In the wake of the recent elections, the Republican Party is facing an identity crisis. While no one will call the 2012 elections a mandate, they reflect a change in the political landscape going forward. In an election where one of the major issues was a down economy, it seems that a fiscally conservative candidate would be desirable. The results in the House of Representatives indicate this preference, easily retaining their majority. However, both the presidential and senate elections turned in the favor of the Democrats by a sizeable margin.
Much of this can be attributed to missteps in the campaign process. Senatorial candidates Todd Akin (R-MO) and Richard Mourdock (R-IN) both lost races after making ignorant statements about rape (Akin losing by a fair 15 points). Many party members also spent the season grousing that the best candidate they could afford was Mitt Romney–a millionaire former governor who offhandedly dismissed 47% of the country and was called an “Etch-A-Sketch” by his own campaign. For a campaign that tried to center itself around the slogan “We built it,” Romney, a man who voted against the auto-industry while maintaining “corporations are people too,” often seemed to have a conflict of interests with the crowds who came out to hear him speak.
All of this speaks to a mismatch of vision and strategy within the party. As it turns out, the Grand Ol’ Party is starting to seem pretty old. Perhaps this was no better encapsulated than in Karl Rove’s response as Fox News called the election in President Obama’s favor. Rove, long the scion of Republican strategy, was losing his credibility on air even as his long-term strategy was losing credibility at the voting booths. His focus on appealing to and energizing the base has pushed the party further and further right-of-center. Even two nominally moderate candidates such as John McCain (who billed himself as across-the-aisle maverick) and Mitt Romney (who passed the healthcare system that the current legislation is modeled after), who may have initially appealed to centrist voters, lost elections after changing tack. McCain brought on the bridge-to-nowhere that was Sarah Palin and Romney tried to rewrite his history as a “severely conservative” governor.
Unfortunately, there are no longer enough conservative middle age white males for this tactic to work, even as the Tea Party forces candidates to appeal to an ever-more-vocal body of hard-right voters. In fact, minority voters that didn’t feel represented by the Republican ticket sealed the fate of many of the swing-state counties that won the race for Obama. Romney only carried 20% of Latinos where George W. Bush received over 40% of the vote. Women and African-Americans also voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Women in particular swayed the vote, turning out 54% of the overall vote, 55% of which voted for Obama. Clearly, the Republican Party cannot continue to win elections by campaigning against women’s interests. It needs to move forward in finding a way to expand its voting base if it wants to stay competitive in today’s political climate. In the words of Meghan McCain, “My party has to evolve or it’s going to die.”