Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 7, 2012

Obama Win Won’t Derail Netanyahu

There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wasn’t celebrating President Obama’s re-election, but he has more important things on his mind today than commiserating with his old Boston colleague Mitt Romney. Netanyahu’s priority is his own re-election campaign. But with Obama now in place for the next four years, speculation centers on whether that makes it less likely that the prime minister can skate to an easy victory in the Israeli balloting scheduled for the day after Obama takes the oath of office again in January.

Most Israelis understand that among any prime minister’s most important tasks is maintaining close relations with their country’s only ally, the United States. Many of Netanyahu’s foes, including American Jewish left-wingers, have spent the last four years hoping that the clashes between Obama and the prime minister would sooner or later undermine his grip on power and either topple his government or sink him at the next election. Yet despite years of often non-stop fights picked with him by the Americans, Netanyahu has prospered. The question now is whether Obama’s victory changes the equation enough to actually place Netanyahu in political jeopardy. But while the certain prospect of four more years of clashes between the two leaders ought to trouble both Israelis and Americans, Netanyahu probably hasn’t too much to worry about.

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There’s little doubt that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wasn’t celebrating President Obama’s re-election, but he has more important things on his mind today than commiserating with his old Boston colleague Mitt Romney. Netanyahu’s priority is his own re-election campaign. But with Obama now in place for the next four years, speculation centers on whether that makes it less likely that the prime minister can skate to an easy victory in the Israeli balloting scheduled for the day after Obama takes the oath of office again in January.

Most Israelis understand that among any prime minister’s most important tasks is maintaining close relations with their country’s only ally, the United States. Many of Netanyahu’s foes, including American Jewish left-wingers, have spent the last four years hoping that the clashes between Obama and the prime minister would sooner or later undermine his grip on power and either topple his government or sink him at the next election. Yet despite years of often non-stop fights picked with him by the Americans, Netanyahu has prospered. The question now is whether Obama’s victory changes the equation enough to actually place Netanyahu in political jeopardy. But while the certain prospect of four more years of clashes between the two leaders ought to trouble both Israelis and Americans, Netanyahu probably hasn’t too much to worry about.

If Obama were to signal his hope that somebody other than Netanyahu would win in January it wouldn’t be all that unusual. Israelis and Americans have been interfering in each other’s elections for decades with the latter generally having a lot more impact on the opinions of Israeli voters than the reverse. The disfavor with which the administration of the first President Bush regarded Yitzhak Shamir was thought to have materially contributed to the Likud prime minister’s defeat in 1992. Seven years later, Netanyahu’s first stay in the prime minister’s residence was cut short in no small measure because of President Clinton’s obvious disdain for him.

Netanyahu was widely criticized at home this fall after publicizing Obama’s refusal to meet him in New York during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss setting “red lines” about diplomacy with Iran. The prime minister’s comments about the time were seen as an effort to undermine Obama during his own re-election campaign, and many Israelis were uncomfortable with the intervention as well as the prospect of their prime minister being seen as trying to pressure the United States into conflict with Iran.

But there are two problems with the idea that Obama’s undisguised animosity for Netanyahu will have a major impact on the Israeli election.

The first is that although Netanyahu’s political position looks a lot less secure than it did only a couple of months ago, there is still no plausible alternative to him in the field.

Netanyahu would probably have been better off going to early elections last spring rather than attempting to make a super coalition with Kadima work. That effort was doomed by Kadima’s futile attempt to revive its fortunes at Likud’s expense. Had the prime minister passed on that experiment, elections would have probably already been held and he would be now safely re-elected with Obama having nothing to say about it.

I also agree with those who argue that Netanyahu’s recent decision to merge the Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party may yield his party less seats than the current combined total of the two groups. Netanyahu’s determination to consolidate the right behind his banner will allow his opponents to portray him as being in the pocket of extremist forces rather than as the leader of the center-right coalition. Yair Lapid’s new party may benefit from this realignment, in which it can gain more votes in the center.

But those expecting a new super party of centrists and various left-wingers to take on Netanyahu, with some failed politician like Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni at the helm, are probably dreaming. None of those likely to lead opposing parties are seen as even remotely having a chance to defeat Likud. Moreover, even if the Likud/Lieberman alignment loses seats, polls show the current coalition parties from the nationalist and the religious camps still easily winning a majority in the next Knesset.

Nothing Obama can say or do will make any of the alternatives to Netanyahu a realistic alternative and the president probably understands he would be foolish to try.

Second, and even more important, for all of the fear that Israelis have of the idea of there being daylight between their country and the U.S., they dislike and distrust Obama far more than they worry about Netanyahu. Every spat with Netanyahu strengthened the Israeli because most of the fights Obama picked were on issues on which the prime minister was able to defend the Israeli consensus, such as Jerusalem. Were he to start sending signals that he wants Netanyahu defeated, most Israelis would rightly interpret that as a prelude to more pressure on their country to give on such issues and that would, as it has throughout the last four years, strengthen rather than weaken Netanyahu.

The prime minister faces a tougher fight now than he might have had if the elections had come sooner or it Romney had won the American election. But Netanyahu remains a prohibitive favorite to win his own new four-year lease on power. The prospect of four more years of Obama-Netanyahu spats is disturbing, especially if Obama seeks to compromise on a nuclear Iran or hasn’t learned his lesson about the Palestinians’ disinterest in peace. But it isn’t likely that there is anything Barack Obama can do to prevent a Netanyahu win in January.

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Obama First Trip: Doubling Down on Islamism

President Obama has now fought his last election and no longer needs to submit himself and his accomplishments to the voters. Accordingly, all bets are off as to how far the president will push his foreign policy agenda on Iran, Russia, the Palestinians and Israel, and Islamist regimes in general. Perhaps there will be even more open U.S. outreach to Hamas, and perhaps American diplomats will soon get their wish to sit-down with Hezbollah.

Today, Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, announced that Obama’s first trip of his second term will be to Turkey, a country which has witnessed under its increasingly Islamist government an unprecedented roll back of basic freedoms. The Turks are looking at Obama’s choice as an endorsement. They are probably right. On top of this, Ricciardone’s announcement comes right after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would soon travel to Gaza, in recognition and support of Hamas.

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President Obama has now fought his last election and no longer needs to submit himself and his accomplishments to the voters. Accordingly, all bets are off as to how far the president will push his foreign policy agenda on Iran, Russia, the Palestinians and Israel, and Islamist regimes in general. Perhaps there will be even more open U.S. outreach to Hamas, and perhaps American diplomats will soon get their wish to sit-down with Hezbollah.

