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Where Do Republicans Go From Here?

If the Republicans couldn't beat 7.9 percent unemployment, rising taxes and debt, a lackluster housing market and a recent terrorist attack overseas, columnist Lisa Bigelow believes it's time for them to rethink their message to the electorate

 

You could see defeat in their faces on Fox News as the returns began rolling in.

Pennsylvania? “Fool’s gold.” Michigan? “That was a long shot, anyway.” Virginia? “It all depends on Fairfax County.” Florida? “It’s the voters in the I-4 corridor.”

And, of course, Ohio.  

Indeed, only the brilliant, but reviled Republican strategist Karl Rove looked optimistic after 9 p.m.

At 10:30, my husband and I turned off the television, a persistent, sinking feeling in our collective gut. I woke at 1 a.m. and couldn’t resist grabbing my phone and loading Drudge.

Headline: “The Divided States of America.”

Sigh. So close. So close.

Naturally, sleep proved elusive as I pondered the meaning of the results. Although exit poll voters gave the edge on the economy to Romney, Obama still won. Women and minorities supported the president roundly, while white men, upper income voters, the religious right and other traditional conservative stalwarts supported Romney.

Of course, defeating an incumbent president is nearly impossible. But the fact that Republicans didn’t win in a landslide last Tuesday indicates the party of Lincoln has an elephant-sized case of head-in-the-sanditis.

Republican strategists will no doubt spend a lot more time analyzing this past election than I will. While I’m sure we’ll all hear tons about how GOP candidates need to do a better job getting their message out to Hispanics and middle-income moms, the problem isn’t the breadth of communication; it’s the communication itself.

I think Washington has a habit of underestimating the man (or woman) in the street. Voters get what the Republicans are saying. They just don’t like it.

That doesn’t mean they embrace the liberal agenda, either, as evidenced by the halfhearted endorsement of the Obama mandate. It just means that they found the reality of another Obama administration more tolerable than the idea of a Romney administration.

The long-held assumption that America is a center-right country is false. We’re center-center. We want compromise. And nobody, from the single mom waitress in Cuyahoga County to the hedge fund manager in New Canaan, wants to see the government waste taxpayer money.

Let’s not forget, the fact of the matter is George W. Bush spent money like a drunken sailor and left Obama with a big fat mess. It’s not as if the economy was plugging along nicely and Obama wrecked it. The ugly truth is the country has still not recovered from the Bush years. Voters recognized it. Republican leadership should, too.

But the common thread between all of the reasons voters chose Obama is the Republicans’ insistence on not accepting the reality of the shifting priorities of the American electorate.

When Romney shifted to the right on immigration that was a big mistake. Why? Although rounding up illegal immigrants and shipping them back home sounds great on paper, it is not a practical solution to our border problem. Developing a sensible amnesty program is and Hispanic voters noticed.

Maintaining a pro-life platform was an even bigger mistake and the right wing needs to accept America is never going to outlaw abortion. Women noticed and they're tired of it. Yes, I know no one even talked about overturning Roe v. Wade. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get an abortion—but let others make their own choices. Voters believe that is the American way.

Romney also would have been better off taking credit for the truth of being the ideological father of Obamacare (and also for being pro-choice while leading Massachusetts). Standing up to the noisy far right, with whom northeastern and west coast voters do not identify, would have demonstrated courageous leadership. And though it would have made the GOP faithful red-faced in anger, it would have garnered the respect of voters. 

Finally, how refreshing would it have been to hear Romney say, “I think we should keep the Bush tax cuts. But healing a divided nation and making real progress will only be achieved through bipartisan legislation. That’s why I cannot release specific details now.

“I need the American people to give me a chance to sit down with our Democratic friends and work out a compromise that every party can be proud of. It may include entitlement cuts and higher revenues. But we won’t know how great our nation could be unless you elect me to prove it.”

Alas, it was not to be.

RONALD M GOLDWYN November 13, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Lisa, Much of what you say is true. But to me politics for the last 50+ years has been local. The men and women who serve in public office are all known to me and are good people. We Republicans must change if we are to be accepted by the majority of the electorate who live in the middle. I for one believe in having a woman be able to control her own body, meaning she decides on having an abortion or not. She decides on the use of birth control or not. In Milford all pro-life candidates lost. That fact speaks volumes. It means that the Republican party here in Milford where its population is over 50% Catholic its voters rejected the RC church's policy. The city with a heart also rejected the idea that in this current era it is not wrong to collect "Food Stamps" while feeling you are a middle-class citizen. Maybe it is time for Republicans to realize that "Liberal" is not a dirty word, and that just 50 years ago they were the Liberal party nationwide. My voice does not reach Nationwide, nor even Statewide, but locally, I can influence my party. This then, as an elected committeeman for over 50 years, will be my new goal. To move us to the popular position in the center or left of center and reclaim the confidence of our voting public.
Concerned Parent November 13, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Let's be honest here for a moment and stop this crap. Things are no different for both DEMS and REPS as they were on November 5th. Remember, our President was re-elected because he received 50% of the country's vote...50%!...We've been force fed this whole Red and Blue garbage for the last decade and people are beginning to get extremely frustrated. Just look at the fall out from this election. This whole US vs. THEM (Translated -- DEM vs. REP) is pathetic...Grow up ...Get over it...Stop looking at things in red and blue and start working to fix the problems we have rather than spinning them...
Angus November 14, 2012 at 11:40 AM
50,6% to 47.8%. That's right, Mittens got 47%. Ironic, right? And Ed, things are much different for the Republicans. Your party has been exposed as the train wreck it is. And, unless they reassess how they are going to address certain demographic groups, their irrelevenace will just continue to increase. I know Rush and Fox News aren't saying this but trust me, it's true.
RONALD M GOLDWYN November 14, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Every journey begins with a first step. We Republicans must also do the same. I cannot help those in Phoenix AZ, but here in Milford CT I can try to change the minds of my fellow Republicans..One of the first steps is to back away from having a Pro- Life plank in the platform or at the least here in Milford. The second step is to court all our minority groups. And third we should back away from being known as the party of the rich. These are enough steps to begin with. In the mean time the Democrats have their plate full trying to fill the Presidents campaign promises.

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