Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

Obama Planning Major Foreign Policy Readjustment?

James Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine; Harry Truman had the Truman Doctrine; George W. Bush had the Bush Doctrine; and now, the L.A. Times reports, Barack Obama will have the Costanza Doctrine.

Or at least that’s the best way to understand it. In a season five episode of “Seinfeld,” George Costanza’s character decides his life has been marked by an almost uninterrupted parade of bad decisions, and he must now do the opposite to break the pattern. The L.A. Times tries delicately to couch the Obama administration’s second-term foreign policy agenda in terms of moderation and pragmatism, but voters may, if the report is correct, witness an agenda quite different in tone and substance from what Obama told them he would do if reelected:

Read More

James Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine; Harry Truman had the Truman Doctrine; George W. Bush had the Bush Doctrine; and now, the L.A. Times reports, Barack Obama will have the Costanza Doctrine.

Or at least that’s the best way to understand it. In a season five episode of “Seinfeld,” George Costanza’s character decides his life has been marked by an almost uninterrupted parade of bad decisions, and he must now do the opposite to break the pattern. The L.A. Times tries delicately to couch the Obama administration’s second-term foreign policy agenda in terms of moderation and pragmatism, but voters may, if the report is correct, witness an agenda quite different in tone and substance from what Obama told them he would do if reelected:

For months, these issues had what some U.S. officials called “AE” status, meaning any policy changes would be put off until after the election.

But with Obama winning a second term last week, top administration officials say they are weighing whether to deepen U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war, accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, and offer Iran a compromise deal to curb enrichment of uranium.

They also are considering ways to work out new cooperation with China, an undertaking that Obama campaign operatives had feared might alienate swing state voters anxious about Chinese trade policies and competition.

To be sure, replacing a failing policy with a better one, as the administration seems to be doing with regard to Syria, is of course a good thing. We’d always rather have better policy than consistent but principled failure, especially when lives are at stake. So now that the Obama team no longer needs to paint Republicans as warmongers, they can take their advice on the Syrian conflict.

Additionally, to be fair, the Afghanistan policy here is the one change that wouldn’t be a total about-face, instead simply accelerating the pace of retreat. But if the Afghan forces are handed total control before they are ready, it would certainly contradict Obama’s promise that the withdrawal would be done in a “responsible manner.” The others–Syria, China, Iran–all signal an administration relieved to finally reveal it didn’t mean anything it said prior to November 6. It also tells us why the Israeli administration seemed so unnerved by Obama’s Iran policy despite his repeated assurances that the Israelis–and the broader Arab world, much of which is also concerned about Iran’s nuclear program–had nothing to worry about.

Read Less

Jindal: The Republican Party Is a Wreck

Thanks to reports about the Romney campaign’s internal polling problems, disastrous get-out-the-vote schemes, and some of the inevitable internecine finger pointing that follows the loss of a presidential election, the dust hasn’t yet settled on the Romney campaign’s post-mortems. But as the soul searching begins to shift to judging the GOP on the whole, Bobby Jindal would like that judgment to be harsh.

The Republican governor of Louisiana, a popular 41-year-old reformer with a reputation for competent management and policy expertise, unloaded on the Republican Party in an interview with Politico. Jindal criticized Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, but made clear he understands that the right has a branding problem it cannot lay at the feet of its nominee this year:

Read More

Thanks to reports about the Romney campaign’s internal polling problems, disastrous get-out-the-vote schemes, and some of the inevitable internecine finger pointing that follows the loss of a presidential election, the dust hasn’t yet settled on the Romney campaign’s post-mortems. But as the soul searching begins to shift to judging the GOP on the whole, Bobby Jindal would like that judgment to be harsh.

The Republican governor of Louisiana, a popular 41-year-old reformer with a reputation for competent management and policy expertise, unloaded on the Republican Party in an interview with Politico. Jindal criticized Romney’s “47 percent” remarks, but made clear he understands that the right has a branding problem it cannot lay at the feet of its nominee this year:

“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal said. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

Calling on the GOP to be “the party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,” the Louisianan urged the party to “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same.”

Jindal, who was a frequent suggestion for vice presidential nominee this cycle and is expected to at least consider running in 2016, was critical–but on target. Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan are both energetic policy-oriented politicians, which explains in part why they ran ahead of the party’s Senate candidates. Some of those Senate candidates imploded–both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost surefire GOP seats by making comments about rape–but what about the rest of the candidates?