Today, Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, announced that Obama’s first trip of his second term will be to Turkey, a country which has witnessed under its increasingly Islamist government an unprecedented roll back of basic freedoms. The Turks are looking at Obama’s choice as an endorsement. They are probably right. On top of this, Ricciardone’s announcement comes right after Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would soon travel to Gaza, in recognition and support of Hamas.

Votes matter. How ironic it is, therefore, that Obama chooses to embrace most those governments and entities where they don’t.

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Report: Outside Spending Had Little Impact on Election

For all the howling from the left about how the Citizens United ruling would allow corporations to “buy” the election, the Washington Post reports that outside spending groups actually had little impact

In the Senate, Republicans lost ground, pouring well over $100 million in outside money into a half-dozen seats that went to Democrats. In the presidential race, GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his allies spent more than twice as much as John McCain in 2008, but only took back red-leaning Indiana and North Carolina for their trouble.

Even in the House, where last-minute surges of cash would seem to stand a good chance of swinging races, GOP money groups struck out repeatedly, according to the Post analysis. In 26 of the most competitive House races, Democratic candidates and their allies were outspent in the final months of the race but pulled out a victory anyway. That compares to 11 competitive races where Republicans were outspent and won.

Outside money was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on elections and created an entirely new class of wealthy political groups.

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For all the howling from the left about how the Citizens United ruling would allow corporations to “buy” the election, the Washington Post reports that outside spending groups actually had little impact

In the Senate, Republicans lost ground, pouring well over $100 million in outside money into a half-dozen seats that went to Democrats. In the presidential race, GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his allies spent more than twice as much as John McCain in 2008, but only took back red-leaning Indiana and North Carolina for their trouble.

Even in the House, where last-minute surges of cash would seem to stand a good chance of swinging races, GOP money groups struck out repeatedly, according to the Post analysis. In 26 of the most competitive House races, Democratic candidates and their allies were outspent in the final months of the race but pulled out a victory anyway. That compares to 11 competitive races where Republicans were outspent and won.

Outside money was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on elections and created an entirely new class of wealthy political groups.

If anything, outside groups evened out the playing field, at least in the presidential race. Obama had a one-year head start over Romney in fundraising and spending. Romney was able to close the gap with outside groups, but it also meant that he had less control over his messaging. In the end, there was little difference, since both candidates reached the saturation point in swing state ads.

And as some of the Senate races showed, a deluge of ads and spending won’t make up for weak candidates:

The effect of all the conservative cash on Senate races was a resounding failure, with only deep-red Nebraska remaining clearly in the GOP column as of Wednesday morning. Crossroads, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other GOP-leaning groups spent at least $87 million targeting Democrats Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Tim Kaine (Virginia), Jon Tester (Montana) and Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), according to FEC data; all emerged victorious on Tuesday.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that close to $6 billion was spent on the total combined presidential and congressional elections, which is about as much as the federal government spends in a day, according to Paul Sherman.

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GOP Opposition to 2010 DREAM Act Still Haunting the Party

In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:

Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….

The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.

It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.

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In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:

Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….

The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.

It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.

It did not need to have happened. Republicans could have grabbed immigration as their own issue by passing the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation originally introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, that would allow young illegal immigrants to become legal residents of the U.S. by either going to school or serving in the armed forces and staying out of trouble. The idea is an excellent one, because those who would benefit from the DREAM Act were brought here by their parents. It makes no sense to try to punish them for what others may have done wrong, and it makes a lot of sense to provide them a path to legality so as to keep them from being consigned to the grey economy and possibly even criminal activity. Republicans ought to be in favor of “earning” citizenship, but it is their opposition which has consistently blocked the DREAM Act from becoming law.

For instance, in 2010 the Senate defeated the DREAM Act 55 to 41 on a mostly party-line vote. Five conservative Democrats voted no along with all but three Republican senators (Bob Bennett, Richard Lugar and Lisa Murkowski). It is striking that, of those three, the first two are no longer in the Senate because they lost primary challenges to Tea Party candidates. Murkowski managed to stay in the Senate only by winning a write-in campaign.

Obviously immigration was not the only reason these GOP officeholders were abandoned by their own party. But it was certainly part of the reason—and that shows what a formidable obstacle Republicans will face in winning over Latino votes. But if the GOP is not to be consigned to indefinite minority status, it desperately needs to rethink its stance on immigration. It can start by passing the DREAM Act.

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Conservatives and Foreign Policy After the Election

Although exit polling showed just how few voters cared much about foreign policy in yesterday’s presidential election, the right should put it on the list of subjects that pose a new challenge for the Republican Party and conservative movement going forward. It is not only because of the president’s successful ordering of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also because of something Micah Zenko, in a thoughtful piece for Foreign Policy, talks about: the idea that we will never again have a peacetime president.

Zenko seems to suggest that this is because of lack of understanding in Washington about the threats this country faces around the globe, thus leading to an overreaction in many cases. I think it’s because there has been a recognition, after 9/11, that prevention, and thus vigilance, is key to protecting the homeland. Either way, there is a consensus in American policymaking. Here’s Zenko:

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Although exit polling showed just how few voters cared much about foreign policy in yesterday’s presidential election, the right should put it on the list of subjects that pose a new challenge for the Republican Party and conservative movement going forward. It is not only because of the president’s successful ordering of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also because of something Micah Zenko, in a thoughtful piece for Foreign Policy, talks about: the idea that we will never again have a peacetime president.

Zenko seems to suggest that this is because of lack of understanding in Washington about the threats this country faces around the globe, thus leading to an overreaction in many cases. I think it’s because there has been a recognition, after 9/11, that prevention, and thus vigilance, is key to protecting the homeland. Either way, there is a consensus in American policymaking. Here’s Zenko:

Though both of the presidential candidates claim to want a peaceful world (Mitt Romney used some version of “peace” 12 times in the final presidential debate), it is unlikely that the United States will ever have a peacetime president again.

The primary reason for this stems from how policymakers in Washington perceive the world — a perception that bridges partisan divisions. According to most officials, the international security environment is best characterized by limitless, complex, and imminent threats facing the United States. Those threats require the military to be perpetually on a wartime footing and the president to frequently authorize the use of lethal force. As a Pentagon strategy document first noted in 2010, the United States has entered “a period of persistent conflict.”

