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Election Day 2012 Memo: Why Voters Are Not Voting for the Status Quo, The Consent of the Governed and More
As this remarkable election draws to a close, some thoughts:
The Electorate Isn't Returning the Status Quo - If the polls hold and the Democrats retain the White House and the Senate, and the GOP the House, we will not be returning to status quo. Washington will be different. The GOP will have whiffed on the White House and Senate despite a very challenging economy and all the money in the world. This will be the first election since 2004 where the troubled economy did not turn out the incumbent party. The President and Harry Reid will have withstood a tremendous onslaught, won their elections, and will come out stronger, more secure in their place than before. The national Republican Party will only have the House, a chamber dominated by far right ideologues and led by a factious and divided set of leaders. The national Republican Party will also not have a Presidential primary to divert attention away from the House GOP freak show, meaning that Boehner and his troops will be the face of the Republican Party nationally these next few years, something that was not the case after the 2010 elections.
My own take is that the President and Harry Reid have learned a lot from the last few years, and will not allow the previous levels of Republican obstructionism to go unchallenged. The President and Senate will have a mandate from the American people to end the gridlock and make progress on our very real problems. I think it will be much harder now than before for the Republicans just to do nothing and block. They no longer have the 2010 win at their back, and the President will be very focused on getting things done in his final and perhaps historic second term. We will all learn quickly that gridlock in Washington is not inexorable. It is a choice. It is a choice made by the Republican Party these last few years. I dont think that choice will be easy for them to make in the days ahead.
Most significantly the President will be different. On Wednesday he will be transformed from a struggling incumbent to a re-elected one with an improving economy. His enormous political accomplishment in 2012 - getting re-elected despite a very tough economy - will become seen in the coming days as significant as his historic 2008 campaign. He will also have the support of the American people, the "consent of the governed," in a way no President since Reagan and no Democrat since FDR has enjoyed - two consecutive election victories with more than 50% of the vote. He is also older, wiser and more experienced - just simply better at the job. So of all the things which suggest we are not returning to the status quo is it going to be the return of Barack Obama, who now has the very real chance of becoming an historic figure not just a decent President. And my gut is that he is not going to waste this opportunity.
I discussed these ideas on a live interview I did yesterday on the UK's Channel 4 nightly news program. You can watch it here. (Update - If Pres Obama breaks 50 percent tonight he will be only the 7th President in US history to win two terms with a majority of the vote each time. The others: Jackson, Grant, McKinley, FDR, Eisenhower and Reagan. A pretty august group).
George W. Bush Played A Much Bigger Role In The Election Than Many Realize - One of the great mysteries of 2012 is why Mitt Romney did not do more to distance himself and the Republican Party from the disasterous Bush Presidency. The entire Obama frame - Forward/Backward - was a direct reference to the idea that Romney represented a third Bush term. Despite being gone for almost four years now, we are still digging out of the economic challenges, the foreign policy quagmires and the structural budget deficit he left behind. The memory of his time in his office, a sort of modern day Hoover, created significant structural problem for the GOP brand this year, and helps explain the wide Party ID advantage the Democrats now enjoy.
I had always thought that Jeb Bush would be able to someday overcome his brother's legacy, win the GOP nomination and potentially get elected President. I am no longer so sure about this. The GOP is in need of creating distance between them and the Bush era, something Jeb will not be able to provide them in 2016, or beyond. I think this need of a fresh approach, a fresh team will start to become more important to the GOP in the years to come (Christie, Jindal, Rubio, Martinez, Sandoval, etc).
It Was A Lot More Than Sandy - Some early election spin coming from the GOP is that Obama won by accident - Hurricane Sandy - and they did not really lose the election to the "worst President in history," someone Paul Ryan said wants everything to be free "except us," and who Rick Santorum said would usher in the end of the American Republic.
As Nate Silver writes, and I reported repeatedly on twitter, the election had started to move to Obama before Sandy hit. Nate goes into great detail about why this might have happened but to me the fact that the Dems won the last three debates by large margins, the strong Romney from the first debate never returned, Obama righted himself in the final two debates, and the improving economy are all enough reasons to explain the shift that was underway. Mittmentum had already stopped, and a new race dynamic had already kicked in. Arguments otherwise from the GOP are just ass-covering excuses from losing consultants.
Next, the impact of Sandy, whatever it ends up being, will be because of the way the two campaigns handled the event, not the occurance of the event itself. Katrina, remember, hurt the sitting President George W Bush. Sandy has helped President Obama because his government was prepared and has done a good job in the days after; the praise from Christie, Bloomberg and dozens of other officials working the USG matters; and Romney was hurt by his loopy argument for privitization of FEMA and a return of its functions to the states. Obama gaining ground from Sandy was not pre-ordained. Like the financial collapse in the fall of 2008, Obama gained from the event because of his performance and reaction to the event, not the mere event itself. Give the man credit for the performance of his government, and his own adroit political handling of the crisis.