As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote last week, nine other Republican candidates ran behind Romney, even in states Romney won. That means the scenario many conservatives feared–that Romney was a lackluster nominee who would hurt Republican enthusiasm and thus down-ticket candidates–was flipped on its head. Romney and Ryan energized conservatives to the point the right thought it was sailing to victory, while Republicans running in down-ticket races underperformed even with GOP enthusiasm. (You could even make the case that the “rape” comments and the like fed an anti-GOP narrative that hurt Romney.) Here’s Blake:

In five races, the GOP candidate under-performed Romney by at least nine points. This includes Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who both lost in states that Romney carried by at least 13 points. (Maine is a bit of a special case, since there was a third-party candidate in the Senate race.)…

But even if you look at only the open seat contests, the GOP under-performed in most of those races — up to and including two people who won: Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) in Nebraska.

Jindal took a reform-minded tone in his interview with Politico, advocating tougher regulation of the big banks (an idea gaining steam on the right), reforming the tax code, a comprehensive approach to energy production, and school choice. The latter two are areas of particular expertise for Jindal, who recently enacted his own education reform in Louisiana and expanded offshore oil drilling.

He was, however, lukewarm on the subject of immigration reform, suggesting the newfound support on the right for policies once derided as “amnesty” is far from universal, and would also pit Jindal against some of the other GOPers thought to be viable 2016 candidates. Nonetheless, Jindal’s comments indicate a recognition that although President Obama won reelection convincingly, he did so while leaving major issues–education, energy, immigration, financial regulation–on the table for creative, reformist Republicans intent on rebranding the party in their image.

Read Less

Will GOP Learn Its GOTV Lesson?

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat's co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

Read More

Last week, I discussed the disaster that was the Romney campaign’s Project ORCA. On Election Day over 37,000 volunteers spent the day struggling with a flawed and crashing GOTV (get out the vote) computer program, instead of actually getting out the vote. Those volunteers were supposed to be reporting on voter turnout in swing states, and in many instances spent the day troubleshooting with overwhelmed Romney campaign staffers in Boston over a computer program that had never been stress tested. 

Since the election, some details have emerged from frustrated staffers involved with the campaign alleging that the difficulties the Romney campaign encountered with ORCA, as well as other digital problems, were the responsibility of consultants hired by the campaign who were more interested in their own bottom line than winning. Indeed, Romney’s digital director Zac Moffat told the Daily Caller that “he would not elaborate on the record about who made Project ORCA, but said it was not developed by Targeted Victory [Moffat's co-founded firm] or the campaign itself.”

We’ve heard very little about what went wrong on the record from top-level campaign staff. Today Romney’s political director Rich Beeson gave a very perplexing interview to National Review’s Katrina Trinko. He told Trinko, 

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit. Our ground game turned out the people it needed to turnout. They just turned out more. They turned out 18 to 29 [year olds] at a higher level. They turned out African-Americans at a higher level. They turned out Hispanics at a higher level.”

“We hit the numbers we needed to hit”? Really? The numbers the Romney campaign needed to hit were, as NRO’s Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted, the numbers needed to win. Republicans saw 1.4 million fewer votes in 2012 verses 2008. Granted, turnout for Obama was off by a far greater amount–7.7 million voters– yet if Romney had brought out the same number of voters as McCain did in 2008 we would be talking about a Romney victory, not a Romney defeat. Romney even drew fewer Mormon voters than George W. Bush did in 2004 (numbers for the 2008 race are unavailable). Romney staffers could point to several positive stories from their campaign, but turnout isn’t one of them. 

Beeson went on to defend not only ORCA in principle, but also in practice on Election Day:

Beeson contends that while Orca had its flaws on Election Day, it was a smart idea. “Did the overall system work the way that we wanted it to? No. But it is a good precursor for what I think we’ll want to be able to design and implement and improve on in coming elections? Absolutely,” he says.

With an election as close as Tuesday’s (NRO’s Jim Geraghty put the margin of victory at 407,000 votes between Romney and Obama in key swing states) what would have been a better use of resources? Should volunteers have been tracking voter turnout in order to get results to Boston a few hours before the networks would have, or should they have instead focused on traditional GOTV efforts like door knocks, transportation to polling locations, and calling undecided voters? 

Worryingly, it appears the Romney campaign and the consultants it hired refuse to admit that ORCA was a bad strategy in theory and in practice, and that they also hope to replicate it for future campaigns. Given the huge financial investment the campaign gave to the consultants responsible for the program, it’s understandable that its utter failure is an inconvenient detail for those who would like to try to sell the program all over again. For the GOP’s sake in 2014 and 2016 and beyond, one would hope that the track record not only of ORCA, but also of the consultants and firms responsible, don’t disappear down the memory hole. For that to happen, the creators of ORCA need to be exposed by the Romney campaign’s staff as a last service to future GOP candidates. 

Read Less

Conservatism in the Wake of Defeat

“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

Read More

“Politics have taken an orientation not favourable to Papa.” So wrote Clementine Churchill to her son Randolph in 1930. That’s a sentiment some of us who are conservatives today understand.

