The Future of the Republican Party
by Robert Costa
For much of the year, Mitt Romney and his advisers spoke about the presidential campaign as a referendum on President Barack Obama's economic record. "Our view is that this is a very simple election," a senior Romney strategist told U.S. News & World Report in June. "It's a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy. " 1 As a Harvard Business School graduate and a former private-equity executive at Bain Capital, Romney was comfortable making a numbers-driven case against the president.
That strategy changed in August when Romney tapped Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman, to be the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee. Quite suddenly, the Romney campaign's message shifted from a near-constant focus on economic matters to a broader and fiercer debate about a choice between "two futures," as Ryan often described it in his speeches. "The election is now a choice, not a referendum; a contest between two clearly and sharply different policy visions and views on the role of government," wrote Ben Smith, the editor of BuzzFeed, soon after the Ryan pick.4 David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, agreed, noting that with one decision, Romney put conservatism on the ballot.5 No longer was the election about the politics of economic data; it was about the size and scope of government.Many conservative leaders publicly applauded the selection, because Ryan is a rising star. "It was foremost a shrewd acknowledgment on Mr. Romney's part that his path to the White House is going to take more than pointing out the obvious," wrote Kim Strassel in the Wall Street journal.6 But privately, the reaction was far more mixed. Romney had abruptly injected a full dose of conservative ideology into a campaign that had been studiously avoiding ideology. In the political press, there were whispers about whether Romney could pull it off "American politics is littered with bold and improbable decisions that don't work out very well," wrote Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast. "With this one, the chances of failure look pretty good. Mitt Romney has now tied his presidential fortunes to Paul Ryan's budget plan. He may say he doesn't endorse all the plan's specifics, but as a matter of political reality, he already has. "7 Soon after, the questions began to mount: With Ryan at his side, would Romney be able to both excite the base and woo the suburban moderates? Would he be able to balance his appeal as a northeastern businessman with Ryan's fiscal bravado? At first blush, the juxtaposition of an experienced former governor with a young and dynamic legislator made for compelling political theater, but its political viability was a variable that weighed upon Romney's advisers.
Months later, it's evident that Romney struggled to make the Ryan pick an election-defining moment. Romney and Ryan enjoyed a personal rapport, but they rarely managed to present a coherent message about what they represented. At times, both candidates were quite vocal about being a "choice" ticket, but in other instances, they ducked ideology and reverted back to Romney's earlier, simpler theme about an economic "referendum." Less than three weeks after the Ryan selection, Romney barely touched upon conservative ideology in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. In short, the campaign never found its political footing. On the stump, Romney and Ryan largely avoided making major blunders, but they had difficulties communicating a vision. Whereas Obama ran a full throated and consistent campaign for expanding the federal government, Romney unsuccessfully strove to be simultaneously an ideological conservative to his base and a centrist to undecided voters. Ryan's selection and its influence on the campaign remains a prism for interpreting Romney's defeat and thinking about the GOP's future.At the time of the pick, it was an understandable maneuver to balance the ticket, but later, it became indicative of an uneasy strategy. The pair hoped to build a coalition among the GOP's various wings, but, ultimately, they failed to weave a thread through those groups. The challenge for the Republican Party in the second Obama term is figuring out how to succeed where Romney and Ryan could not. How does the party increase its ranks and raise its poll numbers while sustaining its core principles? In making its case to the country, does it need to focus more on the Obama record and less on ideology? Or does it need to explain, more coherently and in greater detail, the ideological "choice," the core difference between present-day Democrats and Republicans? Can the party eventually find the equilibrium that Romney and Ryan sought? As Republicans grapple with these questions and plot a renewal, they will have to make decisions in three distinct areas: policy, demographics, and leadership. When Romney picked Ryan, he looked out at the field of Veep contenders and tried to pick the person who could attract the most support. According to Romney's advisers, those three areas were also top considerations. Indeed, Romney's vice presidential calculus, calibrating and strategizing about how best to move forward, is akin to what the Republican Party will be doing in the two years before the 2014 midterms.
