In 1961, after the United States’ disastrous defeat of its covert attempt of a counter-revolution against Fidel Castro, newly-inaugurated President John Kennedy famously said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” After this November’s election, Kennedy’s words seem highly relevant.
Mitt Romney and his Republican Party lost. And lost big.
It was a big loss not necessarily by the absolute numbers. Republicans got 48% of the vote, and in a number
of “swing states” they lost by razor-thin margins. But the end result was devastating in the
poplar marketplace of perceptions and expectations. With a weak economy, the incumbent’s base
seemingly “disappointed,” a high number of vulnerable Democratic Senate seats
up for election, and a chorus of right-wing billionaires ready to ante up
unheard of sums of money to the cause, “How can we lose?” was the overriding belief.
But lose they did.
They lost the presidency to the incumbent, losing all but one of the
swing states and substantially the Electoral College by 332-206. They not only failed to gain the Senate but
went down two more seats. They lost
half-dozen seats in the house (though still retained control of that
chamber). It was an across-the-board
rejection of the party, its candidates and its presidential nominee. And so the orphan of defeat is now adrift,
barely visible within the ensuing sea of rationales, excuses, and
The loss was partly attributable to Obama being a more
formidable candidate than Republicans / Romney anticipated. A steadily improving economy; an overwhelming
“turn-out-the-vote” ground game; targeted and effective advertising to the current
demographic profile; a genuine record of accomplishment; a consistent set of
beliefs and principles espoused by the candidate; all served to pull the rug
out from under the Romney strategy.
But whatever the strengths of the incumbent, they were
matched (or surpassed) over the long campaign by the substantial weaknesses of
Romney. Just being “against Obama” was
not enough of a campaign basis, combined with his lack of connection with the
average voter. Even his Republican base
never warmed to him, giving him the nomination only because of an almost
comical pool of primary opponents. This
was followed by a seemingly never-ending string of missteps and misstatements:
the botched overseas trip; the premature Libyan criticisms; the constant
“clarifications” issued by his campaign staff of his impromptu comments; his
“let the auto industry go bankrupt” posture; and, most notoriously, the “47%”
denigration of the voters.
Combined with the Romney weaknesses were several years of
consistent hostility by the Republican Party to gays, Latinos, women,
African-Americans – all growing electoral demographics. Add in the perception of the extremism of Tea
Party advocates with “flaky” candidates that have clearly cost Republicans the
capturing of the Senate; a consistent “legislative NO” and “my way is the only
way” attitudes expressed by Republican Congresspersons, and an assault on
voting access in many states solely for political advantage. With that combination, you have a Party that
is not perceived as welcoming to the very voters needed for electoral success. How the Republican Party responds to this
outcome will be very important to the Party’s relevance, our ability to address
the many issues of our day, and therefore our collective future.
Republicans can be angry and retrench kicking and
screaming even deeper into the hole of defeat, blaming everyone else for not
seeing the rightness of their cause. Or
they can thoughtfully figure out what went wrong, learn from the results, and
meaningfully and honestly adjust accordingly over time. So far, both options are being pursued by the
various players. Romney has blamed his
loss on Obama’s “gifts” to the voters (reminiscent of his “47%” stupidity);
others have blamed everything from Hurricane Sandy, Chris Christi’s praise for
Obama’s relief efforts, the villains of “urban voters,” and of course, the
“liberal media.” Karl Rove is dancing
fast and furious to explain to his mega-donors why $300M did not buy anything
that was promised. And John McCain embarrassingly
continues to try to spin much noise about the Benghazi tragedy in a losing
attempt to find a new political relevance.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the discussion, thoughtful
Republicans like former Bush advisor Karen Hughes threatened to “cut out the
tongue of any white, gray-haired male who talks about rape ever again”; Louisiana
Governor Bobby Jindal pronounced that “Republicans need to stop being the
stupid Party … we need to end dumbed-down conservatism by putting a stop to
offensive, bizarre comments … and stop insulting the intelligence of the
voters”; and former First Lady Barbara Bush simply observed, “The people
spoke. Move on. Get over it.”
Whether the Republican Party will face up to their
shortcomings and the new realities of America, or continue to run headlong into
a brick wall of its own making, is unclear.
There is a legitimate conservative program and message that could be of
benefit and interest to Americans. But
it is not the program and message that has been coming from today’s Republican
The night after the election, commentator Rachael Maddow
observed the significance of the outcome, and Republicans’ disbelief of it, and
their history of continuous negative disbelief in our American reality, as
follows: “Ohio really did go to Obama last night, he really did win. He really was born in Hawaii, and he really
is, legitimately, President of the United States – again. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not
make up a fake unemployment rate last month.
And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that
cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy.
And the polls were not skewed to oversample Democrats. And [pollster] Nate Silver was not making up
fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad; Nate Silver
was doing math.
And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy
sometimes. And evolution is a
thing! And Benghazi was an attack on us, not a scandal by us. And nobody is taking away anyone’s guns. And taxes have not gone up. And the deficit is dropping, actually. And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of
mass destruction. And the moon landing
was real. And FEMA is not building
concentration camps. And UN observers
are not taking over Texas. And moderate
reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services
industry in this country are not the same thing as communism.” Maddow posed the fundamental question for
Republicans: are you going to continue to be exemplified by the fringe, the
conspiracists, the lightweights, and those who think leadership is about who
can simply say the most outrageous things?
Or will you meet Americans where they truly live – in that broad space
both just slightly left and slightly right of the middle?
In 2008, Americans were sick of eight years of Republican
governance and wars, and overwhelmingly elected a sweeping Democratic
majority. These Democrats thought they
had a license to do anything, and spun the country Left too far and too
fast. In 2010 the voters “corrected”
that excess by swinging back to the Republicans. And those Republicans responded to the Right
just as stupidly as the 2008 Democrats of before. So in 2012 the voters had to correct the
politicians again. The vast majority of Americans
are not interested in extreme politics.
They want working governance, from intelligent and reasonable people,
providing effective solutions derived from working together for everyone’s
benefit. Which party, which politicians,
are finally going to understand this?