I don’t think there is quite as much “news” here as would seem. The public knowledge of the American military’s efforts to fight threats worldwide is now much greater than it ever was. But the system of persistent conflict still hews to what formed in the administration of Harry Truman on the ruins of FDR’s great power politics. After the end of World War II–or, rather, after the defeat of Germany in WWII–the United States for the first time faced a very different world. This was one in which the U.S. could not simply disengage when a specific threat was defeated.

Suddenly, the U.S. found itself, through its armed forces and later through international organizations such as NATO, formally responsible for the co-defense of the European continent, while at the same time fighting an enemy–Communist radicalism–both at home and abroad. A national security infrastructure bloomed. Washington, D.C. looked very different than it once had and because of the nature of the ideological conflict, the disagreement between leftists and conservatives grew into a broad distrust between the two groups, soon reflected by their representatives in the Congress.

Democrats seen as insufficiently opposed to Communism were construed as weak–a label that was, over the course of the next few decades, successfully applied to the party as a whole.

Eventually, the Democrats basically became the “peace” party, while Republican foreign policy successes, such as those during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, won the right a reputation as the party you could trust when push came to shove. Bill Clinton ran on the theme not that the Democrats were tougher than Republicans but essentially that the “peace dividend” made such toughness quite unnecessary. That peace proved illusory, and the Democrats were later unable to unseat George W. Bush, who was seen as a resolute commander-in-chief, even when he was commanding unpopular wars.

But if there is truly a recognition in Washington that there is no such thing as a peacetime president, then there is also going to be recognition that there is no such thing as a “peace party.” The Democrats–and it seems President Obama realizes this–cannot run indefinitely on “getting our troops out of” wherever they happen to be at the time, because of the perceived necessity of military engagement, even if limited in scope. Obama may have opposed the way Republicans conducted the war in Iraq, but it was not because he refuses to ever contemplate military intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, he spent the one foreign policy debate last month hammering Mitt Romney for being insufficiently bloodthirsty in Libya–a military engagement for which the president did not seek congressional authorization.

Obama has not wholly rescued his party’s national security credentials. There is, after all, quite loud chatter that his second-term secretary of state will be the dour, unprincipled antiwar agitator John Kerry, a man with such comically obtuse strategic sense that he considered Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator currently murdering a large segment of his country, a reformer we could do business with. And his current vice president is a man who cannot seem to get a single foreign policy related issue right, despite spending decades in Washington.

Nonetheless, conservatives are set to spend two consecutive presidential terms out of the White House, and will have something of a clean slate now as they regroup. If Zenko is right, and there will never be another peacetime president, they cannot afford take foreign policy for granted, no matter what the exit polls say.

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GOP Jewish Gains Illustrate Their Problem

The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

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The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.

First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.

As for the cause of a nearly 20-percent swing in the Jewish vote since 2008, it is difficult to argue that Israel was not a key factor in explaining the change in the last four years. Though liberals will point out that President Obama lost ground with virtually all demographic groups except for African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters, the gap between the nearly 10 points he lost among Jews and what may turn out to be about a three-percent drop in his overall vote total in 2008 requires an explanation. Since it is highly unlikely that a generally liberal Jewish community was more perturbed by the economy, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that four years of battle between the president and the government of Israel took a toll on Obama’s share of the Jewish vote.

The five- to six-percentage point difference between his overall decline and the ground he lost among Jews is easily understood as the product of the fights Obama picked and the questions his conduct raised among pro-Israel voters about his trustworthiness. While a small percentage of the Jewish vote, it is still a sign that a significant number of Jewish Democrats cared deeply about the issue. Though few Jews consider Israel the No. 1 issue at stake yesterday, the RJC poll reported that 76.5 percent of the respondents consider Israel to be either “very important” (30.2 percent) or “fairly important” (46.3 percent). And that seemed to be reflected in the poll in which 22.8 percent said Obama was “pro-Palestinian” and 17.4 said he was just neutral.

By posting a 50-percent gain over what McCain received, the RJC can claim a moral victory of sorts. It can also credibly assert that with its ad campaigns aimed at Jewish voters, it is building its brand and increasing market share in the community. The 31-32 percent Romney got also marks the highest total for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. That’s nothing to sneeze at and should, at least in theory, scare Democrats into thinking that they are on the wrong end of a trend that could ultimately start to make even more serious inroads into their longtime near-monopoly of the Jewish vote, especially when you consider that Republicans continue to do best among Orthodox Jews, the fastest growing sector of the community.

Those who will argue that the RJC didn’t get much in return for the prodigious effort they made with Jewish voters should take into consideration that the Democrats took this threat seriously. Not only did they campaign hard to defend Obama’s record on Israel in the last year, with extravagant and inaccurate praise of him as the Jewish state’s best friend to ever sit in the White House, the president noticeably adjusted his policies as part of an election-year Jewish charm offensive. Without it, it’s probably the case that Democratic losses would have been much greater.

But the GOP shouldn’t be celebrating too loudly.

The problem with looking at the 2012 results as part of an upward trend for Republicans is that this election was a unique opportunity to win Jewish votes that may not be replicated again for many years.

For more than thirty years, Jewish Republicans have looked to the 1980 election, in which Ronald Reagan set the modern record for the GOP share of the Jewish vote with 39 percent. In that period, they have searched for another Reagan who could do as well. They have found that even when their nominee was considered an even more ardent friend of Israel than the Gipper — as George W. Bush was when he ran for re-election in 2004 — they still fell far short of their goal.

Their problem was that they were looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of another Reagan, what they needed was someone to play the role of Jimmy Carter, the president whose antagonism to Israel set in motion the 1980 exodus of Jewish voters to the GOP. That’s exactly what they got in Obama.

If, as RJC leaders Matt Brooks and Ari Fleischer insisted on a teleconference with the press about the poll today, it was unfair to expect a party to do better than the 10 percent gains they got yesterday, it must still be observed that they are highly unlikely to be presented with as inviting a target four years from now. Indeed, if a Republican couldn’t do better than 32 percent with Obama as an opponent, it’s likely they will lose ground rather than gain more if they are presented with a Democrat who is demonstrably more sympathetic to Israel than the president.

While the growth of the Orthodox community gives the RJC some hope, their encouraging 2012 results are really just more proof of their intractable problem: convincing an overwhelmingly liberal group to vote for Republicans.

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America’s Vote For Federalism

Naturally, there will disappointment among Republicans, not only for the defeat in the presidential election, but also over the poor performance in several Senate contests and (for some) over the results of a handful of ballot initiatives. But the 2012 election was nevertheless a victory for federalism.

