In so many ways—be it on the economy and job creation, taxes, or healthcare—the election served as a referendum on President Obama and the policies he signed into law over the last four years. Conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh convinced themselves and their followers that voters would clean house and sweep Governor Romney and the Republican Party to victory. The idea that Governor Romney would win is not too far-fetched. Obamacare is unpopular, the US debt is higher than at any other time in history, job creation is not expanding rapidly enough. And when President Obama failed to defend his policies during the first debate, many on the right believed that Obama’s policies, just like his energy that night in Denver, ran their course.
Instead, President Obama won. And he won big.
The exit polls tell a great story as to why President Obama carried the day. Women, Latinos, African-Americans all broke for the President by 55%, 71%, and 95%, respectively. These are huge margins, and I believe the margins are reflective of a Republican Candidate and Republican Party that is extreme. The Republican Party Platform would ban abortion. Republican candidates Akin (R-MO) and Mourdock (IN) made comments that personified the Republican Platform’s vision. The Republican Party’s solution to immigration took on an increasingly get-tough stance, with Governor Romney extolling “self-deportation” as the way forward. Likewise, when giving a speech to the NAACP in July, Governor Romney got booed.
So even as Republicans, the Republican Party, and the Republican presidential nominee insulted or demeaned or wrote off 47% of the country, they still thought they could win the highest office in the land and take control of the Senate. When polls showed Obama with a lead, Republicans dismissed the polls as typical liberal media bias. When Governor Romney insisted that he could cut taxes across the board while cutting the deficit and keep defense spending at or above 4% of GDP regardless of peace or war, Republicans thought that Americans would ignore the math and instead believe the words. When Republicans demeaned women’s rights and gay rights, Republicans thought Americans would ignore their hypocrisy because they otherwise extol individual freedoms.
They thought wrong.
Perhaps Republicans came up short because of their unwavering belief that their conservative ideology is failsafe. Such blind faith is troubling. To paraphrase President Bill Clinton, believing so strongly in an ideology is dangerous because it gives you the answer before you even need to look at the evidence. In this light, look at the Republicans’ track record and position on some of today’s biggest issues. Global warming is a hoax, despite all predictions to the contrary. Tax cuts are the only way to grow the economy. Illegal immigrants are taking American jobs. Gun control laws banning semi-automatic weapons suitable only for theaters of war threaten the Second Amendment. Republicans are an inclusive party because they scored speakers like Condoleezza Rice and Marco Rubio at their Convention, and Rush Limbaugh dares anybody to claim that Republicans are anything but.
So when it came to election night, Republicans convinced themselves they would win election night not because poll after poll (and statistical analysis after statistical analysis) proved them wrong, but because they had convinced themselves that their conservative ideology was always right. That Karl Rove contested the very idea that Ohio had been called, even after Fox called it, is yet another case in point.
To run contrary to the opinions flooding the media after Governor Romney’s loss, I very much doubt the Republican Party will take a hard look at itself and reevaluate its positions on taxes and the economy, women’s rights, minorities, immigration, gun control, global warming, or anything else. I say this because a similar moment happened in 2008, when analysts thought the Republican Party would soon come to an end after eight years under George W. Bush and especially after the Obama campaign trounced Senator McCain’s. Instead of striking a conciliatory tone, Republicans further steeped themselves in their ideology and went farther to the right. In 2010, Republicans retook the House. In 2012, the strategy became more extreme. The strategy became not one of inclusion, but exclusion, as witnessed by the restrictive voting laws in Texas and Pennsylvania, and Florida’s move to reduce early voting from fourteen to eight days.
For Republicans who will have to read into the evidence to understand that the Republican Party is increasingly old, increasingly white, and increasingly misrepresentative of the America we live in, is to actually read into the evidence.
And reading into the evidence—on a myriad of issues—is apparently a very tall order.
If 2008 is any guide, Republicans will not read into the evidence, change their ideology, or realize that while convictions do not need to break, they should at least once in a while bend. Instead, it is all too predictable that Republicans will once again look to their severely conservative ideology, ignore the science and the math, and convince themselves that they can still win. After all, when you run campaigns that are not bounded by the truth, anything can happen.