Watch Arizona - Arizona could end up being a big 2012 story. The Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona has made it a race and leads in some polls. The Congressional delegation will be majority Dem, 5-4, after tomorrow. The state elected Democratic mayors in each of its largest cities in 2011, Tucson and Phoenix, for the first time in 40 years. The yoke of the far right extemists like Jan Brewer who have been running Arizona is in the process of being tossed off by angry voters. While a few years behind its neighbors like CO and NV, Arizona's Latino-driven march from red to purple status may become official this year (and I still think team Obama should have mounted a challeng here). By some accounts even Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a race on his hands.
Watch Arizona. If Carmona wins it will be another significant blow to the self-deportation forces, who have been in retreat since a tough summer in the Supreme and other courts. And another sign (along with CA's GOP registration dropping below 30%) of the transformative power of the growing Latino vote. One of the most important exit poll numbers to watch tonight is that Latino number. Romney's extreme position on immigration, and the Obama campaign's significant investment in running a truly modern and well funded campaign with Latinos, has pushed the Obama Latino number into the 70s in some polls, remarkable territory. Many of the national polls released this week have Obama in the low to mid 60s with Latinos. If this number does indeed end up in the 70s it could add a point or two to his national total tonight, and make a few states tilt much more in his favor.
The GOP Needs A Modernization Project - I just published a major article which dives into this idea in depth (see it here in both Spanish and English) but it is clear the GOP desperately needs a modernization project designed to take its ideas and values and apply them to the vastly different circumstances of the 21st century. California should be a warning sign of one possible future for the GOP. In the place where the 21st century is perhaps arriving with its greatest speed, the Republican Party has essentially disapeared. This is more than just about the GOP's problems with people of color and Millennials, the fast growing parts of the US electorate. It is also coming to accept at a fundamental level how much the world has changed since the halycon Reagan days. Words and concepts like globalization, rise of the rest, changing geo-politics of the world today, the digital transformation of our own economy are not even in the Republican Party's spell checker let alone a major topic of debate. My own take is that a major part of the incoherence of the Romney campaign came from this - their Party on a very basic level doesn't understand what is happening in the world and in America today.
As we look ahead to the 2016 GOP field, you can see candidates who could be modernizers/pragmatists. Folks like Christie, Jindal and Rubio I think could fall into that camp. The more ideological wing will be represented too in folks such as Paul Ryan and Mike Huckabee (As I wrote I have much more doubt now about Jeb Bush's viability than before, either in the primary or the general). But man is this once successful Party of the 20th century in need of a major overhaul, a generational skip, a fresh start. After all, it is likely that after tonight's vote, Democrats will have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections, which clearly should be a cause of concern for the GOP.
Obama's Second Term - There is already so much teed up for the second Obama term - managing the fragile US and global economies, tackling our fiscal challenges, implementing the ACA across the country, making further progress on immigration reform, nurturing the post-Arab Spring MENA region, winding down the war in Afghanistan, preventing the nuclearization of Iran, continuing to weaken terrorists networks, completing and passing TPP and making real the President's "pivot to Asia," deepening our commitment to an "All of the Above" energy strategy - just to name a few things. As I said above, I think the President will be ambitious in his second term, and not shy from fights, or be tolerant of obstruction.
As I wrote in a previous essay, Crafting An American Response to the Rise of the Rest, my greatest hope for the President's second term is for him to create a strategic rationale for his Presidency that is more than cleaning up the messes left by the Bush Administration. As he hinted in his 2011 State of the Union speech, America is facing a new century, with new challenges, and needs a new strategy to ensure our prosperity and security in a new age. It is time for him to put the strategic orientation of Bush era behind him and usher in a 21st century strategic vision for the United States which focuses on three things - restructuring the American economy to succeed in a more globalized, competitive and digital world; ensuring that as we transition into a new geopolitical era driven by the rise of the rest that the global architecture remains fundamentally liberal; and reinventing government for the digital age so it can do more with less. As I have advocated in this video, while there are immense challenges ahead, I think the century we are hurdling into is full of more possibility than any time in human history. I hope he/we can capture that sense of opportunity, possiblity, in the months ahead. These are deeply promising times, and much is going right in the world today.
Finally, I would add a fourth area of engagement for the President in his second term beyond the three I mention above - political reform and modernization. I offer some initial thoughts on what that agenda could look like here.
My Prediction - As I submitted to The Hill yesterday for their prediction contest, I predict the President will win, 51-48, and win the electoral college with 332 electoral college votes. The Senate will end up 53-47 for the Democrats and Harry Reid, and the Demcrats will get to 200 in the House. I was a proud winner of the 2008 Hill prediction contest (Morning Joe won it in 2006). My success this time I think will hinge on what happens with Florida.