After all, with the Republican majority in the House resoundingly endorsed, the Democratic majority in the Senate affirmed, and the President returned to the White House in a close reelection (he is the first to win reelection by a smaller margin than his initial election) and therefore with a fairly weak mandate, Americans have voted for gridlock. And gridlock, despite all the problems it presents, is actually what the federal government is designed to produce, because government was not intended to be so intrusive at that level.

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Naturally, there will disappointment among Republicans, not only for the defeat in the presidential election, but also over the poor performance in several Senate contests and (for some) over the results of a handful of ballot initiatives. But the 2012 election was nevertheless a victory for federalism.

After all, with the Republican majority in the House resoundingly endorsed, the Democratic majority in the Senate affirmed, and the President returned to the White House in a close reelection (he is the first to win reelection by a smaller margin than his initial election) and therefore with a fairly weak mandate, Americans have voted for gridlock. And gridlock, despite all the problems it presents, is actually what the federal government is designed to produce, because government was not intended to be so intrusive at that level.

Moreover, with the presidential vote so close, national division is obvious. Indeed, both President Obama and Governor Romney barely scraped a third of the vote in some states, and in some cases not even that. And some of the ballot initiative results also confirmed disagreement state to state: gay marriage is constitutionally banned in a majority of states and until yesterday had failed on each of the thirty-two occasions it has been put to statewide popular vote (including in North Carolina earlier this year), but yesterday it was endorsed on the ballots in a handful of blue states. (Another state, Wisconsin, also elected the country’s first openly gay senator.) Marijuana usage had mixed results, and Obamacare fared poorly where voters were asked to limit its impact in their state. America is divided, but in crafting a federal system, that is what the Founders anticipated and embraced.

The United States may constitute one nation under God, but America remains fifty different states under the president, and the country will be well served when its leaders remember that.

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Rubio Won’t Chair NRSC, Eyes on 2016?

As I mentioned earlier, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is facing some changes after last night’s defeats. RealClearPolitics reports that Senator Marco Rubio — who was considered a top prospect to replace outgoing NRSC chair John Cornyn — has turned down the spot:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been courted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2014 midterm season, but the freshman lawmaker declined the entreaty, sources told RCP.

It might seem early to think about the next campaign cycle, but Senate leadership elections will take place in short order. And given the GOP’s losses in Senate races Tuesday night, the party is looking to make some changes.

The sources, who are familiar with Rubio’s decision, said the junior senator had mulled the leadership role for some time. As he often points out, however, being the father of four young children sometimes keeps him away from the campaign trail.

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As I mentioned earlier, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is facing some changes after last night’s defeats. RealClearPolitics reports that Senator Marco Rubio — who was considered a top prospect to replace outgoing NRSC chair John Cornyn — has turned down the spot:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been courted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to take over the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2014 midterm season, but the freshman lawmaker declined the entreaty, sources told RCP.

It might seem early to think about the next campaign cycle, but Senate leadership elections will take place in short order. And given the GOP’s losses in Senate races Tuesday night, the party is looking to make some changes.

The sources, who are familiar with Rubio’s decision, said the junior senator had mulled the leadership role for some time. As he often points out, however, being the father of four young children sometimes keeps him away from the campaign trail.

It’s easy to see why McConnell would want someone like Rubio revamping the NRSC and shielding it from some of the grassroots criticism, but there wasn’t much in it for Rubio if he’s looking at 2016. Not only would it have put him right in the middle of some of the goriest establishment-Tea Party fights for the next two years, but most of the big donors he’d meet through NRSC duty would already want to meet with him anyway. A lot to lose and little to gain.

The slot seems better suited for someone with longer-term Senate ambitions. Some other names being tossed around are Senators Roy Blunt, John Thune, Jerry Moran and Rob Portman. But Rubio’s rejection seems like a sign he sees the Senate as a path to bigger things rather than a place to build a career.

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GOP Can’t Be the Party of Old White Men

Mitt Romney did not lose the presidency last night because he was too “moderate” or because he was “severely conservative.” He did not lose because hurricane Sandy stopped his momentum or because he coasted to the finish line or because he did not press harder on questions about Benghazi. Romney lost because the Democratic Party enjoyed a six-point advantage in party identification last night, nearly as wide a gap between the parties as its seven-point advantage in 2008. Whether this is the emerging Democratic majority that John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted eight years ago, or whether it is merely an ad hoc coalition in support of Barack Obama’s unique candidacy, is a question that only time (and another election or two) can answer.

What is clear is that the Republican Party has painted itself into a demographic corner. Hispanics have turned decisively against it, and the young have too. On Fox News last night, the Democratic pollster and consultant Pat Caddell said the Republicans’ “branding problem is reminiscent of the Whigs.” Exactly so. If the party does not adapt to the shifting demographics of the American electorate, it will become a permanent minority, if not extinct.

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Mitt Romney did not lose the presidency last night because he was too “moderate” or because he was “severely conservative.” He did not lose because hurricane Sandy stopped his momentum or because he coasted to the finish line or because he did not press harder on questions about Benghazi. Romney lost because the Democratic Party enjoyed a six-point advantage in party identification last night, nearly as wide a gap between the parties as its seven-point advantage in 2008. Whether this is the emerging Democratic majority that John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira predicted eight years ago, or whether it is merely an ad hoc coalition in support of Barack Obama’s unique candidacy, is a question that only time (and another election or two) can answer.

What is clear is that the Republican Party has painted itself into a demographic corner. Hispanics have turned decisively against it, and the young have too. On Fox News last night, the Democratic pollster and consultant Pat Caddell said the Republicans’ “branding problem is reminiscent of the Whigs.” Exactly so. If the party does not adapt to the shifting demographics of the American electorate, it will become a permanent minority, if not extinct.

The party—and the conservative movement for which it serves as the electoral arm—must be reformed. But where to begin? I am only a poor literary critic, not a political pundit, but I have some ideas. The Republicans are the party of married churchgoers at a time when marriage and churchgoing are in decline. Hence (at least in part) its declining share of the vote total. It can’t suddenly cease to be the party of married churchgoers without betraying itself and its core constituency. Marriage and churches are among the “mediating institutions” that conservatism most warmly affirms, because they stand between the individual and the encroachments of the state. To defend them is to defend freedom. (Calling the GOP the party of married churchgoers is just another way of calling it the party of freedom). Besides, to change course at this stage of history, to abandon the party’s core, is hardly guaranteed to arrest the decline.

