Thursday, November 8, 2012

Losing to a likable incumbent doesn't mean your party is doomed


The post-mortems on Tuesday have entered the obligatory stage where everyone tells Republicans how to fix their party.

Invariably, it involves becoming more like the other party.

But the same forces that are warning the GOP that it MUST. CHANGE. NOW are the same ones who told us three, true things about this election.

1. It's tough to beat an incumbent.

2. It's even tougher to beat an incumbent when voters think the economy is on the mend.

3. And it's even, even tougher to beat an incumbent when he's more likable than your guy.

None of those three forces has anything to do with ideology or party, and yet all three have been called the central forces in this election.

So if they were central, why is the central force suddenly a fatally-flawed Republican party with a bad message and awful branding?

In short, if Romney had been a likable incumbent with an economy on the mend, would he have lost?

No.

In fact, think about how well Romney did, considering those three headwinds.

He lost by under 0.6% in Florida and 1.9% in Ohio and improved on John McCain's performance in every battleground state, and yet his loss is being spun as incontrovertible proof that the GOP is a doomed party.

Yes, there are demographic woes for the GOP, but they're not as extensive as often portrayed.

People warn: Young people are too bearish on the GOP for the party to have a future. True, but the divorce generally happens when those young people hit their 30's. For two decades, we've been hearing that the next generation of middle-aged voters will be astoundingly liberal thanks to their voting habits as 20 year-old's, but it just doesn't happen.

While young people are in the relatively insulated confines of academia, social causes like abortion, gay marriage and the environment tend to move them. When they grow older and enter the workforce, they don't toss aside their previous ideology, they just re-prioritize and, invariably, fiscal concerns about jobs and the deficit take new salience.

People warn: Republicans have a problem with women, and yes, with single women they profoundly do. But it's nothing that hasn't been there for decades -- even when the GOP was winning -- and there's no evidence the gender gap is getting worse for the GOP.

Romney did 3% better with women than McCain, and did twice as well with white women. In fact, Romney beat Obama among white women by 14%.

Thus, ironically enough, the GOP's alleged gender problem seems to have far more to do with its ethnic woes than any gender trouble.  

Yes, the GOP needs to address its woes with the Hispanic vote. Going forward, that's absolutely mandatory, the warnings about it are serious, and how to address it, unclear.

But chatter of drastic and wild reinventions just isn't warranted by what we saw on Tuesday night -- even if the same people who relentlessly claimed this election was about perceptions of an improving economy suddenly reverse course (as they are now) and start saying it was about ideology.