmy Carter was simply the beneficiary of Watergate and the bumbling mess that was Gerald Ford, while Bill Clinton possessed such an inhuman amount of homespun Arkansan charisma that two withered manikins like Bush Sr. and Dole never had a chance. Not to mention the fact that some floppy-eared bastard named Ross Perot keep on messing shit up. But, in 2012, there was no ready-made excuse to lean on. Unemployment had stayed above 8% for the vast majority of Obama’s presidency and they were riding a wave of support from their recent gains in the House in 2010. All of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the President’s promises of hope and change had been subsumed by the usual partisan gridlock and bickering, while his signature accomplishment in four years was passing a health care act that half of the nation opposed. Republicans know that they should have won the election and they’re struggling to figure out exactly why they didn’t. Well, here are the three main reasons why.
- Detroit – Exit polls from Ohio showed that 43% of white working class men in The Buckeye State were breaking for Obama, which was 8% higher than his returns nationally. The main (and likely only) reason for this trend was the tremendous effect that Obama’s bailout of the auto industry had on job creation and retention in the state, especially in the northern rust belt. By contrast, Romney was haunted by his very public desire to see the big three US automakers go into bankruptcy. In a state that Obama only won by 100,000 votes and which is over 80% white, that 8% bump was the difference maker in Ohio and, by extension, the election.
- Women – Nationwide, Romney only managed to pick up 44% of women voters, while Obama came away with 55% of the female vote. When you take into account the fact that women now represent 54% of the electorate, there was a gender gap of 18% in this election, which is up from 12% in 2008. In addition to costing the GOP the presidency, it also contributed mightily to their shockingly poor showing in the evening’s Senate races. Women (and like-minded, sane men) managed to shut Akin’s whole campaign down in Missouri, while Richard Mourdock lost his sure thing Indiana Senate seat when God decided last week that he intended for Joe Donnelly to win. All in all, the Democrats saw a 3 seat net gain in the election and there are now a record 20 women in the US Senate. Any viable route to 270 electoral votes and a Senate majority in the future will likely involve not minimalizing rape and voting against equal pay acts.
- Hispanics – This was the “where’s my dinner” shift of the election. We knew that women have been reliably breaking Democratic over the past couple elections, but they don’t stand to become much larger of a voting bloc proportionally in the future. The hispanic vote represents a demographic shift in America that fundamentally changes the way our electorate is organized and alters the political landscape in a way that necessitates platform change from both parties, but especially from Republicans. Hispanic voters went for Obama 70% of the time in this election and, as the fastest growing population in the US, Republicans have learned the hard way that you’re not making it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave without more of their support. Eight years ago, New Mexico was solidly in the Bush column. 4 years ago New Mexico was a tight race that went Obama’s way. This election, NBC had called New Mexico for the President with less than 1% of the vote counted. The hispanic vote has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years and Republicans need to be drawing them into the fold with more regularity. Gaining ground with the hispanic vote is, in my opinion, the easiest route for the GOP to become competitive again. While there are a host of issues standing between the GOP and regaining the female vote, there is really only one big one with hispanics and that’s immigration. In 2004, exit polls had George W. Bush as walking away with 44% of hispanic vote and the drop off in support since then has largely been the result of diverging stances on immigration policy between the two parties.
The Republican Party is not dead yet and this election could represent a minor setback for them before big gains in 2014 and 2016. Of course, that’s all contingent on whether or not they find their way back to the center where most of the country lives or if they keep on blindly grasping at the fringe until there’s an irreparable schism and the party collapses in on itself. If, by some bizarre set of circumstances, you are a conservative and reading this, I believe you would be well served by modifying your principles to better represent the America we live in today. With that being said, I kind of hope you keep on scrambling towards irrelevance and embarrassment for the foreseeable future. Tuesday night was just too much fun to only do once.
Categories: US Politics