If the Republicans are going to be the party of married churchgoers, though, they need to change their tune on two key issues. They must drop their opposition to same-sex marriage, and they must quit obsessing over illegal immigrants. These two issues alone are almost entirely responsible for the Republicans’ image and reputation as the party of old white men.

What conservatives do not seem to grasp is that same-sex marriage is not an issue for gays only, but also for the young, who support it overwhelmingly, without question. And if the GOP really is the party of marriage, shouldn’t it be in favor of extending the goods of marriage to as many as possible? If marriage is everything we conservatives say it is, why should we want to deny its moral benefits to gays? The point is to stand for marriage, for an institution that promotes human freedom, and not to barricade ourselves behind the status quo ante. That’s how the party of freedom becomes the party of reaction.

So too on immigration. What many on the right have failed to understand is that demands to tighten the border, loud howls of outrage over any proposal to grant amnesty to “illegal aliens,” are deeply offensive to Hispanics and likely to estrange them from the Republican Party for a generation. Tom Wolfe explains why. Like many on the right, he had always assumed that

Mexicans who had gone to the trouble of coming to the United States legally, going through all the prescribed steps, would resent the fact that millions of Mexicans were now coming into the United States illegally across the desert border. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I discovered that everyone who thought of himself as Latin, even people who had been in this country for two and three generations, were wholeheartedly in favor of immediate amnesty and immediate citizenship for all Mexicans who happened now to be in the United States. And this feeling had nothing to do with immigration policy itself, nothing to do with law, nothing to do with politics, for that matter. To them, this was not a debate about immigration. The very existence of the debate itself was to them a besmirching of their fiction-absolute, of their conception of themselves as Latins. Somehow the debate, simply as a debate, cast an aspersion upon all Latins, implying doubt about their fitness to be within the border of such a superior nation.

The voices of immigration restrictionists on the right have pushed Hispanics into identifying with their ethnic group rather than encouraging them to identify themselves as something else instead—as churchgoers, for instance.

The Republican Party cannot win by playing the Democrats’ game of identity politics, but perhaps it might improve its chances by emphasizing a different kind of identity altogether—not identification with the special-interest groups that make up an unsteady coalition, but with stable institutions like marriage and church that enable men and women to be free.

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What Last Night Says About the Tea Party

Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.

“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”

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Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.

“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”

The Tea Party is an important force within the conservative movement, but it needs to get a handle on its own limitations. Barack Obama didn’t win last night because Romney was too “establishment” and conservatives rebelled. Obama won because of high turnout among his base groups (Democrats, black and Hispanic voters, young people), and even though he lost support with independents, he was able to hold onto enough of them to close the gap.

Grassroots enthusiasm alone isn’t a substitute for a strong turnout operation. And even with a strong turnout operation, Republicans would have still needed to pick up more independent voters.

The point is, the Tea Party-rightblogger-grassroots on its own can’t trump Obama’s cobbled-together coalition. There were always going to be some independents who stuck with Obama because they strongly supported him in 2008 and wanted to give him another chance. But he was also able to hang on to wavering independents for a couple of reasons. One was freebies: birth control, auto bailouts and the assortment of giveaways under Obamacare. The other was fearmongering: convincing voters that abortion would be banned, the social safety net would be destroyed, and that Mitt Romney was a cartoon villain who couldn’t be trusted.

Republicans aren’t going to break up Obama’s coalition by choosing a Newt Gingrich or a Michele Bachmann. That would be a recipe for a spectacular defeat. The Tea Party is an element of a winning GOP coalition, but needs to realize that it’s just one.

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Rubio Goes to Head of the Class of 2016

There may be something slightly unseemly about talking about the 2016 election the day after Election Day 2012, but in contemporary American politics one election begins the moment after the previous one is concluded. While the defeat of Mitt Romney concludes the political career of a man who will probably be seen as a transitional figure, it does open up a new era for Republicans in which a new and younger generation will begin to compete for the leadership of their party. As has been frequently mentioned in the last few months, while the choices presented to GOP voters in the 2012 primaries seemed a rather uninspiring lot, the party’s bench is pretty deep. Though there are a few obvious names among those who will automatically be placed in consideration for the next presidential go-round, based on yesterday’s dismal returns, one star is shining a bit brighter than the others today: Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The day after the defeat, many Republicans are rightly pondering what they can do to offset what appears to be a strong partisan advantage for Democrats in the electorate in general, but especially among Hispanic voters. I think that makes Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a popular senator in a key state that Romney narrowly lost, a presumptive favorite for 2016 if he is inclined to run for president. Though Rubio can’t solve all of his party’s problems, a consensus about the need to think outside the usual GOP box could give him an edge over other obvious possibilities, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, and a host of lesser known options.

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There may be something slightly unseemly about talking about the 2016 election the day after Election Day 2012, but in contemporary American politics one election begins the moment after the previous one is concluded. While the defeat of Mitt Romney concludes the political career of a man who will probably be seen as a transitional figure, it does open up a new era for Republicans in which a new and younger generation will begin to compete for the leadership of their party. As has been frequently mentioned in the last few months, while the choices presented to GOP voters in the 2012 primaries seemed a rather uninspiring lot, the party’s bench is pretty deep. Though there are a few obvious names among those who will automatically be placed in consideration for the next presidential go-round, based on yesterday’s dismal returns, one star is shining a bit brighter than the others today: Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The day after the defeat, many Republicans are rightly pondering what they can do to offset what appears to be a strong partisan advantage for Democrats in the electorate in general, but especially among Hispanic voters. I think that makes Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants and a popular senator in a key state that Romney narrowly lost, a presumptive favorite for 2016 if he is inclined to run for president. Though Rubio can’t solve all of his party’s problems, a consensus about the need to think outside the usual GOP box could give him an edge over other obvious possibilities, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, and a host of lesser known options.

It should be remembered that Rubio’s star turn at the Republican National Convention outshone the speeches of both Ryan and keynoter Christie. The former’s presentation was smart and heartfelt. But it was a bit pedestrian and turned out to be a foretaste of what would be a creditable but ultimately lackluster couple of months in the national spotlight for Ryan. He may still be the intellectual leader of his party, but he isn’t the dynamic figure many of his admirers thought he would prove to be before he was chosen. Christie’s convention speech was brilliant but was also, characteristically, all about himself rather than Romney or his party. Christie articulated a coherent theme for Republican governance that deserved applause. But like his fulsome praise for President Obama during Hurricane Sandy, fairly or unfairly, it will be chiefly remembered as a slight to his party’s standard-bearer. Of the trio, only Rubio emerges from this election cycle with his 2016 appeal untarnished.

