Barack Obama won a significant mandate, including swing states in the traditionally GOP-strong south. The Republicans have been handed a resounding defeat, sending pundits sniping at one another and assigning blame. The party's wise men have been exposed, and its fundamental demographics, economics and social politics have all been called into question.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It's what everyone on the left and in the mushy middle of the Beltway thinkspeak press said in 2008. It's still kind of dumb.
If you consume a steady diet of Politico, the Huffington Post, Slate, Think Progress, DailyKos, Wonkette, Media Matters, etc., you could be forgiven for thinking that the Republican Party is essentially a dead beast, speared through the skull and nearly vivisected, flailing its broken carcass against the earth via residual brain-stem shock and somehow also managing to devour itself.
It's a fascinating narrative to push. Internecine party struggle and a broken ideological system contains far more innate drama than describing the 2012 election as a miscalculation or a temporary fuckup. That's just situational setback, but a party rotten at the core and at war with itself is real heady ontological shit. You can write a dozen pages in the New Yorker or Harper's about it. You can meet your Atlantic blog quota for two weeks with meat like that.
I like Salon and many of the writers there, so let me make an example of them, if only because sending them a bunch of hits is no bummer. The following 33 stories ran on that site since election day:
- Fox News licks its wounds
- The 20 biggest sore losers of election night
- Fox News' dark night of the soul
- The biggest losers (pundit edition)
- The final defeat of backlash politics
- Why revenge is sweet
- Whites-only GOP meets its demographic destiny
- The GOP's horrible California nightmare
- Donald Trump: Irrelevant
- Fox discovers constant lying isn't consistently effective electoral strategy
- Did Elizabeth Warren kill the Tea Party?
- Obama's big Hispanic win worries GOP
- Election night was a "rebuke of Neanderthal attitudes"
- Conservatives turn on Karl Rove
- 10 right-wingers who got the election hilariously wrong
- Shattering the Rove myth
- What defeat does to a party
- Conservatives revolt over immigration shift
- Four more years: Right-wingers' nightmare comes true
- Is the conservative media killing conservatives?
- Karl Rove's having a bad week
- How Bill Kristol could split the GOP in two
- Bush advisor threatens to cut out Republicans' tongues
- Post-election gloating is a patriotic duty
- The price of Republican hubris
- Is it game over for Grover Norquist
- 5 glaring contradictions that sank the GOP
- 5 signs the right is losing it
- Dear Mr. President: Please admit it—you're a Jedi
- 10 reasons Republicans think their party's dysfunctional
- 4 reasons the GOP will lose in '16
- GOP civil war: Limbaugh vs. the consultants
Have Republicans lost the South?
At best, many of these are just gloating, but many more are premature. Quite a few verge on the hubristic, and some are just absurd. Quite a lot seem like they were churned out by the DJ3000: "Those clowns in [Washington] did it again. What a bunch of clowns." Everyone who swings at prognosticators after the results are in bats 1.000.
But the low-hanging fruit is worse than simply exulting in a win, which is every partisan's right, up to a point. There's the emphatic belief in fundamental chaos and doom for conservatism: the GOP will lose in 2016; Karl Rove is being fed to hyenas; Bill Kristol somehow matters; Elizabeth Warren might have killed the Tea Party; the GOP's demographics are dead; the GOP's nasty politics won't work anymore; and Fox News will kill Fox News' own philosophy and beggar its fans. Then there's the "Obama Is a Jedi!" thing, which is so goddamn embarrassing that it makes anyone who likes Star Wars and leftist politics want to wear a sticker that says, "YES! I've had sex! And NO! I am NOT like that guy."
There's a time for champagne, though, and that's election night. After that, reality sticks its head in the tent, and there's no bigger or more relevant buzzkill than 2008. In that election, Democrats won both houses of congress, including a senate supermajority, and the presidency. Not only did they defeat a "war hero" and a hot lady, they did so with a goofy older guy who looks like he goes to sleep with a UV light in his mouth to lighten his CRELM TOOTHPASTE gleam—and also a black dude. It seemed as if there couldn't be a bigger repudiation of the Republican Party and its ethos. Democrats were in charge of everything but the judiciary, riding the high of electing the hitherto racially unelectable.
Two years later, the Democrats had lost the house and significant gubernatorial races, introducing the country to men like Scott Walker or the preposterous mantis-creature Rick Scott—the biggest Medicare fraudster in history, who ran on a platform of government somehow hindering wealth creation, despite all the things he billed it for. The inevitability of Obama's new leftist ascendancy was crushed by the election of someone like Allen West, basically a whackjob authoritarian-sexting Iraqi torturer whose voice programming got stuck for two years on a "HitlerHitlerHitlerHitler" loop.
This is why all the 2012 gloating sounds so presumptuous and like a deeply arrogant temptation of fate: the Democrats suck at closing the deal in non-presidential-election years. While minority-voting demographics trend Democratic, there's no accounting for the illogical behavior of an electorate, which can vote against its own interests or not vote at all. The Democrats have spent nearly half a century trying to get the white working class to vote for it and against plutocracy, to no avail. Then, in 2010, the revolutionary wave of 2008 voters stayed at home, and Democrats got hammered.
Human emotions aren't inevitable, and apparently attendance is less so. Thanks to the 2010 census year, the GOP won the chance to redraw districts, which seems like a pointless political detail, until you remember that Democrats are likely to win the popular vote of 2012 house elections by over 1,000,000 votes, yet remain decisively in the minority in that chamber.
Details like house elections matter, because you can beat your breast and say that Obama's Electoral College win was a "decisive mandate," but a far more decisive mandate is being in control of the house of congress that actually passes budgets. The people might express their will via referenda on the president or his challenger, but all the aspirational programs in the world mean diddly-shit if you can't fund them.
Karl Rove, Dick Morris, Bill Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, pollsters and pundits fighting each other—this is all sideshow. In the aftermath of 2008, internment-camp apologist and cheerleader-with-rabies Michelle Malkin went on the warpath against RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and declared apostate anyone who criticized Sarah Palin. Jon Huntsman thought the pendulum had swung so decisively Obama's way that he became an ambassador in the administration. Pundits thought the Republican Party might be replaced or torn asunder.
Even now, amid all the supposed calamitous entropy of this election, the GOP has gotten firmly on "message control." The representatives conceding that they will ignore Grover Norquist's pledge never to raise taxes are all senators—people who don't craft budgets. Meanwhile, DC thinkspeak organs have begun to praise the courage of house Republicans who are willing to raise revenues by closing tax loopholes, so long as "entitlements" like Social Security (to which people are entitled because they fucking paid for them) are trimmed. It's a bold initiative that recognizes the changed realities of the post-2012-election Washington.
It's also what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaigned on, and what Obama ostensibly defeated. The GOP is in such disarray that it's already being hailed for its reasonable compromise in declaring that it will accept what it supported and campaigned on, all along. If the GOP weren't dead, dysfunctional and full of idiots killing each other, just imagine what it could accomplish.
Image by Jim Cooke.