The Churchill example is apposite to our time. As Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert points out, in 1928 Churchill was at the height of his career. But a year later, Conservatives were defeated — and when a National Government was formed in 1931, Churchill was not asked to join it. The years 1930-1931 “marked the lowest point of Churchill’s personal and political fortunes,” according to Gilbert. The man who would later become prime minister referred to that period in Britain as “anxious and dubious times.” The tide was running strongly against his ideas — on India, on trade, and on the rearmament of Germany. He even confided to his wife that if Neville Chamberlain were made leader of the Conservative Party, he would “clear out of politics.” 

If the premiership was out of his reach, as he believed it was, “I should quit the dreary field for pastures new.”

But of course Churchill couldn’t do such a thing, because there were too many causes in which be believed. As Gilbert puts it:

As long as he was fighting a cause, … [Churchill] was not afraid of anything, ‘nor’, he added, ‘do I weary as the struggle proceeds’. The Party machine, [Stanley] Baldwin, public office: all these, he said, were ‘mere irrelevancies’. Policy alone was what counted: ‘win there, win everywhere’.

Fast forward to the here and now. Based on my conversations, e-mails, and some public commentary, many conservatives are despondent. “The shock of this [Romney] loss is overwhelming,” one person e-mailed to me last night.

It would be silly to deny that in some important respects, the tide is running against our ideas. And I’m all for using this period to reassess where the nation stands and what it means for conservatism. Some adjustments and refinements are clearly needed; the questions are which ones and how can they be made in a way that remains true to conservative principles. 

The impulse for most of us is to argue after the election for exactly what we were arguing prior to the election. Perhaps a better way to approach things is to step back a bit and consider the challenges America faces today, which in some respects are quite different than what we faced in, say, 1980. What do conservatives have to say about wage stagnation, income inequality, poverty and social mobility, crony capitalism, educational mediocrity, family breakdown, and reforming our entitlement system and tax code? Has conservatism become adamantine on certain issues (Bill Kristol suggests conservatives should agree to increasing taxes on the wealthy, for example)? How much of our problem is tone v. substance?  

I for one believe we should use this moment to encourage fresh thinking and not vilify those who engage in it. At the same time, it seems to me that trying to fully understand the consequences of this election and what it means for conservatism 72 hours or so after the vote is probably unwise. We have plenty of time to sort through the exit polling data and think things through in a prudent manner. And because politics has taken an orientation not favorable to us now doesn’t mean that is a permanent condition. As Gilbert reminds us, “Central to Churchill’s belief was the conviction that the public would respond fairly to a good case, well presented.” Nor should we grow weary as the struggle proceeds. Because there are still things worth fighting for. 

Read Less

Democrats Better Start Soul Searching

Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved. 

Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.  

Read More

Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved. 

Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.  

The president’s reelection is not evidence of a new liberal America, but rather of the illogical and confused experience that is infatuation. For multiple reasons, Americans continue to have a crush on Barack Obama even after his universally panned first term. No longer quite head over heels, they’re at the “I know he’s no good for me, but I can change him” phase. Whatever this means, it surely doesn’t suggest conservatives would be wise to move closer to policies that aren’t even popular among Obama supporters.

Why isn’t soul searching underway on the left? When the personality at the center of the cult leaves the stage in four years, Democrats will own his results without the benefit of his appeal. We can’t know quite what a second Obama term will bring, but if his first term is an indication, there’s little reason to expect his party will be crowing. The fiscal cliff is here but a whole landscape of steep drops comes next: the economic cliff (over which lies a possible double-dip recession), the Obamacare cliff (over which lies an unprecedented bureaucratic behemoth), the Iran cliff (over which lies a nuclear bomb), and so on. A precipice in every direction and a president who’s given us no reason to presume he can steer clear. Have Democrats stopped to wonder what initiatives they’ll have to defend when the dust settles in 2016?

Already Obama has signaled he’s continuing policies that don’t meet the moment. There’s the assurance of more taxes, of course. But that’s not all. On Friday, citing ecological concerns, the administration closed off 1.6 million acres of federal land in western states from planned oil shale extraction. An American energy boom lies in wait underground and Obama is determined to keep it there. Abroad, the groundwork is being laid to offer Iran a fanciful “grand bargain” in an effort to halt its work on a nuclear weapon.  Think “Russian reset” with fanatical theocrats.

 Perhaps Democrats are confident purely because of their stance on social issues. But as a tactical matter (principle and ideology are a different question), is doesn’t make sense for Republicans to fret over the culture and identity wars that have transfixed the left. Gay marriage as a presidential issue is off the table. The November election showed the future of that question lives at the state level, which is both a popular and conservative approach. Obama himself has said he’ll do nothing about it nationally. Multiple polls taken this year show opposition to abortion is at least as high as it’s been in 15 years. By 2016, the new class war will surely have wound down after Americans see that making the “rich pay their fare share” didn’t solve everyone else’s problems and in fact created new ones.