Of course, there’s no way of knowing who will be on the party’s radar screen at the start of 2015 when the presidential merry-go-round truly begins. There are other young party stars that will deserve a look. Among them, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has attained the status of a folk hero among party activists. There are also holdovers from past cycles such as Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and even Sarah Palin, who may still harbor presidential ambitions even if their chances of winning may not come close to matching their celebrity quotients. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will also be a factor in 2016 if he runs, since he has the capacity to expand upon his father Ron’s base of libertarian extremists even if he is still very much outside the GOP consensus on foreign policy issues.

Rubio’s greatest strengths are his personal charisma (a factor that was sorely lacking among the Republican candidates in 2012) and an ability to appeal to both Tea Partiers and mainstream Republicans. His Hispanic identity won’t eliminate the GOP’s problems there, as many Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans aren’t going to think of a Cuban with the warmth they would reserve for a member of their own group. But anyone who thinks it wouldn’t make it harder for Democrats to retain the loyalty of Hispanics is mistaken.

Rubio’s main weakness is the fact that the country still doesn’t know him that well, and though he has become a regular on cable news shows, he is untested on the national political stage. His apparent reluctance to be considered for the vice presidential nomination did feed rumors of his having some sort of skeleton in his closet. That’s highly unlikely, and his decision (if it was his decision, rather than that of Romney) may have been born out of sensible reluctance to move up after only two years in the Senate. That could also be an obstacle in 2016, since running for president would obligate Rubio to give up his seat after only one term, something that will generate unflattering and unfair comparisons to John Edwards.

The only known problem in his background is that although he was born in the United States and is therefore a native born citizen, the fact that his parents were not yet naturalized will generate a new crackpot “birther” controversy in the fever swamps of the right. But that is not something that will hurt him with 99.9 percent of the electorate.

We’ve a long way to go before 2015, and it’s possible that Ryan’s leadership on fiscal issues will catapult him back to the top of the class. A successful re-election campaign in New Jersey in 2014 for Christie will energize his many fans as well as generate coverage that the other hopefuls may not get that year. But as of this moment, I’d rate Rubio as being at the top of the GOP’s class of 2016.

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Where Did the Voters Go? Nowhere.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

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Scott Brown’s Future

About a month ago, I noted that moderate Democrat Heath Shuler’s retirement was oddly unnoticed for a liberal media landscape obsessed with the supposed lack of “moderates.” I had mentioned that the retirement of Joe Lieberman, to be replaced by a more liberal Democrat, would be another sign that moderate Democrats were going extinct, and that this didn’t seem to bother Washington’s bipartisanship fetishists. And two days ago, I made the same point with regard to Scott Brown, the moderate Republican Massachusetts senator who was popular and bipartisan but who went down to defeat last night at the hands of a class warfare superstar of the academic hard-left.

So in that way, last night’s liberal victories in Massachusetts and Connecticut were hardly surprising, and the trend they solidify–moderate politicians being unwelcome in the Democratic Party–continues unabated. But while the results were easy to interpret from the standpoint of the victorious Democrats, left unresolved this morning is what the Massachusetts Republican Party will do with Scott Brown.

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About a month ago, I noted that moderate Democrat Heath Shuler’s retirement was oddly unnoticed for a liberal media landscape obsessed with the supposed lack of “moderates.” I had mentioned that the retirement of Joe Lieberman, to be replaced by a more liberal Democrat, would be another sign that moderate Democrats were going extinct, and that this didn’t seem to bother Washington’s bipartisanship fetishists. And two days ago, I made the same point with regard to Scott Brown, the moderate Republican Massachusetts senator who was popular and bipartisan but who went down to defeat last night at the hands of a class warfare superstar of the academic hard-left.

So in that way, last night’s liberal victories in Massachusetts and Connecticut were hardly surprising, and the trend they solidify–moderate politicians being unwelcome in the Democratic Party–continues unabated. But while the results were easy to interpret from the standpoint of the victorious Democrats, left unresolved this morning is what the Massachusetts Republican Party will do with Scott Brown.

Brown, as the Boston Globe notes today, rose quickly to prominence as something of a conservative hero, winning Ted Kennedy’s seat with a mandate to stop the health care bill Kennedy supported. But his victory didn’t stop Obamacare, and now he is headed out of office. The Globe mentions the two most likely scenarios for a near-term continuation of Brown’s political career:

Indeed, few believe Brown’s career is over. He remains a popular figure, even after pounding Elizabeth Warren with attacks and taking a beating from her ads. Republicans Tuesday speculated that if Obama taps Senator John Kerry to serve as the next secretary of state, Brown could run for Kerry’s seat next year. It would be his third Senate run in three years. Brown has also been mentioned as a possible future candidate for governor.

“Defeat is only temporary,” Brown said, sparking loud applause from supporters, some of whom shouted, “Governor Brown!” To his supporters, Brown had done what voters had sent him to Washington to do: serve as a bridge between two parties.

Brown would have to be considered something of a favorite if Kerry’s seat opens up. Brown was popular, and went into the election last night with a 57 percent approval rating. That, combined with his political skill, blue-collar roots, and unmistakable Bay State accent put him in what would normally be a relatively safe reelection campaign. But as the Democratic Party moves to the left nationally, Massachusetts, a deep blue state, has moved with it step for step.

Additionally, Warren utilized the only strategy to beat a popular incumbent: take him out of the conversation about the race. Warren nationalized the race, warning of global warming skepticism by the likes of Jim Inhofe, a GOP senator from Warren’s native Oklahoma who Massachusetts voters probably don’t know but who sounded scary enough to liberals with a choice. Elect Scott brown, Warren said, and you may end up with a Republican-controlled Senate. In the end, Warren’s seat wasn’t needed to prevent a Republican Senate, but ironically this makes it more likely Brown would win another statewide Senate election if held in the near future: not only would the risk of a GOP Senate have dissipated, but Warren ended up manipulating the fears of the Massachusetts electorate unnecessarily.

They liked Brown, but Warren convinced them they needed her. They didn’t, and they still don’t, and they probably still like Brown. The governor’s office might be a bit tougher for him, because that would depend more on his potential opponent. But Massachusetts certainly elects Republican governors (Mitt Romney’s term wasn’t so long ago), and Brown’s moderate politics and steep knowledge of the issues facing his state would make him a strong candidate.

