Washington, DC - Republicans are poised between relishing recrimination and reviewing revenge scenarios.
Heading into the election, they had a wide variety of positive indicators on their side:
-- a poor economy with minimal growth, persistently high unemployment, massive budget deficits, record numbers on food stamps, etc (reflected in a plurality of Americans saying we were headed in the wrong direction and declaring that the economy was the most important issue);
-- enormous amounts of campaign money to spend as desired/required;
-- an energetic "ground game" with very enthusiastic Republican supporters, and apparently reduced numbers of Democrat voters; and
-- an inexplicable foreign policy disaster in Benghazi.
Republicans had a decent, scandal-free, intelligent candidate who while not "charismatic" was the clear winner in a protracted primary competition. Romney is a good man without personal or professional scandal. One doubts that he ever used mind-altering substances (and hence never had to explain his marijuana use to his teen-age children). Depicted for six months by Democrats as a caricature of a robotic CEO that would fire you with a smile and then eat your puppies and drown your kittens, Romney escaped that box minutes into the first debate. Before 67 million Americans, he presented himself as intelligent, dynamic, articulate--and not in the least interested in cuisine canine.
The polls consistently showed “margin of polling error” figures depicting Romney well-positioned to win.
Nevertheless, Republicans lost virtually every "swing state" including every "must have": OH, FL, CO, VA, and a number of nice-to-have/maybe states such as NH, IA, WI, PA. Of all the "swings" they won only North Carolina. Having a VP candidate from WI contributed nothing.
The Democrats not only retained the presidency, they increased strength in both House and Senate. Anyone believing Obama will be chastened/more cooperative with this victory should move to CO with its newly endorsed recreational marijuana use law.
Republicans are praying for the health of the conservative Supreme Court members, knowing that another four Obama years could transform a 5-4 conservative decision tendency into a 6-3 liberal majority.
At this moment both winners and losers are uttering ritualized “let’s play nicely together” language; winners (after all they have won) and losers (who know that Amcits hate poor losers). Commentators are happy to inform Republicans that to become relevant they have to become Democrats (or something so close to such that the difference wouldn’t be worth a dime). But the likelihood of serious cooperation is as unlikely as discovering that Obama is an alien from Mars.
Republicans have a number of perhaps irresolvable conundrums.
Need Better Candidates. For all of his personal virtues and professional credentials, Romney was in an uphill fight from the beginning. To be sure, Democrats demonized him; however, he gratuitously flashed horns and a pitchfork. Unfortunately, he seemed to have a clueless tin ear for what he said would be perceived. To be sure, Obama stumbled also with his "you didn't build this," but this year Romney seemed to have cornered the market on memorable stupidities--the "47 percent" being the worst. He honestly appeared to forget that virtually no "severely normal" Amcit relates to his life style and blatant wealth unleavened by personal heroism (JFK) or massive charity (Bill Gates) generates jealous envy rather than admiring respect.
Demographic/Geographic Realities. Republicans are on the short end of virtually all demographic trends:
-- Hispanics are now the largest minority group (Reps lost non-Cuban Hispanics by 70-30);
-- African-Americans are the second largest minority (even with Obama’s obvious attraction, Republicans never get more than 10 percent of these voters; this time Obama got 95 percent);
-- Republicans lost women and youth (under 30); abortion pro-life candidates are a total turnoff (and even a Fox observer suggested that some of the Tea Party supporters lost winnable Senate seats).
And the population still overwhelmingly blames Dubya for the economic Great Recession (meaning that if the USA crawls out of the Recession by 2016, the Democrats will get the credit.) And blaming Bush for Great Recession is good for 20 years--just as Democrats blamed Hoover between 1932-52 for the Depression.
Consequently, Republicans are not competitive in key states such as NY and CA, let along secondary states such as OR, WA, CN, NJ, MD where the party once was reasonably successful.
The only real demographic where Republicans won was males in general and white males in particular--and you cannot get a national victory from such a limited pool.
Not an Issue. That said, there were several interesting "non issues": (a) Obama's extensively photographed youthful marijuana use which could have sunk him if known in 2008; (b) Romney's Mormon faith which was a negative for him seeking the nomination in 2008, but appeared irrelevant even with the evangelical Protestants this year; (c) serious questioning about on what topics Obama plans to be “flexible” with Putin’s Russians.
Near Term. The Republicans are caught in a legislative trap. Depleted in number, they will look even more obstructive if pressing fiscal conservative objectives.
However, if they surrender their fiscal principles and give Obama a budget close to what he has demanded--and the country continues its agonizing crawl back to economic health--the Democrats get the credit for 2014/16 elections (and Republican hard line conservatives face defeat by their electorates).
If they make the compromises, and the economy continues to stagger, the Reps lose a portion of their wealthy supporters without making significant spending cuts.
However, if the Reps continue to reject Obama’s proposals and make only the most minor adjustments to prevent the “fiscal cliff” from being a real drop off--and the economy slides back into recession (which seems to be a distinct possibility in any event), the Republicans get the blame.
And, if the Republicans don't compromise, but the economy grinds slowly upward, the Democrats claim the credit for economic improvement.
I don't know what path Republicans will or should be following. I'm confident, however, that despite their energy, "Tea Party" conservatives will lead them into as blind an alley as McCarthy/
McGovern liberals led the Democrats a generation ago. One suspects that Republicans will make another run at securing a senate majority in 2014 when Democrats have significantly more seats at risk than Republicans, but this time vetting their candidates better to avoid self-immolating candidates getting nominations.
Harbingers? And there may well be harbingers of a "new" United States evident in the voting. Some are obvious: (a) the endorsement of gay marriage by Maryland, Washington, and Maine (MD particularly surprising as its strong Catholic/Baptist history didn’t prevent the choice) and rejection of a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in Minnesota; (b) limited marijuana legalization in CO and WA.
More generally, Republicans may have “maxed out” the electoral paradigm they have followed for 40 years. They have focused on winning the South, including Florida and Virginia, and mid-West with strategic victories in states such as Ohio, Colorado, and Missouri, while largely ignoring the West, the Northeast, minorities, youth, and single women. In 2012, with solid issues, a respectable candidate, virtually unlimited funds, and reduced Democrat voting, Republicans improved performance over 2008, but their existential conservative philosophy lacked sufficient appeal to sway the final few percent that would put them into the majority. Nor is there any real expectation that it will be more popular in future elections.