On immigration reform, of course conservatives should act. That was true before Obama’s reelection; it’s now inevitable. In the next four years, serious Republicans will offer policies aiming to give foreign workers a path to citizenship. Leaders like Marco Rubio have already gotten a brilliant head start.

It is in the nature of personality cults to fail at most things beyond generating and disseminating propaganda. This inability is the result of two things. First, the personality’s popularity is not results-driven. Since adoration hasn’t been earned by achievement but by the advent of charisma, why kill yourself trying to get results. Second, few people are willing to candidly critique the personality at the center of the cult, so there is little chance of course correction. None of this bodes well for Barack Obama. And for the country’s sake, let’s hope it’s wrong.

To effect a revolution in American politics, you have to set parameters that successors will be compelled to heed. FDR implemented programs that at least produced identifiable results before revealing their unsustainable flaws. Bill Clinton had no problem declaring the age of big government over because Ronald Reagan had ushered in a prosperous era in which this was so. What part of the Obama agenda will resonate when isolated from the Obama phenomenon? It’s too soon to say, but not too soon wonder.

Read Less

Axelrod: GOP Has Some Soul-Searching to Do

Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

Read More

Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

There is no crisis for the Republican Party, at least not the type Axelrod talks about. Most of the swing states have Republican governors: Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania. The coalition Axelrod boasts about was cobbled together through a mix of mudslinging, fearmongering, cynical election-year handouts, and a powerful get-out-the-vote operation that dragged every last Democrat to the polls. Other than the last part, that’s nothing to be proud of.

Charles Krauthammer pushed back on the demographic doomsayer nonsense this morning:

Ignore the trimmers. There’s no need for radical change. The other party thinks it owns the demographic future — counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem. Do not, however, abandon the party’s philosophical anchor. In a world where European social democracy is imploding before our eyes, the party of smaller, more modernized government owns the ideological future. …

The answer to Romney’s failure is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism.

Republicans: No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.

Krauthammer calls Romney a transitional figure, which is a great point. The party that was left rudderless after John McCain’s defeat in 2008 has come to embrace an optimistic and reformist vision for conservatism. The younger bench of Republicans who embody that vision will be ready to run in 2016. Romney, as a technocratic political moderate, was not the right spokesperson for such an ideological message. But by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney ensured that Ryan’s brand of reform conservatism would be the party’s future. What is the Democratic Party’s message, other than Barack Obama?

Read Less

Returning from the Political Arena

It’s a pleasure to return to COMMENTARY after having served as a senior advisor in the Romney campaign. At a later date I’ll dilate on the outcome of the election. For now I simply want to say that I ended the campaign with an even higher regard for Governor Romney than I began it. He is a man of great personal decency and integrity. He single-handedly revived his campaign on the largest stage in American politics (the October 3 debate); and he became stronger over the course of the election.

Tuesday’s loss was a body blow for those associated with the campaign. Few of us saw this defeat coming, which makes the defeat all the more jarring.

Most Americans are simply relieved the campaign is over. They believe it went on for far too long, that it was much too expensive, and that it was characterized by personal attacks and petty discussions. Everyone, it seems, is sick of politics.

Read More

It’s a pleasure to return to COMMENTARY after having served as a senior advisor in the Romney campaign. At a later date I’ll dilate on the outcome of the election. For now I simply want to say that I ended the campaign with an even higher regard for Governor Romney than I began it. He is a man of great personal decency and integrity. He single-handedly revived his campaign on the largest stage in American politics (the October 3 debate); and he became stronger over the course of the election.

Tuesday’s loss was a body blow for those associated with the campaign. Few of us saw this defeat coming, which makes the defeat all the more jarring.

Most Americans are simply relieved the campaign is over. They believe it went on for far too long, that it was much too expensive, and that it was characterized by personal attacks and petty discussions. Everyone, it seems, is sick of politics.

Post-election lamentations aren’t unusual, and they aren’t without merit. But let me offer several other observations, the first of which is that we tend to be hyper-critical about the present while idealizing the past. That’s a mistake. Consider the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It’s regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns ever. One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

According to the New York Sun, the 1872 election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley deteriorated into “a shower of mud.” So have many others. During the 1980 campaign, for example, the liberal New Republic declared, “President Carter has made a grave moral error in trying to portray Ronald Reagan as a racist.” The editorial page of the Washington Post chimed in, saying, “Mr. Carter has abandoned all dignity in his round-the-clock attack on Mr. Reagan’s character.”