So when the Globe claims, in its headline, that Brown’s star has “set,” they may be jumping the gun. Brown’s victory to replace Ted Kennedy may not have stopped Obamacare, but it still may have launched the career many expected.

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The NRSC’s Big Problem

Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued the following statement after last night’s Senate defeats (via Politico):

We had many hard-fought races tonight and I’m proud to welcome several new Republicans to the Senate, particularly my fellow Texan Ted Cruz.   

But it’s clear that with our losses in the Presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party.  While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight.  Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.

Politico’s Alexander Burns adds:

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Sen. John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued the following statement after last night’s Senate defeats (via Politico):

We had many hard-fought races tonight and I’m proud to welcome several new Republicans to the Senate, particularly my fellow Texan Ted Cruz.   

But it’s clear that with our losses in the Presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party.  While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight.  Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.

Politico’s Alexander Burns adds:

The combination of Senate losses with Romney’s loss is part of what makes this election so difficult for Republicans to explain. If it had just been Romney who went down in defeat, well, that could be a problem with one candidate and one campaign. Similarly, if just one or two Republican primaries had produced weak nominees, those could have been flukes.

But we’re looking tonight at a national election in which the GOP failed to take advantage of enormous political opportunities on multiple levels, following a 2010 cycle in which Senate Republicans underperformed. Cornyn doesn’t say what exactly the work is that Republicans have to do in the “weeks and months ahead,” but much as Democrats concluded after 2004, it’s clear that something has to be done.

Something is obviously very wrong when the GOP lost ground in a year when Democrats were defending 23 seats and Republicans just 10. Cornyn and the NRSC will get the brunt of the blame, and they deserve some of it. They lost races that were close: George Allen in Virginia, Rick Berg in North Dakota, and Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

But some of the big losses were out of their control. After the blowback the NRSC received during the Tea Party wave in 2010, the committee stopped endorsing and openly funding primary candidates in open seats. That made it easier for an unfit candidate like Todd Akin to win the Republican nomination. There also wasn’t much the NRSC could have done about Richard Mourdock. While his poorly-worded comments about rape and abortion weren’t as outrageous as they were characterized in the media, they drew outsized attention because of the Akin controversy. And as for Olympia Snowe, the NRSC had no control over her retirement.

Still, there clearly needs to be a change, and Mike Allen reports on what that might look like:

Richard “Mourdock [in Indiana] and [Todd] Akin [in Missouri] join [Christine] O’Donnell, [Sharron] Angle, and [Ken] Buck as candidates that are embarrassingly not ready for the scrutiny of a Senate election. High-level operatives have already begun studying after-action reports to make a change in the business model to address this problem for next cycle.”

Most likely solution: Enlist conservative outside groups to try to steer electable candidates toward nomination.

Sort of like a shadow Republican Senatorial Committee. It would make it more difficult for an unprepared or unelectable candidate to win the nomination, without ruffling the grassroots.

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Republican Future is Still Bright

Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

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Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

The big mistake most political analysts tend to make is to assume that the political landscape of one election will be much the same in future contests. It’s true that, much to the consternation of conservatives, the layout of the electorate this year was very similar to that of 2008. But the common denominator in those two elections was Barack Obama, and he won’t be on the ballot again. It bears repeating that many conservatives allowed their own dim view of his policies and personality to underestimate the president’s appeal to the voters. Americans were rightly pleased with themselves for electing an African-American and a clear majority was not prepared to make him a one-term president, in spite of his shortcomings. No possible Democratic successor will have the same hold on the public’s goodwill. Nor, despite the liberal tilt of the mainstream media, will any of them, including Hillary Clinton, be able to count on the kind of supportive press coverage that Obama got. Nor will they be able to run against the legacy of George W. Bush, the way only Obama could. At some point, even that well will run dry for the Democrats.

To state this is not to ignore the obvious problems that Republicans have with certain demographic groups.

As Seth wrote yesterday, the GOP has dug itself a hole with Hispanics from which it can’t completely extricate itself. Had the party embraced George W. Bush’s attempt to create a sensible program for immigration reform, that might have made things easier. But it wouldn’t change the fact that much of this community is solidly liberal on many issues. A candidate who would be able to make a credible appeal to Hispanics like Marco Rubio could undo a lot of the damage. That doesn’t mean the GOP is obligated to nominate a Hispanic in the next election cycle, but that it probably shouldn’t choose someone who chooses to make illegal immigration the issue on which they tack the farthest to the right, as Romney did.

It should also be pointed out that the Democratic effort to portray the GOP as the party of Tea Party extremism didn’t entirely succeed. The ideas of that movement are still powerful, but what Republicans must learn is to be more careful about the leaders it elevates from their ranks. More savvy operators like Marco Rubio will provide formidable opponents for the president and his successors. More Richard Mourdocks will produce more defeats. Ideological purity without common sense is a formula for political disaster.

For all the Democratic triumphalism that this election will produce, it will do the president’s party some good if they remember how close they came to losing, and that absent the president’s appeal they might not have prevailed. Though, as Ross Douthat wrote today in the New York Times, the Ronald Reagan coalition that led the GOP to victories in the past is no longer viable, the narrow margin for the Democrats in 2012 undermines any notion that a fundamental realignment has occurred. If Democrats tack to the left in the coming years, they will find that without a still charismatic and historic leader, their class warfare routine won’t play as well. Their party identification advantage will fade without Obama at the helm, as will the enthusiasm that only he can generate.

Just as important, in the coming years Democrats will be burdened by responsibility for all that the public doesn’t like about ObamaCare, which, thanks to the electorate and Chief Justice John Roberts’s cowardly vote switch, will now be implemented.

Fresh leadership (and the GOP has no shortage of bright young leaders) and the advantage of running against a Democratic Party that will have to take responsibility for the state of the country will put the Republicans in a good position to recoup their losses and to build on the nearly half of the country whose support they can already count on. Democrat who think yesterday’s results guarantee them anything in the future are setting up their party for a great fall. Any Republican inclined to despair today needs to take a deep breath and understand that the party’s future is actually quite bright.

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Obama Wins a Divided Country

It’s a cold and rainy morning in Washington. 

Last night, a few hundred supporters gathered outside the White House to celebrate Obama’s reelection. Driving through downtown D.C., an occasional group of revelers passed by on the sidewalk; others walked around them quietly. Obama won reelection last night, but the past four years have taken a toll. The country is deeply divided, maybe nowhere more so than the capital.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier reports:

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It’s a cold and rainy morning in Washington. 