It is again, as Ronald Reagan said in 1964, a time for choosing for the party and the conservative movement. The corning debates within the party about its platform, its constituencies, and its leading figures, both in Washington and in the states, will say much about its potential success. The debates will sometimes be heated, but they are critical, since the takeaway from the Romney-Ryan experience is that the party is in flux. It wants to blend its Tea Party vigor (represented by the Ryan pick) with more traditional values (represented by the Romney nomination), but it is unsure of how to do this.THE POLICY WARS
Throughout the 2012 general election campaign, Ryan frequently spoke about the looming fiscal crisis. He proclaimed the values of the budget he had authored in the lower chamber as evidence of Republican seriousness about the larger spending issues of our time. Even in the swing state of Florida, which is home to millions of retirees, Ryan campaigned hard on the theme of reforming Medicaid and Medicare through policies, including what he calls "premium support," that would encourage more individual control of health-care spending. Part of the larger Romney-Ryan ambition was to lead a legislative charge to overhaul these federal programs, and Romney told his advisers that he admired Ryan's ability to boldly take on the biggest and often most politically complicated problems. But although conservative intellectuals celebrated the tenaciousness of Romney and Ryan on entitlement reform, many retirees were less appreciative. When Ryan spoke to the AARP in late September, he was booed when he talked about tackling the entitlement issue. On Election Day, Romney and Ryan lost Florida after months of leading the president in Florida polls.
The Romney-Ryan entitlement endeavor was a key part of the campaign's policy strategy, which looked to the intellectual and legislative leadership of Ryan and his allies in the House as inspiration for the party at large. On other issues, such as foreign policy and taxes, Romney and Ryan held traditional Republican positions (a strong, well-funded military; lowering tax rates), but the campaign's platform generally mirrored the move by House Republicans in 2011-2012 to shift the party to the right. Now, as Ryan returns to the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, he will be in a position to continue the House-driven molding of national Republican policy, but the stakes and the composition of the debate have changed. The coming policy wars are likely to be less about how Ryan is positioning the party to take on entitlements and more about whether the party even wants to lead its policy agenda with the issue, and whether on other issues, such as taxes and foreign policy, we will begin to see a drift back toward the center."The test will be whether Mr. Ryan . . . can make the transition from House budget philosopher to governing heavyweight who can help negotiate a bipartisan deal and sell it to his colleagues," wrote Jennifer Steinhauer, a New York Times reporter, in late November. But Ryan will not be the only force in the debate about the direction of policy. As an influential congressman fresh off the GOP ticket, he'll be a player, but the party is no longer subject to the leadership of the presidential candidate.
For instance, House Speaker John Boehner, who has led the Republican conference since 2007, said in a speech after the election that he is willing to make concessions on tax revenue. This is evidence of an almost immediate change in the policy talks within the party. Romney and Ryan were wary of ever discussing a Republican agreement about revenue increases, but Boehner interpreted the election as a clue to the future. "That is the will of the people, and we answer to them," Boehner said at a Capitol news conference. "For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we're willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions. "9 "Not since the 1970s have Republicans been so weak on the tax issue," says David Weigel, a Slate writer. "Like Romney said, in his way, they're victims of their own success. They've lowered rates to the extent that voters don't fret about them. So they're no longer talking about the Dec. 31 deadline for the tax rates as a Masada, a full-bore defense of the old rates. They're talking about what they can get if they accede to the Democrats."10 The famous tax "pledge" many Republican lawmakers have made, working with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, now seems to be less of an issue. Before the election, breaking the Norquist pledge could be a perilous political move. Now, in the post-Romney era, many Republicans see moving toward more revenue options as living within the new political reality. They are quickly realizing, as Lloyd Grove wrote in the Daily Beast, that the "grubby business of entitlement reform,"11 which they had hoped would be the central project of 2013, would have to be temporarily shelved as they look to protect the tax rates established a decade ago.Beyond the initial policy battles over tax rates and revenue, Republicans will also have to face daunting questions on a variety of other fronts.
