In re-electing President Obama and handing Democrats continued control of the Senate, voters rejected the extreme economic and social policies of the far-right and the Republican agenda of slashing taxes and shrinking government during uncertain economic times. In cruising to victory, Mr. Obama swept the contested battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
Still, the narrow margin of popular votes reflects a deeply divided nation. Despite his repeated missteps and opposition to a popular auto bailout, Republican nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had a real chance to win. Mr. Obama was clearly beatable.
With the economy foremost on voters’ minds, the President was re-elected with the highest unemployment rate — an appalling 7.9 percent — of any president returned to office since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. Mr. Obama’s record, even by the standards of his own promises, was uneven and uninspiring. Still, Mr. Romney could not convince a majority of Americans, even in the state he once governed, that his version of America represented the change they wanted.
For Republicans, whose party was founded by anti-slavery activists, this election ought to be regarded as pivotal in the party’s 158-year history. The GOP will have to re-evaluate and re-set, or it will become increasingly irrelevant in national elections.
Without a new strategy and direction, the GOP may not be able to win another national election, given the nation’s changing demographics. Taking nearly 60 percent of the white vote, as Mr. Romney did, is no longer enough.
Hispanics, in particular, will have a growing influence on national and local elections. In the past, Republican candidates have had success in attracting Latino votes. President George W. Bush, for example, received 40 percent to 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. But Mr. Romney received only an estimated 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, an even worse showing for Republicans than in 2008, when nominee Sen. John McCain received 31 percent of the vote. Credit extreme and inhumane positions on immigration for much of the erosion in Republican support.
Moving forward, Republicans must step out of the shadows of the party’s far-right wing. If the Tea Party continues to dictate the Republican Party’s platform, the GOP not only will fail to broaden its base, but also will continue to alienate traditional, more moderate Republicans.
For the nation, the stakes are even higher. Much of the GOP leadership in Congress considered, from the day the President was elected, defeating Mr. Obama as Job 1. The election is over, and they have failed.
Fixing, or at least alleviating, the enormous problems facing the country in the next four years will require compromise, not more partisan bickering and skirmishing. Avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts, starting in January, poses the most immediate challenge.
No doubt, Americans in 2012 wanted change on a national level. So far, however, Republicans have failed to deliver an alternative message attractive to most Americans. On a more visceral level, voters did not feel comfortable with a presidential candidate who seemed spectacularly out-of-touch with their lives and problems. They have spoken.
Republicans would do well — for themselves and for their country — to heed the messages of the 2012 election. They must re-think the policies and strategies of their party, if they want to remain relevant and competitive in a national election.
They can start by working together with President Obama and Democrats in Congress on the enormous problems that lie ahead.