Election Results Should Be Wake-up Call to GOP

The Editorial Board

If ever there was a vulnerable incumbent, Barack Obama would seem to fit the bill. With unemployment hovering around eight percent and a still-lagging economy, the GOP was handed a golden opportunity to wrest the White House back into its control (for a nice contrast, look at the electoral upheaval that took place in Europe amid its economic meltdown.) Yet Mitt Romney — a man who has essentially been running for President full-time for the past decade — fell just short again on Tuesday, and it’s time for the Republican Party to take a long look at itself.

Amid all the euphoria of the last couple of days, it bears restating that the GOP probably lost this election more than the Democrats won it. Certainly Obama ran a far more effective campaign, especially on the ground, but Presidents with approval ratings that low and economies that stagnant rarely live to see a second term. If the Republican primaries hadn’t been such a parade of fools and someone like, say, Jon Huntsman had been able to emerge unscathed with the party’s nomination, we could have been having a very different conversation.

The GOP finds itself in the midst of a serious identity crisis because it has hitched its wagon to a “coalition” built around a fast-declining demographic: older white men. In a nation where rapidly growing minority populations wield increasing influence in civil society, this is not a viable long-term strategy. The right has systematically alienated the voting blocs that represent the future of American politics, particularly Latinos (with rhetoric on immigration and racial profiling that resembles not so much an agenda as a tribal scream) and women (let’s just say they have a way of shutting that whole thing down). The best summation may well have been Bill O’Reilly’s moment of dismayed election-night candor: The GOP lost, quite simply, because “it’s not a traditional America anymore.”

Unfortunately, it needs to be asked whether the Republican powers-that-be are actually able to break free from their conservative bubble and realize that a change needs to be made. After all, this is the same party whose leaders insisted up to and even during the night of the election that a Romney victory was inevitable, state polling data be damned. (Speaking of which, how Nate Silver has resisted the urge to troll every conservative talk show from now until Obama’s inauguration is beyond us.) And the voices that shape popular opinion on the right don’t offer much hope of a compromise. Raise your hand if you foresee Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh accepting a move to the middle without a fight.

But if history is any guide, political parties care a lot more about winning than they do about any sort of ideological purity, however deeply entrenched. Assuming that moderate Republicans find a way to make their voices heard, where exactly does the party go from here? As loath as the party is to admit it, the GOP would do well to heed the example of its old nemesis: Bill Clinton. After living for 12 years in the shadow of Ronald Reagan, Clinton signaled a shift to a more centrist pragmatism, allowing Democrats to emerge from the dog house. Romney, though hardly an ideal candidate, only lost Virginia, Florida and Ohio by very small margins; successfully appealing to moderate swing-state voters could have very easily tipped the scales in the other direction.

Regardless of what such a change would look like, the GOP simply cannot continue to ignore the direction in which American politics is headed. Opposing gay marriage is no longer a viable plank of its platform; there are 20 women in the Senate, and the number of working women grows by the day; approximately 70 percent of the fastest-growing minority in the nation voted against them on Tuesday. These are not leftist fantasies — they’re a political reality. They sooner the right realizes that and steps back from the ledge, the sooner it will recover.