Social conservatism remains an important part of the national Republican platform, but some leading conservatives are asking whether the GOP approach to gay marriage, abortion, and drugs fits the times. "The speed with which civil unions and same-sex marriage have become debatable topics and even mainstream policies is astonishing," wrote George F. Will in the Washington Post after the Romney defeat. "As is conservatives' failure to recognize this: They need not endorse such policies, but neither need they despise those, such as young people, who favor them."12 The GOP Senate candidacies of Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, which were both seriously hurt by the candidates' comments about rape, did not help the Romney-Ryan cause, and they damaged the Republican objective of using social issues, especially family values and life issues, to win over select groups of undecided voters. Look for the debate about social conservatism in the coming months and years to be just as volatile and unpredictable as the debate over tax revenues.Republicans are not likely to abandon their conservative positions on the key social issues, just as they won't abandon their wish for lower tax rates, but there will be ample debate in the halls of Congress and in statehouses about how best to hold onto Republican principles while appealing to the Obama generation.
Immigration, too, will find itself back in the center of the Republican debates. "For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: border fence plus amnesty," argues Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post. "Yes, amnesty.Use the word. Shock and awe-full legal normalization Gust short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement. " 13 The position on the opposite side of the argument, against amnesty, is just as robust as Krauthammer's. "Having suffered not one but several humiliating defeats on Tuesday, Republicans are in danger of embracing 'comprehensive' immigration reform-which is to say, amnesty-out of panic," wrote the editors of National Review, a few days after Krauthammer's column was published. "The GOP does need to do better among Hispanics and other voters, but this is not the way to achieve that-and, more important, it is bad policy. " 14 On foreign policy, the path ahead is murkier, especially because Romney's defeat is not blamed on his positions, but rather on his critique of the Obama administration's handling of foreign crises, especially the attack on American diplomatic officials in Libya. There is discussion among pundits about whether Republicans need to move closer to Ron Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman and presidential candidate. Speaking on Fox News after the election, Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and a supporter of President George W. Bush's foreign policy, predicted that future Republican leaders would pay greater attention to the Ron Paul wing of the party. 'Tm not a fan of Ron Paul," Kristol said. "But I do think, analytically, that Rand Paul [Republican senator from Kentucky and Ron Paul's son] could be a formidable presence in the Republican Party over the next three or four years."15 But it will be domestic policy where the party will see the greatest tension.
Overall, there will undoubtedly be tensions. While the Ron Paul faction is ascending on foreign policy, the GOP establishment in Congress and in the party ranks remains mostly committed to the Reagan approach of fostering American strength in the world and a strong military. To at least some extent, this will be challenged. And on social issues, the party doesn't seem ready, for the moment, to jettison its traditional positions on marriage and abortion. But these positions will also be questioned. As conservative intellectual Reihan Salam said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in mid-November, the party desperately wants to reformulate its methods. "[That] doesn't entail jettisoning social conservatism and cultural populism, but rather reframing them in the interests of making them relevant to the lived experience of middle America," he said.16 Ramesh Ponnuru, a National Review editor, concurs. "The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role" in the Republican defeats in 2006 and 2008, he writes."But it's also true that Republicans weren't even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them."17 The same was true in 2012.
THE DEMOGRAPHIC DEBACLEThe Republicans' demographic problem, exposed by the 2012 exit polls, is hardly a surprise to party grandees. "The numbers tell a clear story; the demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican Party as it exists today. A GOP ice age is on the way," wrote Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant, in 2009.18 Though policy debates will form the center of the Republican transition from the Romney campaign to the future, finding a way to reconcile the party's policies with the country's changing demographics will be another challenge. There is a growing concern within the party that the older white voters who helped elect Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush to the White House over the past three decades can no longer form an electoral majority, so the party must find a way to reach out to minority voters, young voters, and other Americans who have not traditionally identified themselves as conservatives or Republicans.
