Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

Some initial thoughts on last night’s results:

Demographics: The President’s re-election was a testament to organizing, message and get out the vote, but also a serious bet on the demographic trends in our country. The President won huge majorities of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Pacific Americans, all of whom saw their percentage of the total vote go up, while “white people” made up a smaller amount of the total. They also bet big on women, who gave the President a solid majority of their votes. For as much as I mock Steve Schmidt and Chris Cillizza, each made important points about these trends. First, Schmidt noted that George H.W. Bush won roughly 60% of the white vote in 1988 and cruised to the White House. Romney won (roughly) the same percentage in 2012 and didn’t come close. Cillizza pointed out that New Mexico went for George W. Bush in 2004 but is now part of the deepening blue Left Coast (along with reliable CA, WA and OR). New Mexico, and to a lesser extent, Nevada, are Exhibits A and B for these trend lines and a party that is viewed as anti-immigrant and pro-voter suppression is not a party that will compete in a meaningful way at the national level anytime soon.

Pleasantville (Part I): The GOP and its Greek chorus on FOX News and talk radio cling to some ideal of America as a 1950s Norman Rockwell painting, a black and white (think TV, not skin color) Eden where doors are left unlocked, the milkman delivers to your front door step and little Jimmy rides his bike down to the soda shop after school. This worldview largely explains the genuine looks of shock and horror (not to mention Karl Rove’s epic on-air meltdown when FOX called Ohio for the President) on FOX last night when the tide turned decisively in the President’s favor. When you live in a media bubble where the President is not a sentient human being, but rather, some “other” who is hell bent on the destruction of the country, you have, as Brian Williams noted about Donald Trump, “driven well past the last exit to relevance and veered into something closer to irresponsible.” Sadly, conservatives are among the last to have found out that the country (and the electorate) is younger, more progressive and open to a role for government than they want to believe.  

5 out of 6: Others have noted this, but we have had six presidential elections since 1992 and the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote five times. No GOP candidate for President has surpassed 300 Electoral Votes since George H.W. Bush in 1988, while the Democrats have cleared that bar four times, and but for those hanging chads, well ... we won’t even go there. Not only that, but a solid wall of “blue” states with more than 200 EVs has been erected that would give me great pause if I was a Republican and had to run against an iconic name like “Clinton” or “Cuomo” in four years. Finally, let’s hope the “5 out of 6” meme finally puts to rest the idea that we are a “center right” country.

Pleasantville (Part II): As out of touch and insular as Republicans and their media echo chamber were about the election, the “mainstream” media was equally at fault. “Respected” journalists aped polling data from places like Gallup (predicted whites would make up 78% of electorate, turned out to be 72%) and Rasmussen (final polling was off by an average of 5% in swing states) without digging deeper into their methodology or screening. Further, they gave voice to polling “truthers” who did everything from “unskew” polls (that turned out to be spot on) to lambaste Nate Silver (who only ended up accurately predicting the winner in 50 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia).  In the waning days of the campaign, they uncritically reported about Romney attempts to “expand the map” to places like Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania, none of which ended up being close. More dispiritingly, they constantly framed the race as essentially tied even when poll after poll showed that the electoral math was strongly in Obama’s favor.
(I don’t know shit about politics and predicted the final EV and popular vote less 1 EV -

On election night, journalists also sounded genuinely surprised that the electorate of their youth- older, white and “center right” (think Reagan Democrats) had been replaced. Not unlike the CIA missing the end of the Cold War, the “media” writ large seems to be well behind the curve in appreciating the shifting demographics of our nation, which would be ok, except they get paid a lot of money to notice shit like that.

Ticket Splitters: Considering that Mitt Romney won North Dakota by 20 points and Montana by 14 and both those states elected (or re-elected in Montana’s case) Democratic Senators is pretty amazing. That Scott Brown even got within sniffing distance of Elizabeth Warren (lost by 7) when the President carried Massachusetts by 23 points is also impressive. While I am one who tends to think Americans are low information voters, that so many people still ticket split shows that campaigns (and candidates) matter.

Obama’s (Non) Problem With White People: Among my least favorite memes of this election was the idea that President Obama had a problem with “white” voters. Last night confirmed this to be false. Obama twice carried largely rural states like New Hampshire and Iowa and blue collar states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Rather, the President (and frankly, any Democrat) has a problem with white Southern voters. There’s a big difference.

Mandates: I’m baffled by the idea being floated that it is incumbent on the President to compromise more with Republicans now that he’s been re-elected.  It’s not just that this trope ignores the four years of lockstep obstruction Republicans put before him or the compromises he has made[1], but also denies the reality of what we saw last night. The President was easily re-elected, Democrats not only gained two seats in the Senate but voters roundly rejected “Tea Party” types like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in Indiana and Missouri (Romney carried both and Indiana replaced its retiring Republican Governor with GOP Congressman Mike Pence) and the GOP’s majority in the House shrunk and was saved largely due to redistricting. In other words, why isn’t the chattering class asking the party that has now lost two straight Presidential elections (in near or total landslides) and lost seats in the House and Senate why it is not more willing to compromise?

It’s Not The Pitch, It’s The Product: On Mad Men, Don Draper is fond of saying that if you don’t like the conversation, you change the subject. This morning, some pundits were talking about the GOP’s need to re-brand itself so it sounds more inclusive. The only problem with this prescription is that today’s Republican party does not suffer from bad messaging, it suffers from a bad message. When people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have a platform to espouse their reactionary views about rape or when Rudy Guiliani screams about the President having blood on his hands because of the attack on our Benghazi consulate, it’s not the way in which these things are being said that is the problem, it is that they are being said. You can’t re-message crazy, and no amount of Frank Luntz wordsmithing is going to change that. The Republicans are at a tipping point of losing the next wave of voters because they are out of step with the times – last night’s results showed that ours is a society trending more pluralistic, progressive (on issues like marijuana and gay marriage) and majority-minority, so banging the drum on the evils of immigration, passing laws that suppress voting rights and criminalizing abortion are not going to get you the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It will not just be Republican leaders who espouse a new form of conservatism who will lead the GOP, but ones who actually believe it.

[1]  A partial list would include the insertion of more than 160 GOP-sponsored amendments into the Affordable Care Act (Republicans still voted against it), extending the Bush tax cuts for two years, agreeing to spending cuts and budget freezes and proposing a debt commission (Republicans filibustered and the President created Simpson-Bowles by Executive Order).


  1. Just so you know, you're awesome! Your blog should be more popular.

    1. That's nice of you to say. Thanks for reading! SLG

  2. Excellent piece! Insulting voters is one way to GOTV and it showed this week.

  3. "You can't re-message crazy...." Smartest thing I've read all week!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.