The Republicans have just lost an election they thought they could win and, as a result, they can look forward to four more years in the political wilderness. No fun.
What deepens their despair is that they lost it in a way that widened the gulf between their party and growing constituencies of Americans they will need to reach in the future — Latinos, young people and women voters, most notably.
If Mitt Romney didn’t accomplish that trifecta in the campaign itself, he nailed it down by telling his contributors that President Obama won re-election by giving “gifts” to target constituencies. The president, Romney said. was “very generous” in his treatment of the voting groups the hapless Republican nominee earlier described as the 47 percent of Americans beyond his reach at the polling place.
The response has been vitriolic. One of Romney’s most vocal supporters in the campaign, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association, immediately seized a microphone to declare: “I absolutely reject that notion, that description.” Others in the party, including some with national ambitions of their own, were equally scathing.
A presidential candidate of either party, win or lose, is supposed to be respected, if not revered, figure — at the least, an elder statesman who merits attention. Mitt Romney has made himself a pariah. There will be no grassroots groundswell for another Romney candidacy in 2016. If he is given a chance to speak at the next GOP convention, it will be at 4 p.m on a Tuesday.
But parties can come back. In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona lost to President Lyndon B. Johnson in an epic landslide. The Democratic incumbent captured 61 percent of the vote, the highest total since 1820, winning 45 states plus the District of Columbia. Yet only four years later, Republican Richard M. Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey to reclaim the White House. That comeback taught us some enduring lessons about politics. For one thing, voters can have short memories. For another, the world turns and the context of each campaign is different from those that went before. Nixon didn’t win in 1968 because he charmed the electorate — ye gods, what a mind-boggling notion. Humphrey lost because the Democratic Party had been torn apart by a highly emotional issue he handled clumsily until it was too late — the war in Vietnam.
For the Republicans now mired in Romney’s mess there is little prospect of such an issue. Americans are not going to walk through a wall over fiscal policy or health care or immigration.
The immediate Republican response to the Romney fiasco has been predictable. A few party leaders are saying it wasn’t a flaw in the party message but only the failure to deliver it effectively. That, of course, is what losers always say. It isn’t easy to admit you were wrong. Some Republicans are making a similarly familiar argument that what they need is better party machinery. They recall the choice of Ray Bliss of Ohio, a legendary political mechanic, to serve as Republican national chairman after Goldwater. He improved the machinery but that didn’t make the difference. That election turned on Democratic dissension not mechanics.
The core problem for the Republican Party is that it is controlled by extremists on the far right who are unyielding in their ideological positions in dealing with both Democrats and more moderate Republicans. Moreover, many of them are driven by religious zeal that judges their opponents to be not only wrong on issues but morally wrong.
So the Republicans face a difficult time. That’s what Haley Barbour seemed to recognize in his prescription that his party needs “a very serious proctological examination.”
— Jack Germond was a longtime columnist for
The Baltimore Sun, Germond was also a regular guest on television’s The McLaughlin Group
. He writes from Kabletown.