According to NBC News, party leaders are citing demographics as the reason for Romney's defeat in behind-the-scenes conversations with donors and strategists. "This RNC report of exit-poll data, which NBC News has obtained and which RNC Chair Reince Priebus presented to GOP senators on Wednesday, states that 'demographic change' in the United States 'is real,"' reported NBC's Mark Murray. "It notes that the white share of the electorate has declined from 81 percent in 2000 to 72 percent in 2008. And it points out that '3 in 10 voters will be minorities in 2016."'19 But most politicos do not think this challenge is insurmountable."While demographic and population trends are clearly working against Republicans-Texas as a swing state in 2020, anyone?-the party is not that far, electorally speaking, from creating a credible path back to 270 electoral votes," says the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. "Find a way to make the industrial Midwest-Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and even Pennsylvania-competitive again and the map suddenly doesn't look so bad for the GOP."20 That said, Hispanics are going to see a great deal of outreach from Republicans in the next year, and the immigration-policy debate will be part of that effort. Republicans are very worried that states such as Florida and Texas, which have large blocs of Hispanic voters, may be lost to the party permanently unless a fresh message can be offered. Still, "outreach is not done in a single awkward lunge," says Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter. "It will involve more than endorsing comprehensive immigration legislation, though that is necessary. Hispanic voters have a series of concerns typical of a poorer but economically mobile community: working schools, college access, health care, a working safety net. " 21 The same strategy is also likely to apply to Roman Catholic voters. This group, like Hispanics, gave the president strong support, and Republicans are eager to bring them back into the GOP fold. Catholics represent "more than a quarter of the electorate," according to CNN, and have backed Obama for two straight cycles. 22 But while Republican leaders feel the demographic problem keenly, they also understand that demographics alone can't take all the blame for Romney's loss. The shift away from the GOP among certain groups is seen as a symptom of the larger policy and leadership problems in the party. "It's clear that with our losses in the presidential race and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the outgoing chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a post-election statement.
"While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all comers of our GOP lost. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead."23 Putting a Hispanic or another minority politician on the ticket next time, adds Ross Douthat of the New York Times, won't solve anything unless Republicans understand the political and economic reasons for the Romney defeat. "Both shifts, demographic and economic, must be addressed if Republicans are to find a way back to the majority," he says. "But the temptation for the party's elites will be to fasten on the demographic explanation, because playing identity politics seems far less painful than overhauling the Republican economic message. "24 Nonetheless, something must be done to address the Republicans' demographic debacle. Romney won white evangelical voters in strong numbers, and he won churchgoing Catholics easily, too. But growing numbers of secular, younger, and minority voters are staying away from the GOP. "A version of his coalition in Virginia-a combination of minorities, women and younger adults-also helped Mr. Obama win Colorado, Nevada [and] Florida," reports Michael Shear of the New York Times.25 Addressing demographics will be partly a matter of policy, partly a matter of politics. Republicans were out-campaigned by the Obama team when it came to organizing among African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans. Finding a way to win over these voters will take time, but it will almost certainly be a major part of the Republican rehabilitation between now and the next presidential campaign. The party sees that Romney's model was not sufficient this time, and will be even less so four years from now.THE LEADERSHIP VACUUM
Yet before the horse race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination begins in earnest around late 2014, the party will have to fill the leadership vacuum left by the Romney defeat. Who will step up and become a new national leader for a party in the wilderness? That is a critical question as the party moves forward. The early favorites for the 2016 GOP nomination, such as Florida senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, will continue to be described as leading figures. Rubio is considered to be a potential point person on immigration reform, and many Republicans admire Christie as a moderate and a tough executive. But beyond the pull of certain personalities, the real leadership debate will be between the Tea Party wing of the party and the more centrist leadership on Capitol Hill. On policy and on demographics, as previously discussed, Republicans are adjusting to the election by changing their tone and approach. The same can be said for how Republicans on Capitol Hill are adjusting in terms of leadership. Though the top tier of Republican House and Senate leaders remains unchanged, there are signs that the party is having internal debates about the tone and style of its leadership.Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Whip Kevin McCarthy all kept their spots on the Republican leadership team following the election, but the House GOP's fourth leadership spot-conference chairman-saw a fight for the party's future. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Representative Tom Price of Georgia ran against each other for the position and, although the vote tally has not been made public, McMorris Rodgers won. Price, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, had the support of Ryan and other Tea Party Republicans but was unable to beat McMorris Rodgers, a Boehner ally and one of the House GOP's leading women. "Price, for instance, tied for most conservative House member ... while McMorris Rodgers ranked 117," according to National Journal's 2011 ratings.26 The early message was that House Republicans did not want to present an all-male leadership team to the country mere days after losing among women. It was also a sign that though Ryan and his conservative allies remain the driving force on public policy, they don't hold total control.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senator-Elect Ted Cruz of Texas, a Hispanic Republican and Tea Party favorite, was named vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, an even-tempered Republican who is popular with policy wonks and donors, was also named vice chairman. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, a low-key midwesterner, was elected NRSC chairman. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a soft-spoken conservative, kept his position as minority leader, even though Republicans had a net loss of two Senate seats in 2012. Moran, Cruz, and Portman will be major players in the coming year as the GOP tries to win back seats in the 2014 cycle and build toward a potential majority. Several Democratic senators will be up for reelection in 2014, and Republicans are already strategizing about how to win back the upper chamber. These three new members of the Senate leadership will be parts of the puzzle, but look for Ryan, Rubio, and other legislators who are not part of the official leadership structure to continue to influence the party's direction from various media and other platforms.For the moment, there is no obvious party leader, either in the presidential discussion or inside the Beltway. "The party finds itself in the unenviable position of having to reinvent itself-something most top GOP strategists and lawmakers agree needs to be done-without an obvious standard-bearer to carry that message on a daily basis," says Aaron Blake in the Washington Post. "That could be less than ideal for a party in need of cohesion, leadership and a steady hand. "27 At a GOP post-election gubernatorial retreat in Las Vegas, former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour said that the party should take its time in settling on a new spokesman post-Romney. He said there are too many potential stars to rush to judgment about the future of the party. "We've got to give our political organization a very serious proctology exam," Barbour said. "We need to look everywhere."28
CONCLUSIONWhen Mitt Romney won the nomination, he first tried to run his campaign as a referendum on Obama. Then, when he began to slide in the national polls, he decided to switch to what pundits described as a "choice" campaign, which put ideology and bold ideas on the ballot, and not just an argument about a sagging economy and failed stewardship in the Oval Office. Paul Ryan, as the vice presidential pick, was the keystone to that strategy. In some ways, Romney did manage to elevate the discussion on entitlements, but he was not able to successfully build a national majority with his policies or his appeals to various demographic groups. In the wake of Romney's defeat, the party is beginning to review his decisions and outlook and to ask itself questions about where to go on those three issues-policy, demographics, and leadership. As the 2012 political season closes, the answers are unclear, but the debate has begun.
Already there are brewing discussions in Congress and in the states about who should lead, what the party should run on, and how it will survive in a changing electoral landscape. These are serious questions, and the post-Romney period will be "a time for choosing" about how the party needs to evolve.When Romney tapped Ryan, he had a certain rationale: He wanted to frame the election as an ideological choice. He knew he needed to be more than an alternative to a Democratic incumbent who wasn't shy about his desire to expand the federal government. Romney lost, but the Republican Party will need to address considerations akin to the ones Romney faced in the course of his veep search. The party needs new faces and new ideas, but deciding which faces, and which ideas, will be complicated. As Obama is inaugurated and pushes his second-term agenda, Republicans will need to do more than elevate one politician or another into the void.
Before they choose their next nominee, Republicans have to decide, once again, who they are.
