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Where Do Republicans Go From Here?

If the Republicans couldn't beat 7.9 percent unemployment, rising taxes and debt, a lackluster housing market and a recent terrorist attack overseas, columnist Lisa Bigelow believes it's time for them to rethink their message to the electorate

You could see defeat in their faces on Fox News as the returns began rolling in.

Pennsylvania? “Fool’s gold.” Michigan? “That was a long shot, anyway.” Virginia? “It all depends on Fairfax County.” Florida? “It’s the voters in the I-4 corridor.”

And, of course, Ohio.

Indeed, only the brilliant, but reviled Republican strategist Karl Rove looked optimistic after 9 p.m.

At 10:30, my husband and I turned off the television, a persistent, sinking feeling in our collective gut. I woke at 1 a.m. and couldn’t resist grabbing my phone and loading Drudge.

Headline: “The Divided States of America.”

Sigh. So close. So close.

Naturally, sleep proved elusive as I pondered the meaning of the results. Although exit poll voters gave the edge on the economy to Romney, Obama still won. Women and minorities supported the president roundly, while white men, upper income voters, the religious right and other traditional conservative stalwarts supported Romney.

Of course, defeating an incumbent president is nearly impossible. But the fact that Republicans didn’t win in a landslide last Tuesday indicates the party of Lincoln has an elephant-sized case of head-in-the-sanditis.

Republican strategists will no doubt spend a lot more time analyzing this past election than I will. While I’m sure we’ll all hear tons about how GOP candidates need to do a better job getting their message out to Hispanics and middle-income moms, the problem isn’t the breadth of communication; it’s the communication itself.

I think Washington has a habit of underestimating the man (or woman) in the street. Voters get what the Republicans are saying. They just don’t like it.

That doesn’t mean they embrace the liberal agenda, either, as evidenced by the halfhearted endorsement of the Obama mandate. It just means that they found the reality of another Obama administration more tolerable than the idea of a Romney administration.

The long-held assumption that America is a center-right country is false. We’re center-center. We want compromise. And nobody, from the single mom waitress in Cuyahoga County to the hedge fund manager in New Canaan, wants to see the government waste taxpayer money.

Let’s not forget, the fact of the matter is George W. Bush spent money like a drunken sailor and left Obama with a big fat mess. It’s not as if the economy was plugging along nicely and Obama wrecked it. The ugly truth is the country has still not recovered from the Bush years. Voters recognized it. Republican leadership should, too.

But the common thread between all of the reasons voters chose Obama is the Republicans’ insistence on not accepting the reality of the shifting priorities of the American electorate.

When Romney shifted to the right on immigration that was a big mistake. Why? Although rounding up illegal immigrants and shipping them back home sounds great on paper, it is not a practical solution to our border problem. Developing a sensible amnesty program is and Hispanic voters noticed.

Maintaining a pro-life platform was an even bigger mistake and the right wing needs to accept America is never going to outlaw abortion. Women noticed and they're tired of it. Yes, I know no one even talked about overturning Roe v. Wade. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get an abortion -- but let others make their own choices. Voters believe that is the American way.

Romney also would have been better off taking credit for the truth of being the ideological father of Obamacare (and also for being pro-choice while leading Massachusetts). Standing up to the noisy far right, with whom northeastern and west coast voters do not identify, would have demonstrated courageous leadership. And though it would have made the GOP faithful red-faced in anger, it would have garnered the respect of voters. 

Finally, how refreshing would it have been to hear Romney say, “I think we should keep the Bush tax cuts. But healing a divided nation and making real progress will only be achieved through bipartisan legislation. That’s why I cannot release specific details now.

“I need the American people to give me a chance to sit down with our Democratic friends and work out a compromise that every party can be proud of. It may include entitlement cuts and higher revenues. But we won’t know how great our nation could be unless you elect me to prove it.”

Alas, it was not to be.

Robert Chambers November 12, 2012 at 02:42 PM
After the sham of a convention in Tampa, the Republican party basically distanced themselves so far from real conservatives and liberty minded folks. They got taken over by the neocon factions, big government, big spending, big deficits... pretty much Democrats by that point. If anything it put a spotlight on the farce that is the choice between D and R, there's no difference, they are controlled by the same people in the end.
Walt November 12, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Stop talking about abortion. Get rid of the religious nuts and stop pandering to them. It's astounding that wackos like Akin from Missouri and Broun from Georgia can get elected when they have such incredible beliefs. The 1950's are over. Don't put a guy up for election who looks like he was Ward Cleavers boss and has offshore accounts and a wife with dressage horses. The republican party seems to have no empathy for the average american and continues to kow-tow to the uber wealthy.
kay November 12, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Amen to your column. But let's not leave out another new reality.. the majority of Americans think we should not be making decisions on civil marriage. Look around you, watch the tube, movies....America is no longer paranoid about gay marriage and the party needs to accept the will of the people...and back off this issue!
Laura Dobosz November 12, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Where do they go? Hopefully away.
Rose B November 13, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Where do they go from here? If some of the commenters on various news outlets are any clue, they double down on their hate and ridiculous blame and remain in the minority (current gerrymandering in Congress excluded) for generations. It's true that the only way they can win is to cheat. Nearly 5 million voters were disenfranchised in this election and their votes did not count due to the Republican effort to keep them from exercising their civil right. The trouncing Republican got from voters would have been even worse had all their voices been heard.
charlie December 05, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Republicans need to become better communicators in order to let everyone know that our country cannot continue down this fiscal path - we will end up like Greece. The problem with socialism is that pretty soon you run out of OPM (other people's money). Then you will see chaos.

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