My point isn’t to hold up these incidents as a model for political discourse; it’s that slashing attacks are often a part of politics. Even the Lincoln-Douglas election consisted of more than the Lincoln-Douglas debates. So some perspective is in order.

Point number two: It doesn’t help matters that many who comprise the political media tend to ignore intellectually serious discussions. Rather than discussing, say, the pros and cons of a premium support system or grappling with how to increase social mobility, they prefer to obsess on the horserace aspect of the campaign, gaffes, Twitter feeds and political intrigue. Many in the press are drawn to the sensational and trivial. Increasingly they themselves are contributing to it. Yet with the campaign now over, prepare for countless journalists to travel to the Shorenstein Center and appear on Charlie Rose to complain about the superficiality of campaigns.

A final point: Campaigns are never pristine and politics is an imperfect profession. But as flawed as they are, they have helped create an extraordinary nation and produced great leaders. Politics is a means through which we deal with matters of enormous importance, from policies on taxes and health care to the nature of justice and the relationship between the citizen and the state. Which is why it has always attracted, and still attracts, good people.

Shortly after Mitt Romney conceded on Tuesday night, a writer for whom I have great respect sent me a note. “Nights like this I realize how much easier it is to be in the peanut gallery rather than in the arena,” he wrote. “Easier but less satisfying.”

As for me, I rather like the peanut gallery. But I deeply admire the individuals I have worked with and for who have entered the arena. It isn’t an easy life. But it is a satisfying one. 

Read Less

Romney’s Get Out the Vote Fiasco

The Wednesday before the election, Mitt Romney sent a special message to volunteers about a special project his campaign was working on: “With state of the art technology and an extremely dedicated group of volunteers, our campaign will have an unprecedented advantage on election day.” What is it they say about something that sounds too good to be true? It probably is. That was the case with the Romney campaign’s “Project ORCA.”

The idea behind Project ORCA was simple, albeit far too complex in execution. Romney’s Boston headquarters wanted a way to track who had been to the polls in swing states, and who had not. It was the most complicated GOTV (get out the vote) effort in GOP history. Volunteers in swing states would be assigned polling places. They would be given lists of every registered voter assigned to that polling location. Those voters would be reported on to Boston via a web application when they arrived to vote, and if that failed, via phone or, as a last resort, voice. Volunteers were to log in to the application, use their assigned pin number and password, and begin reporting on voters who had come through their polling place by ID number. A source familiar with the campaign told me that Boston would initiate calls and visits to those who had not yet gotten to the polls.

Read More

The Wednesday before the election, Mitt Romney sent a special message to volunteers about a special project his campaign was working on: “With state of the art technology and an extremely dedicated group of volunteers, our campaign will have an unprecedented advantage on election day.” What is it they say about something that sounds too good to be true? It probably is. That was the case with the Romney campaign’s “Project ORCA.”

The idea behind Project ORCA was simple, albeit far too complex in execution. Romney’s Boston headquarters wanted a way to track who had been to the polls in swing states, and who had not. It was the most complicated GOTV (get out the vote) effort in GOP history. Volunteers in swing states would be assigned polling places. They would be given lists of every registered voter assigned to that polling location. Those voters would be reported on to Boston via a web application when they arrived to vote, and if that failed, via phone or, as a last resort, voice. Volunteers were to log in to the application, use their assigned pin number and password, and begin reporting on voters who had come through their polling place by ID number. A source familiar with the campaign told me that Boston would initiate calls and visits to those who had not yet gotten to the polls.

The story of how monumental a failure Project ORCA was on Election Day was first reported by a volunteer, John Ekdahl, on the Ace of Spades blog. After tweeting the article, I was contacted by several other volunteers who were eager to explain in greater detail just how many things went wrong with Project Orca on Tuesday.

I spoke with one volunteer in a rural Virginia county who had a similar experience to the blogger on Ace’s site. Shoshanna McCrimmon signed up to volunteer on Romney’s website several months ago. She was contacted by Dan Centinello of the Romney campaign and underwent online and phone training that lasted for several hours in order to volunteer locally on Election Day. Because of secrecy concerns, the application itself was inaccessible until the morning of the election. From the outset there were failures of organization.

Shoshanna wasn’t given the credentials necessary to gain access to the polling place and was told to arrive when the polls opened at 7. A few days before the election, she was emailed a PDF packet, which she was meant to print out, containing the names of all of the registered voters at her polling place and instructions. Her location’s packet was only dozen or so pages; Ekdahl’s packet was over sixty. The packet was supposed to contain credentials, but they did not. Shoshana’s email to the Romney campaign the night before the election about the lack of credentials went unanswered. When Shoshanna arrived on time at 7 a.m., she learned that polls had actually opened an hour prior.