NOTES1. Kenneth T. Walsh, "Team Romney: Election a Referendum on The Economy," U.S. News & World Report, accessed December 20, 2012, www.usnews.com/news/blogs/Ken-Walshs-Washington/2012/06/ 15/ team-romney-election-a-referendum-on-the-economy.
2. Christina Bellatoni and Terence Burlij, "Romney Bus Tour Begins after Day of Economic Debate," PBS.org,June 15, 2012.3. Nate Silver, "Referendum or Choice, Which Candidate Will Show Fighting Spirit?," New York Times, October 22, 2012.
4. Ben Smith, "Ryan Pick Means a New Campaign for Romney," BuzzFeed, August 10, 2012.5. David Frum, "Why Ryan?," Daily Beast, August 11, 2012, www.thedailybeast .com/articles/2012/08/11/paul-ryan.htrnl.
6. Kimberly A. Strassel, "Why Romney Chose Ryan," Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2012.7. Peter Beinart, "Mitt Romney's Pick of Paul Ryan: Bold Doesn't Always Work," Daily Beast, August 13, 2012.
8.Jennifer Steinhauer, "Back on Hill, Ryan Remains a Fiscal Force," New York Times, November 18, 2012.9. John A. Boehner, "Speaker Boehner Calls for Bipartisan Action to Avert the Fiscal Cliff," Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, November 7, 2012, accessed December 20, 2012, www.speaker.gov/speech/full-text-speaker -boehner-calls-bipartisan-action-avert-fiscal-cliff.
10. David Weigel, "Tax Hike Nation," Slate, November 16, 2012.11. Lloyd Grove, "Grover Norquist Sees the Fiscal Cliff and Guns It," Daily Beast, November 16, 2012, www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/16/grover -norquist-sees-the-fiscal-cliff-and-guns-it.htrnl.
12. George F. Will, "A Reformed Republican Party," Washington Post, November 16, 2012.13. Charles Krauthammer, "The Way Forward," Washington Post, November 9, 2012.
14. "The Amnesty Delusion," National Review, November 12, 2012.15. William Kristol, Fox News Sunday interview, Fox News, November 11, 2012.
16. Reihan Salam, remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, November 16, 2012.17. Ramesh Ponnuru, "The Party's Problem," National Review, November 14, 2012.
18. Mike Murphy, "For Republicans, the Ice Age Cometh," Time, June 22, 2009.19. A Time for Choosing 175 19. Mark Murray, "RNC Report Suggest Other Reasons Why Romney Lost," NBC News, November 16, 2012.
20. Chris Cillizza, "Future for Republicans Is Not So Bad," Washington Post, November 18, 2012 .21. Michael Gerson, "Shifting Demographics Will Force GOP's Hand," Washington Post, November 18, 2012.
22. Dan Gilgoff, "6 Ways Religious Demographics Could Determine Tuesday's Winner," CNN.com, November 6, 2012.23. Michael Cooper, "G.O.P. Factions Grapple over Meaning of Loss," New York Times, November 7, 2012, accessed December 20, 2012, www.nytimes .com/2012/ 11 /08/ us/ politics/ obama-victory-causes-republican-soul-searching .html.
24. Ross Douthat, "The Demographic Excuse," New York Times, November 10, 2012.25. Michael Shear, "Demographic Shift Brings New Worry for Republicans," New York Times, November 7, 2012.
26. Michael Catalini, "McMorris Rodgers vs. Price: Leadership Race a Study in Contrasts," National]ournal, November 12, 2012.27. Aaron Blake, "The Republican Party's Leadership Vacuum," Washington Post, November 16, 2012.
28. Karen Tumulty and Dan Eggen, "GOP Governors Back Away from Romney's Remarks," Washington Post, November 15, 2012.
BARACK OBAMA AND THE NEW AMERICAThe 2012 Election and the Changing Face of Politics
Edited by Larry SabataROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.
