Despite a weak incumbent hampered by an economic hangover of unprecedented proportions and four years of single-minded obstructionism intended to cripple his leadership, despite deliberate attempts at voter disenfranchisement and over a billion dollars of negative advertising that ranged from deceptive to downright libelous, Obama won.
Wait, “won” understates it. Obama won the popular vote. He won the electoral vote. Most importantly, though, the Republicans lost ground in every single segment of the population that is growing—youth, Latino, urban. Obama won nine of 10 swing states. Not only that, he pulled the entire ticket to victory, with gains in both the Senate and House. In a word, he stomped the living crap out of the Republican Party. He beat them so bad that Fox News was the first to call it, and pulled the plug on their own analyst when he tried to bluster.
The more rational Republicans see this for what it is. The Republicans have become a regional party. Not quite the same as the old Dixiecrats of the ’50s, but pretty darn close—the South plus rural areas. It is the party of angry old whites. The good news, I suppose, is that it is diverse angry whites—racists and paranoiacs, Catholics and Evangelicals, heterosexual adulterers and closet homosexuals.
Reagan’s big tent strategy, like pretty much every other Reagan strategy, has been an abject failure. Nixon, and then Reagan, both planned to bolster the ranks of historically small Republican Party by recruiting the recalcitrant reactionaries and rabid racists of the recidivist right (yes, that was a shout out to Spiro Agnew).
The problem is that when those people are invited into the tent, other people leave. People of decency do not want to spend a single minute in this tent with these people. It’s like a college party I was once at in Nacodoches where someone had the bright idea to give the address to the local biker gang. Within fifteen minutes the only ones left were the bikers and a dog. Even the host bolted.
Which is exactly what happened on Tuesday. Romney bolted the tent at the first opportunity. Obama’s election night party was held in McCormick Place and included a throng representing every age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Romney’s was a small group of rich whites wearing ties in an exclusive hotel in Boston. Now that he is not obliged to hang out inside Reagan’s big tent to shake hands and beg for votes, he wants to get as far away from it as possible. Hey tentistas, don’t get your feelings hurt now. You’ve known all along that Romney has houses in Massachusetts and California, not Mississippi and Arizona. His friends own NASCAR teams, not NASCAR tee-shirts.
So what is the right answer for the Republicans? Simple, pull up the pegs and move the tent. There are plenty of centrist democrats, like me, who are pro-business and wary of government and who could be wooed in. But not as long as the tent has those assholes over in the corner at the table with the Confederate flag telling racist jokes, or as long as there’s that group of morons standing next to the iced tea insisting that biology, physics and now mathematics are opinions rather than facts. Get them out, and you might get me in. Turn Republicans back into a centrist party focused on small government, individual responsibility and fiscal prudence, instead of an alliance of those who believe in imperialism, racism, societal totalitarianism and greed, and I (and my checkbook) are on the way.
And what is the chance they will go for it? That question was like rhetorical, because the answer is: None. (Or nada if you live in Arizona.)
Here’s the way the process will work.
First, they will contort the numbers in some way to convince themselves they really didn’t lose. They will adjust for the ACORN Effect and the Sandy Effect (which hit Democratic areas, but no matter) and the Media Bias Effect and the Some-other-effect-we-haven’t-thought-of-yet Effect.
Second, they will convince themselves that if they did lose, which they didn’t, it was all Romney’s fault. (Not completely untrue by the way. As I wrote almost a year ago, this guy had no chance.) The best strategy is to put forward a rabid ideologue who will inevitably say truly stupid shit that will scare independents to death: Come on down, Paul Ryan!
And finally, they will continue to tell themselves that they can lure youth, Latinos, women and blacks into the party with traps baited with tokens like Mario Rubio and Michael Steele, and that once these people are in the trap they will sit there and happily vote as their old white betters tell them.
It sounds ridiculous. Because it is.
I think we need a strong second party. We do not want to drift into socialism, which let’s be honest, is a possibility (not a certainty as Republicans argue, but a possibility) under unfettered Democratic dominance. But we are not going to get one, because Reagan’s tent is full of yahoos, and they’re not going home until all the shrimp are eaten and the beer is gone.