To win in 2016, the GOP must resolve the differences between the tea party and country club Republicans, and reach out more successfully to the ethnic vote
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was an uncomfortable place to be at midnight on Tuesday, November 6. The free beer and wine were flowing; the would-be ambassadors were wandering around the suites reserved for those who had given $7 million or more to the Republican party; the vast TV screens were tuned in to Fox News (CNN had been booed off). It should have been a party rather than a wake, yet from the moment I had walked in two hours beforehand, I could sense the rising stench of coming disappointment. That special thrill which throbs through election-night parties given by the victorious side was totally absent, even two hours before the Ohio result sent everyone for the doors. From the moment the exit polls recorded that white voters were only making up 72 per cent of the total it was clear: Mitt Romney wasn’t going to make it.
“We’re all in this together,” President Obama tweeted after the race was called in his favour. “That’s how we campaigned, and that’s who we are.” Of all the very many untruths told by the Democrats during the course of this 18-month campaign, that was perhaps the worst. For in fact the campaign he fought was a relentlessly divisive one, attempting to cordon off Hispanics, Asians, single women, blacks and the young from the Republican party, blackening the sterling business reputation of an admirable Republican candidate, and solidly refusing to run on either the Administration’s record or its plans. Obama won by 60.66 million votes (i.e. 50 per cent of the popular vote) to 57.82 million (48 per cent), which National Public Radio considers “decisive”, but which shows how harshly divided this country truly is.
President Obama won re-election—the first president to do so with a lower percentage of the vote than the first election—because the cynicism of his electoral strategists was proved right: play to the envy and chippiness in human nature, the fear felt by unmarried women over abortion, collect enough “victimised” minorities together to create a majority, and accuse your opponent of being a “felon” (as Obama’s spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter called Romney), a cultist whose business ethics caused one woman to contract cancer (according to a pro-Obama super-PAC ad), and any number of other lies and half-truths. American politics is dirty, but considering that the Romney campaign entirely eschewed even mentioning the president’s connections to embarrassments such as Rev Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, when it came to the pig-trough of politics, they weren’t “all in this together”.
Napoleon wanted his marshals to be lucky above all else, and there can hardly be a luckier man in politics than Barack Obama, whose most difficult election before 2012 was the one in which he defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Mitt Romney was faced with a huge slew of unworthy candidates for the Republican nomination, who nonetheless forced him to spend vast amounts of money, so that the war chests were empty by the summer, when the $800 million Democratic onslaught against his character and ethics began. The nomination process also saw other Republicans refer to him as a “vampire” capitalist, helping the Obama campaign enormously.
Yet Obama’s real luck came with Hurricane Sandy, which wiped off the airwaves the genuine momentum that the Romney campaign had built up since his impressive victory in the first presidential debate of October 3, and replaced it with a president in an anorak in the Rose Garden (when it wasn’t even raining) showing a decisive side that was intended to remind everyone of the day he ordered the strike on Osama bin Laden. If the hurricane had hit earlier, the sheen would have worn off, with tens of thousands of Americans still without electricity in their homes even a week later. Although it rather undermined Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to stop the oceans from rising, Sandy meant that all the mainstream media’s news channels could gleefully wipe Romney off their programming for nearly five of the crucial last seven days of the campaign. It also terminated the Benghazi cover-up scandal, which was starting to turn toxic for the Administration, and which, as one Romney aide pointed out to me, “is worse than Watergate; no one died in Watergate”.
For the first time since 1816, America has seen three two-term presidents elected consecutively. Even before I left the Convention Center in Boston, clumps of Republicans were locked in recriminations over how Obama could have been re-elected, with 8 per cent unemployment and such a woeful performance at home and abroad. To a Briton, it was very reminiscent of the night of John Major’s evisceration at the hands of Tony Blair on May 1, 1997. What the Republican party must not now do is go through the 13-year period of bitter self-laceration that the Tories endured. They must look carefully at the psephological runes, analyse the problem, and act accordingly. Also, they should acknowledge that Obama, like Tony Blair, is a political phenomenon that comes along only very rarely.
The first psephological truth about the Republican party was visibly apparent in the Convention Center: there were very, very few Hispanics and Asians there and almost no blacks. While blacks remained at 13 per cent of the electorate in 2012, the growing Hispanic population accounted for 10 per cent of the electorate, a figure that is universally expected to rise in future elections. Whereas George W. Bush won 40 per cent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, Romney got only 29 per cent of it, the lowest share since Bob Dole ran in 1996. In swing states such as Colorado, Obama won the Hispanic vote by 87 per cent to 10 per cent, in Nevada 80 per cent to 17 per cent and in Virginia 66 per cent to 31 per cent.
There is no reason why the Christian, hard-working, capitalist Latinos of America should forever fit into Obama’s coalition of the takers, rather than the Republicans’ coalition of America’s makers. One can understand why the young—who also turned out in numbers comparable to 2008—might have fallen for Obama’s idealistic rhetoric, but why should Latinos in Florida have broken for him by 58 per cent to 40 per cent? The argument for having Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the Republican candidate in 2016 is now an even stronger one, on ethnic grounds alone. Similarly, there’s no reason why the even more hard-working and capitalist Asian-Americans, who now represent 3 per cent of the electorate and growing—should be so much in the Democrat camp, with an amazing 75 per cent of them voting for Obama.
The way in which the Republicans allowed Romney to be defined during the summer as a heartless, devil-take-the hindmost capitalist, and spent only $73 million in campaign ads rebutting the charges compared to Obama’s $173 million up to the end of August, might have been the ultimate strategic reason why Romney lost, but that lesson can be learned for future campaigns. Far more difficult will be attempting to tailor the Republicans’ stance on immigration, which is traditionally seen as the issue that Hispanics care most about. Obama has already been speaking about immigration reform, which is code for legalising some of the estimated 11 million Hispanics who are in the US illegally. Should even a fraction of these new voters be brought into the same Democratic coalition that won on November 6, the Republicans fear they will never govern America again. Yet if they oppose the legalisation, Republicans equally fear they will never win the trust and affection of Hispanics, who will vote Democrat tribally for as long as the Thirties New Dealers, their children and even grandchildren, supported the Democrats.
As the civil war develops between Tea Party versus “country club” Republicans, the Senate defeats in Indiana and Missouri on November 6, and in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado in 2010, will be held up as evidence that the Tea Party has lost the party the chance of having a 50:50 split in the upper house. “We can’t continue nominating whack-jobs for Senate seats,” was the response of one Romney aide I spoke to on election night, referring to one senatorial hopeful who admitted to “dabbling in witchcraft” in the 2010 race and another who referred to “legitimate” rape in this election. Yet to hope that the Tea Party will put likeability over ideological purity in choosing candidates is too much: if the country clubbers want to retake the party, they must simply work as hard as the Tea Party does.
Meanwhile, we have four more years of President Obama. We can look forward to a nuclear Iran; to Supreme Court justices (of whom four are in their seventies) being replaced with liberals; to tax hikes for those earning over $250,000; to Janet Yellen pursuing Keynesianism at the Federal Reserve after Ben Bernanke’s retirement in January; to Palestinian statehood at the United Nations; to legalised pot-smoking in Colorado and Washington state; to the percentage of Americans who take more in benefits than they contribute in taxes increasing from the now notorious figure of 47 per cent to over half of Americans, while 30 million people enjoy healthcare benefits which are effectively paid for by other, more productive people. When it comes to Obama’s dystopia, therefore, we are indeed “all in this together”.