ISBN 978-1-4422-2263-2ISBN 978-1-4422-2264-9
Think back over the past twenty years. Americans have endured three recessions, the last one being the worst since the Great Depression; the devastating, life-changing attacks on September 11, 2001; two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the former having become the longest conflict in U.S. history; and many disturbing acts of domestic terrorism, from the Oklahoma City bombing to mass killings at high schools, colleges, churches, theaters, and even a congressional town meeting. The national debt has grown massive and our spending obligations are crushing, yet the gap between rich and poor has grown, and the future for the nation's middle class as well as young people seeking educational and employment opportunities appears dimmer.Yet the country has just reelected its third consecutive president, Barack Obama, after the two-term presidencies ofBill Clinton and George W. Bush.
That hasn't happened since the White House tenures of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe between 1801 and 1825.It may be that Americans recognize the world's sole superpower will face great challenges regardless of who is in power. Voters also understand that in most cases presidents can't prevent bad things from happening and should be held accountable mainly for how they confront their tests and trials.
That helps to explain the reelection of President Obama in difficult economic times. While there has been disappointment, even among some of Obama's most fervent supporters, that more progress has not been made in returning the nation to prosperity, people understood that he inherited a mess and four years was a short time. Voters also judged his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, wanting in critical respects.The 2012 election was a highly competitive and hard-fought one, but the result was decisive, especially in the Electoral College. This book is a first look at this remarkable election-how it happened, what the voting patterns were, and why the electorate made the choices it did.
Some of the country's best academics and political analysts have come together to offer their viewpoints in this volume:
• After another closely contested presidential race, Americans are perhaps more divided than ever; Professor Alan Abramowitz of Emory University looks at these widening gaps in American life, partisan and otherwise, and how they manifested themselves this cycle.• Professor James E. Campbell of the University at Buffalo-SUNY examines the fundamentals of this election-the economy, the president's approval rating, and other factors-and how they helped determine the outcome.
• Rhodes Cook, publisher of the widely respected Rhodes Cook Letter on politics and former writer for Congressional Quarterly, breaks down the presidential nominating process and ponders the future of the American political convention.• Former Federal Elections Commission chairman Michael Toner and his colleague Karen Trainer write on the impact of the federal elections laws on this election, with a particular focus on outside group spending.
• Through mediums old (television) and new (social media), voters were inundated with political messaging throughout the election cycle. Media expert Diana Owen of Georgetown University looks at how the press covered the race.• My superb colleagues at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Geoffrey Skelley and Kyle Kondik, analyze 2012's down-ticket contests for the Senate and governorships (Skelley) and the House of Representatives (Kondik).
• We are pleased to feature three of the brightest new stars in political journalism in this volume: Nate Cohn of The New Republic, Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect, and Robert Costa of National Review. Cohn does a deep dive into the exit polls to examine the demographics of Election 2012, while Bouie and Costa look forward to the futures of, respectively, the Democratic and Republican parties.• After every presidential election, some are quick to say that the election signals a major change in American politics. Sean Trende, an analyst at RealClearPolitics, examines 2012's significance and what, if anything, its results might tell us about upcoming contests.
• Finally, Professor Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida finishes with some concluding thoughts about the future of the permanent American political campaign.This volume could not have readied so quickly after the election without the hard work of the contributors, but also the professional staff of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Those who helped keep the book on track include Center staffers Kondik and Skelley as well as Tim Robinson, Ken Stroupe, and Mary D. Brown.
We'd also like to thank Rowman and Littlefield for joining us in this endeavor; Senior Executive Editor Jonathan Sisk, Assistant Editor Benjamin Verdi, Marketing Manager Deborah Orgel Hudson, and Senior Production Editor Julia Loy were all invaluable in producing and polishing the book.We hope our readers find the book helpful as they put the 2012 election into perspective. The contributors make clear how the face of American politics is changing, but in the end politics is shaped by the people who care to participate. The most useful participants are those who have taken the time to understand why we have arrived at our current juncture as a nation-and this volume may assist you on that path.
Larry J. Sabato Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics Charlottesville, Virginia January 2013