Last night, a few hundred supporters gathered outside the White House to celebrate Obama’s reelection. Driving through downtown D.C., an occasional group of revelers passed by on the sidewalk; others walked around them quietly. Obama won reelection last night, but the past four years have taken a toll. The country is deeply divided, maybe nowhere more so than the capital.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier reports:

Barack Obama won a second term but no mandate. Thanks in part to his own small-bore and brutish campaign, victory guarantees the president nothing more than the headache of building consensus in a gridlocked capital on behalf of a polarized public.

If the president begins his second term under any delusion that voters rubber-stamped his agenda on Tuesday night, he is doomed to fail. …

“The mandate is a myth,” said John Altman, associate professor of political science at York College of Pennsylvania. “But even if there was such a thing as a mandate, this clearly isn’t an election that would produce one.”

He pointed to Obama’s small margin of victory and the fact that U.S. voters are divided deeply by race, gender, spirituality, and party affiliation. You can’t claim to be carrying out the will of the people when the populous has little shared will. 

Obama has no mandate. The latest numbers show Obama with a margin of 2.6 million votes nationally. In 2008, he won by nearly 10 million. He’ll still face a strong Republican House, which now has (at latest count) around 57 million Americans relying on it to keep the executive branch in check. He’ll also face the repercussions of his first-term policies: the unemployment that hasn’t waned, the economy that hasn’t recovered, the terrorists that haven’t been defeated, the Iranian mullahs that haven’t been dissuaded.

The best news for Obama is that, as his campaign kept reminding voters, this was his last election. Another such victory, and he would be undone.

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The Conservatives’ Obama Delusion

For most of the last two years, if not the last four, many conservatives and Republicans assumed that Barack Obama could not be re-elected. A poor economy, an unpopular liberal agenda shoved down the throat of the country, and a largely uninspiring presidential leadership style combined to create a widespread belief on the right that the 2012 election would be a layup for them. We now know what some of us suspected for a long time: Republicans drastically underestimated the president’s appeal as a historic figure.

The postmortem on the Republican failure to defeat the president will go on until 2016, but the finger pointing within the party will largely miss the point. Their big problem was not Romney’s moderation (likely to be the right wing’s favorite theory); the influence of the Tea Party (the standard liberal interpretation); the failure to do outreach to Hispanics (though they need to address this problem); Romney’s inability to run against ObamaCare; the GOP standard bearer’s decision not to talk more about himself and letting the Democrats define him; the decision not to hammer Obama more over the Benghazi fiasco or even Hurricane Sandy.

The main obstacle to a Republican victory was that they were seeking to defeat the first African-American president aided by a supportive mainstream media, buttressed by the power of incumbency and what turned out to be a tremendously efficient campaign organization. Contrary to the delusion that Obama was a loser waiting to be knocked off, beating him was always going to be a long shot. Though the GOP will spend much of the coming weeks, months and years beating each other up as they assign blame for the defeat, the fact is, Romney did well to come as close as he did. Rather than wonder about what Republicans could have done better, conservative analysts would do better to look at the president’s strengths.

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For most of the last two years, if not the last four, many conservatives and Republicans assumed that Barack Obama could not be re-elected. A poor economy, an unpopular liberal agenda shoved down the throat of the country, and a largely uninspiring presidential leadership style combined to create a widespread belief on the right that the 2012 election would be a layup for them. We now know what some of us suspected for a long time: Republicans drastically underestimated the president’s appeal as a historic figure.

The postmortem on the Republican failure to defeat the president will go on until 2016, but the finger pointing within the party will largely miss the point. Their big problem was not Romney’s moderation (likely to be the right wing’s favorite theory); the influence of the Tea Party (the standard liberal interpretation); the failure to do outreach to Hispanics (though they need to address this problem); Romney’s inability to run against ObamaCare; the GOP standard bearer’s decision not to talk more about himself and letting the Democrats define him; the decision not to hammer Obama more over the Benghazi fiasco or even Hurricane Sandy.

The main obstacle to a Republican victory was that they were seeking to defeat the first African-American president aided by a supportive mainstream media, buttressed by the power of incumbency and what turned out to be a tremendously efficient campaign organization. Contrary to the delusion that Obama was a loser waiting to be knocked off, beating him was always going to be a long shot. Though the GOP will spend much of the coming weeks, months and years beating each other up as they assign blame for the defeat, the fact is, Romney did well to come as close as he did. Rather than wonder about what Republicans could have done better, conservative analysts would do better to look at the president’s strengths.

Most conservatives were prepared to acknowledge that the majority of Americans were still pleased with the idea of righting some historic wrongs by electing an African-American in 2008. But they failed to understand that even though Obama’s administration was not widely viewed as a great success, at least half of the country was not prepared to toss him out of office after only one term.

As an incumbent, Obama was able to claim credit for things for which he did not deserve many plaudits, like the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the response to the hurricane in the last days before the election. He also could count on the unfailing support of much of the media even when he was embarrassed by events, such as in Libya.

These were strengths that many Republicans continually discounted or disregarded entirely.

The close nature of the loss at a time when the national economy is still stagnant will naturally cause many on the right to speculate on what Romney and his campaign could have done differently. They will be right when they point out he should have fought back immediately against the slurs against his character that were the focus of much of the Obama campaign’s early efforts. Maybe a perfect GOP effort could have gotten that extra one percent of the vote that would have turned a few close states and elected Romney. That’s something that will torment conservatives as ObamaCare is implemented and Obama continues to govern from the left.

But even his sternest critics must admit Romney ran quite a creditable campaign and was able to use the debates to make the race closer and even take a lead in some polls in the last month. They must also acknowledge that the conservative assumption that the electorate in 2012 would be very different than it was in 2008 was wrong.

The good news for the GOP is that contrary to those who will predict that there is a permanent Democratic majority, the circumstances of 2012 won’t be repeated in four years. Obama will be gone in 2016 and anyone who thinks that Joe Biden, Andrew  Cuomo or even Hillary Clinton will have an easy time against the deep Republican bench that is ready to run next time misunderstands the nature of American politics.

The bottom line is that Barack Obama won the 2012 election far more than the Republicans lost it. Obama may be a remarkably unsuccessful president (he’s the first to win re-election by a smaller margin) but he was never the patsy most conservatives imagined. Conservatives spent the last two years since their 2010 midterm victory operating under a serious delusion about the president’s political strengths. That’s a terrible indictment of their political acumen, but it won’t affect their chances in four years when Obama is no longer on the ballot.

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