Unable to test her pin number and password until that morning, she discovered, only after after she arrived at the polling location ready to work, that her pin was invalid. She spent until 2:30 that afternoon on calls to Boston every 45 minutes trying to get a new one. She attempted to input the voter information via phone dial-pad–the first backup plan–but her invalid pin number was useless. Plan C, calling in to Boston and verbally transmitting the information, was also a wash. The same phone number for dial pad and voice reporting was given–there was no option to ask to speak to Boston directly after calling in.

After finally getting her pin number in the late afternoon, Shoshanna attempted to log into the site. She had been sent an email from the Romney campaign that morning (after polls opened) telling her that cell phones were often not allowed in polling places, after she was previously warned not to forget to bring her cell phone in other emails. Thankfully, her polling place allowed her to use her cell phone. The website, on a secure server, was inaccessible from her cell phone (Ekdahl explains why in detail). By this point hundreds of voters had passed through Shoshanna’s polling station, unreported. Nevertheless, she went home, retrieved her laptop, and thanks to the pastor at the polling place (a church) she gained access to a locked wireless network. It was only at that point that Shoshanna was able to access ORCA, with only a few hours left before polls closed.

Shoshanna’s experience was far from unique. Starting in the early afternoon, reports were coming in from across swing states that ORCA had crashed. That morning, when Shoshanna was on the phone with Boston, she was told the system was crashing, unable to withstand thousands of simultaneous log-ins. The system had never been stress tested and couldn’t handle the crush of traffic all at once. Thousands of man-hours went into designing and implementing a program that was useful on one day and one day only, and on that day, it crashed. My source familiar with the campaign described it this way, “It was a giant [mess] because a political operative sold a broken product with no support or backup plan. Just another arrogant piece of the arrogant Romney campaign.”

The operative in question, Dan Centinello, Romney’s Deputy Political Director, was Shoshanna’s only point of contact with the campaign. After a two-and-a-half-hour conference call with volunteers across the country, Shoshanna still had questions about minor details about ORCA and volunteering at her polling place. Her emails were answered within 24 hours, always by Centinello. There appears to have been no delegation on Centinello’s part, and every question sent was answered by the ORCA project manager personally. It’s likely that if this was taking place with the thousands of volunteers in Project ORCA, Centinello was spending hundreds of hours answering basic questions from volunteers that could have been addressed by lower level staffers. This time would have been better spent, I would argue, testing the capabilities of ORCA and its servers and testing the application on small groups of trusted volunteers, especially elderly ones who might have difficulty with its interface (which, on election day, they did). 

One of the most basic tenets of conservatism is a loathing and mistrust of big government and bureaucracy. Project ORCA was the embodiment of big government, top-down management. Information was sent by volunteers in swing states across the country to Boston, and those in Boston were then tasked with assigning other volunteers in those same swing states to contact those who had not yet been to the polls. Boston was, at best, a detour and an unnecessary middleman in the GOTV efforts, and when that link in the chain broke, Romney’s GOTV effort crumbled on the most crucial day of his campaign. One of the most successful components of Karl Rove’s GOTV efforts with George W. Bush’s campaigns was his small-government ideological approach. Each volunteer was tasked with personally getting a handful of voters from their area to the polls, voters that they were already familiar with from their church, their children’s schools and their community. Instead of this strategy, Boston was the hub; information was sent there and GOTV assignments were delegated from thousands of miles away by Romney staffers largely unfamiliar with individuals and communities. At Ace of Spades, Ekdahl described the organizational approach of Project ORCA: “The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters).”

Was ORCA’s failure the reason why Romney lost Virginia by almost 116,000 votes, Ohio by 103,000, Iowa by 88,000 or why Florida is still, days later, too close to call? It’s impossible to know what a Romney campaign with working GOTV technology would have been able to accomplish. Ekdahl explained that with the failure of Project ORCA’s organization and its later meltdown on Election Day “30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc.” The possibility that all of the efforts of Romney’s campaign, all of the enthusiasm, went unharnessed and dormant on Election Day when they could’ve at least led to a closer election result, if not a victory, is becoming beyond frustrating for thousands of his staffers, for the millions of Americans who gave their time and money to elect Mitt Romney president as they come to learn just what a disaster ORCA seems to have been.

Read Less

Do Demographics Point to a Permanent Democratic Majority?

The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

Read More

The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:

The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”

Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …

Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.

The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign. 

The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)

There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.

Instead, why not challenge the notion that people vote primarily based on their allegiance to an identity group, rather than their individual interests? It’s supported by the statistics. While immigration is an important issue for Hispanic voters and can have a big influence on their vote, their biggest individual concern in 2012 was jobs and the economy. The same goes for women voters and abortion. 

