Now that the smoke has cleared and President Barack Obama has been re-elected, the postmortems will soon be overtaken by a renewed focus on critical issues, especially the need for bipartisan compromise on economic policy.
But before we move on, it is important to take a look at the surprising failure of the Republican Party to defeat a president whose candidacy was burdened by persistently high unemployment.
The main cause for Mitt Romney’s defeat is correctly being attributed to his failure, and his party’s failure, to recognize major changes in the fabric of American society. Columnist Carl Leubsdorf summed it up before Election Day in The Dallas Morning News when he wrote that Mitt Romney represented an America of a simpler past, and Obama, of a complex, dynamic future.
The crowds in Boston and Chicago on election night reflected that reality: Romney’s backers were predominantly white men in coats and ties. The crowd in Chicago was an indelibly diverse cross-section of the country — racially, ethnically, young, middle-aged and old, as many women as men.
But while Obama’s campaign took advantage of that diversity in critical swing states, it’s misleading to place complete emphasis on the success of their tactical “ground game.”
Romney’s defeat also can be directly attributed to the policies he and his party adopted during the campaign. There are at least four key arguments made by Romney and his ideological brethren that were false. Setting aside the fact that Romney was a millionaire but opposed to raising taxes on the super-rich, they were:
The economy: the “Obama failed” narrative.
Obama did not fail. He may not have succeeded in restoring the economy to a flourishing, fever-pitch pace in four years. His administration certainly could have done much better in creating more jobs, encouraging investment and reducing debt. But given the mess he was handed by George W. Bush, given obstructionist Republican leaders willing to place defeating the president ahead of the national interest, he performed reasonably well.
The economy has been recovering with sluggish but steady job growth. The successful bailout of the auto industry was a signal achievement. Obama was vulnerable yet Romney failed to lay out a convincing vision of his own, even declining to spell out an alternative, plausible set of policies.
Obama is a socialist – a staple of neo-con flamethrowers.
If Obama were a socialist, he would have nationalized the banks after the collapse of 2007-08. He would not have recapitalized them. He never would have appointed a Wall Street insider, Timothy Geithner, as Treasury secretary. If passage of a national health care plan is the basis for the “socialist” charge, the Republican faithful is out of the touch with the rest of the world — and willing to tell 40 million Americans to just go to the emergency room.
A true sign of the right’s desperation was the readiness to exploit the tragedy in Libya. The Obama administration made mistakes in handling the attack on the consulate in Benghazi — from premature attribution of the attack, to rioting, to failure to upgrade security.
But seizing upon “Benghazi” also demonstrated the weakness of Republican arguments on foreign policy. As the third debate demonstrated, Obama has been very successful in national security, a realist who employed American power effectively, not recklessly. In fact, his broader strategy on Libya was one of many successes. Obama resisted calls by John McCain and other Republicans to put American troops on the ground and worked with European countries to topple Qaddafi.
Stronger character: Obama had no backbone.
Instead, it was Romney who had no depth, little consistency — his ads much more prone to distortion and falsehood.
Romney was for health care, then against it; for immigration reform, but also for “self-deportation.” He straddled other issues, taking contradictory positions on abortion and the Ryan budget. He was strident on Iran, then much in accord with Obama.
Romney’s dual positions on so many issues can be directly attributed to the reality of the Republican dilemma today. The party doesn’t know what it stands for — because it is so divided. The shift to the right has decimated the moderate, sensible segment of the party that believed in fiscal responsibility but civil rights, a pragmatic foreign policy but not blundering into war.
Prime examples of the GOP’s political fratricide were a bloody primary campaign characterized by extremist positions on social and economic issues, the resignation of Maine’s Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (fed up with partisan politics) and a tea party primary defeat of the highly respected Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.
Next to Obama’s victory Tuesday, Democrats must rejoice. There is no sign that the Republican Party has figured anything out. Karl Rove, the wizard behind George W. Bush’s failed presidency, was even criticizing Fox News for declaring Obama the winner late Tuesday long after the outcome was clear. Richard Vigurie, another far-right theoretician, told National Public Radio that it’s not the policies that defeated the party this year; the GOP doesn’t even need to support immigration reform. “We just need to run (more) minorities.”
That’s it; just a few more Hispanic personalities, no need to change hidebound, extremist positions. With that kind of stick-in-the-mud message, Vigurie may qualify as the Manchurian Candidate of the GOP.
Fred Hill, of Arrowsic, Maine, was a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun in Europe and Africa and later worked on national security issues for the Department of State.