Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lessons Learned from the 2012 Election

There are a lot post-mortems our there concerning the 2012 election, some smart, and some rather shallow and chained to the usual conventional wisdom.  I think we need to be careful about reading too much into this election, for a couple of reasons.  First, we ended where we started: Democrats controlling the Senate, Republicans with the House, and Barack Obama in the White House.  Second, a lot of what happened merely validated what we already knew.  Here are the lessons I did think we learned, or at least re-confirmed.

Asymmetrical Warfare Can Beat Carpet Bombing
The unleashing of super PAC money in the wake of the Citizens United decision was supposed to give the Republicans a huge advantage.  However, the megamillions donated by the likes of Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers didn't buy the election.  The GOP tried to win by carpet bombing with their political B-57s, while the Obama campaign maintained a stellar ground game and get out the vote effort.  This type of political guerrilla warfare is hard to wipe out with television advertisements.

Weak Candidates Don't Unseat Sitting Presidents
Here's where we had something we already knew confirmed for us pretty obviously.  It's hard to unseat an incumbent president, even one presiding over a struggling economy.  Doing so requires an inspiring candidate, and inspiring is about the last word anyone would use for Mitt Romney.  He'll go down in history as yet another weak challenger unable to defeat the champ, along with Walter Mondale, Thomas Dewey, Wendall Wilkie, Alf Landon, John Kerry, and Bob Dole.

This Election is Not a Broad Mandate
While the president's performance looks rather impressive on the electoral college map, he barely won the popular vote.  Some of the pundits are talking about this election as some kind of sea change, but I don't see it.  There is still a very large percentage of people out there opposed to the president, the Republicans are aware of that fact, and most likely not budge an inch in their obstinacy.

The GOP Played the Tea Party Hand One Too Many Times, But the Tea Party Will Still be Around
It's amazing to me that two years ago, when the Republicans swept back into Congress, everyone was talking about the power of the Tea Party, but suddenly this year we're hearing that the Tea Party is a liability and that the GOP can't survive if it is to be the party of angry white people.  Did some kind of major transformation in the electorate occur in just the last two years?  No, obviously.  Using the Tea Party fury got their base to the polls in 2010, an off-year election when turnout is key.  In a presidential election the number of voters is too much for a mobilized faction like the Tea Party to overcome.  In fact, with more moderates going to the polls, extremists like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin get smacked down.  In 2014 we won't hear much about the Republicans compromising and reaching out to people of color because whipping up the conservative base will continue to pay dividends in midterm elections.

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