Just look at the Jewish vote. The overarching issue that connects American Jews is Israel, but as a bloc they vote reliably for the party that has a weaker record on Israel because it is liberal on social issues.

The point is, people don’t always vote based on their primary identity interest. There are, however, group sensitivities that need to be considered. A Democratic politician who sounds like Tom Tancredo isn’t going to win over Hispanic voters, just like Jewish voters aren’t likely to support Charles Barron, no matter how liberal he is on abortion and welfare programs. 

It was these sensitivities that Obama exploited. He was able to use his presidency to indulge identity groups in small but concrete ways, while arguing that Romney would set back their interests if he were elected. Hence, the executive order on immigration, the “evolution” on gay marriage, the birth control insurance mandate, the auto bailout, and so on. This was helped along by Romney’s hard line on immigration during the primary, Romney’s inability to support gay marriage, controversial comments from Republicans about abortion, and Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout.  

But that strategy isn’t going to be as easy for Democrats in 2016. First, the Democratic candidates won’t be able to distribute these handouts before the election. And second, Republicans aren’t likely to give Democrats as many opportunities to demagogue them on immigration and women’s issues (at least not if they learned any lessons from this year).

Rather than pander to different groups, it’s more helpful to find common ground between identity groups and broader national interests. For example, the GOP isn’t going to become a pro-choice party anytime soon, and it doesn’t need to. The majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion to some degree — just not in cases of rape and incest. Pro-life politicians would be smart to focus on the former and steer clear of the latter. Even if they personally oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest, there’s no need to bring those controversial personal views into the policy debate. 

Tone is just as important here as policy. It didn’t matter that Romney wouldn’t have governed as a hardliner on immigration; Democrats were able to use his comments from the primary to portray him as anti-immigrant. And it didn’t matter how many times Romney’s campaign insisted he wouldn’t support an abortion ban — Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock set the tone for the entire party.

The only way the Democratic Party can keep its identity-based coalition together in 2016 is if Republicans give them enough fodder to do it.

Read Less

Immigration Issue Hurts GOP with More Than Just Hispanics

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

Read More

To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.

They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.

It should also be noted that respondents who were neither white nor African-American nor Latino made up 5 percent of the electorate. They, too, went for Obama overwhelmingly by 67 percent to 31 percent. This suggests that Asian-Americans, who like Latinos ought to be a natural Republican constituency, are strongly trending the other way.

Respondents were then asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants working in the U.S.–should they be offered a chance to apply for legal status or deported? Sixty-five percent of respondents said they should be offered a chance to apply for legal status–what Republican politicians normally characterize as an “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Only 28 percent said that they should be deported. This suggests that Republicans’ anti-immigration views hurt them not only with Latinos but with a broader electorate, which is more sympathetic to undocumented migrants than Republican leaders are.

As I noted earlier, it is high time that Republicans adjust their position to show that, while they want to police our borders, they are sympathetic to the plight of millions of immigrants who are already here and who will never be deported. We need to find a way to legalize their status instead of demonizing that as an “amnesty.” Providing an opportunity to young people whose parents came here illegally–the aim of the DREAM Act–is a good place to start.

Read Less

Christie Shouldn’t Be the Scapegoat

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

Read More

Republicans are still licking their wounds today, but from the sound of it, some in the Romney campaign aren’t letting go of their vendetta with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While this Washington Post story centered on Mitt Romney’s efforts to thank and console his supporters and made clear just how decent a guy he is, it also gave a platform for some of his staffers and leading fundraisers to vent their anger at Christie and his role in puffing up President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy:

Although Romney himself stopped short of placing any blame on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who praised President Obama’s leadership during the storm, several Romney supporters privately pointed fingers at the outspoken governor.

“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” said one of Romney’s biggest fundraisers, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Another major Romney fundraiser said Christie’s embrace of Obama after Sandy walloped his state only deepened a rift that opened between the Romney and Christie camps over the summer Christie and his wife were unhappy with Romney’s vice presidential search process, believing they were “led a little bit far down the garden path” without being picked, the fundraiser, said.

Any losing campaign needs scapegoats, and it’s clear that some in the Romney campaign are anxious to divert the focus away from their own failures. The hurricane, and Christie’s embrace of the president, was a setback. Yet a dispassionate look at the returns and the turnout figures shows that even if the weather had stayed nice on the East Coast in the week before the election, Romney would have still lost. To say that Christie lost the election for the GOP is bunk. But even though the attacks on Christie are off base and ought to stop, the controversy still tells us something about the problem with the governor and why those assuming he will succeed where Romney failed are probably wrong.

It’s now apparent that many in Romney’s camp as well as some of us in the media had a mistaken view of the state of the race in the days just before the storm. The belief that Romney was ahead was based on a model of the electorate that assumed that Democratic turnout would not come close to that of 2008. That was wrong. The Obama campaign really did have a massive ground game advantage over Romney’s more amateurish efforts, and the result was another wave of Democratic enthusiasm that swamped the upsurge in Republican enthusiasm. The storm and the adoring press coverage it got certainly aided the president and might have helped turn a more narrow margin for the president into the clear victory he achieved. But even if there were no Sandy and no photo op and gushing praise from Christie, Obama would still be planning a second term today.

Conservatives spent the last two years underestimating President Obama’s political strengths and paid the price for it on Tuesday, and this bout of Christie-bashing is just another instance of them engaging in denial about what really happened. But even though the Romney camp’s shots at Christie are way out of line, the governor has no one to blame but himself for the way this controversy has grown.

Christie built his reputation on his blunt, tough-guy persona that conservatives love because of his refusal to play by liberal rules in public debate about the issues. But the flip side to this is an arrogant disdain for anyone else’s point of view. Christie always operates as if he is in business for himself, and if he allowed his hurt feelings about the vice presidential nomination to affect his behavior during the campaign, that doesn’t speak well for his judgment. His instinct is always to fire back at any criticism, and that has helped keep this minor controversy about the storm alive. The governor has many attributes that recommend him to the country, but the last few months show that being a team player is not one of them.

Though no one should blame Christie for Romney’s loss, this is just another piece of evidence that shows that he might not do as well under the scrutiny of a national campaign as his admirers think. Christie’s temperament is perfect for the maelstrom of New Jersey politics, but might not play as well on the national stage.

Read Less

The Taliban’s Advice to Obama

On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued the Islamist movement’s official statement in Pashto, which the Open Source Center translated:

1. Obama should fully utilize the new opportunity preventing the United States from acting as world police, focusing on solving own problems, and not allowing the country to burn in the fire of world’s hatred.

2. Obama realizes that Americans are now tired of the war and useless military expenditure. Therefore, he should take into account the demands and expectations of his people, and end the meaningless war. He should not let the United States become notorious by committing more war crimes.

3. Obama realizes that the American nation is tired of the war losses and back-breaking economic crisis. Therefore, he should immediately withdraw his troops from the country and prevent deaths of more US troops.

4. The elements who are currently supporting the United States in our country are indeed the most disgraceful and unwanted faces. Relying on such elements will cost the United States more financial and human losses.

5. Perhaps Obama has now realized well that he has lost the battle in Afghanistan. Therefore, instead of wasting time and telling lies, he should immediately leave our sacred soil and think about his country and people’s lives.

Read More

On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued the Islamist movement’s official statement in Pashto, which the Open Source Center translated:

1. Obama should fully utilize the new opportunity preventing the United States from acting as world police, focusing on solving own problems, and not allowing the country to burn in the fire of world’s hatred.

2. Obama realizes that Americans are now tired of the war and useless military expenditure. Therefore, he should take into account the demands and expectations of his people, and end the meaningless war. He should not let the United States become notorious by committing more war crimes.

3. Obama realizes that the American nation is tired of the war losses and back-breaking economic crisis. Therefore, he should immediately withdraw his troops from the country and prevent deaths of more US troops.

4. The elements who are currently supporting the United States in our country are indeed the most disgraceful and unwanted faces. Relying on such elements will cost the United States more financial and human losses.

5. Perhaps Obama has now realized well that he has lost the battle in Afghanistan. Therefore, instead of wasting time and telling lies, he should immediately leave our sacred soil and think about his country and people’s lives.

When Obama was first campaigning for president back in 2007, he argued that the Iraq war was a diversion from U.S. national interests, and that the legitimate war—the one which the United States needed to win—was in Afghanistan. His policy since has been to talk back the idea of victory in Afghanistan. By enunciating an artificial deadline for transition and withdrawal, Obama demoralized American allies amongst the Afghans and convinced both Pakistan and the Taliban that their strategy was working.

It is quite telling when one reads the Taliban statement that the first three points effectively encapsulate Obama’s policy: (1) Surrender leadership; (2) Cut the military; and (3) Withdraw, regardless of consequence. Point (4) underlines the fallacy of bringing the Taliban into any political coalition, and suggests the Taliban will turn on and purge pro-Western Afghans as soon as the last American troop departs Afghanistan. Obama may dispute (5), but the idea that Taliban terrorism defeated a superpower is what every Islamist, from Minneapolis to Mogadishu and from Tehran to Timbuktu will conclude, as they plot their future strategy and tactics in their ideological confrontation with Western liberalism.

Eleven years after 9/11, how sad it is that rather than to laugh off the Taliban statement as ridiculous bluster, White House strategy now appears to affirm it.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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:

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.