The 2012 Election: Why The Chattering Classes Were Mostly Wrong; And Why They’re Still Wrong.

by Hal Gershowitz and Stephen Porter on November 11, 2012


Pundits on the right and on the left were slicing and dicing the electorate before the election, and have continued doing so ever since.  Stop it! Most of you were wrong then, and you continue to be wrong now.  Sorry Sean, Karl, Newt, Dick, Laura, Michael, Chris (of the Matthews paternity) and Rachel, but the only observer who was worth listening to (although he was too busy crunching numbers to talk) was a statistics nerd writing a daily column licensed to the New York Times.  That would be Nate Silver. He simply kept his eye on the daily state polls (which were remarkably accurate) and reported what the folks (a Fox O’reillyism for the common people) would do on any given day.  He was unopinionated, unindoctrinated, disinterested and remarkably prescient in the odds he offered on who would win the election.

President Obama gets to continue his tenancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by having secured the nod from a small margin over 50% of the nation’s voters, while challenger Romney returns home to Belmont Massachusetts having, essentially, secured the nod from an equally small margin under 50% of the voters.

What’s the lesson? Answer: campaigns matter.  Political pundits are obsessing (as they always do) over the changing demographics of the nation, and while that may be a worthwhile thing to do, they are missing the bigger point.  It really is all about how the campaigns define the opposition and how the candidates define their respective visions for the country.

As the Wall Street Journal documented in the days following the election, Obama campaign manager, Jim Messina, proposed a brilliant but audacious strategy six months before the election, which was readily approved by President Obama. It was to spend all of the considerable cash on hand demonizing Romney as a rapacious plutocrat who lived and worked amongst the Wall Street greedy, and who would never relate to the common folks. Messina knew that Romney could not adequately respond because his campaign could not legally spend funds from the Republican Party’s campaign kitty for his election until he was officially the nominee of the Party.  That would give the President’s re-election campaign about 120 days (and about 120 million dollars) to mercilessly pummel Romney in a few swing states.  That was huge but not, in our opinion, insurmountable.

What was insurmountable in our view was the box into which Mitt Romney had to squeeze himself in order to have any hope of surviving the freak show that was the Republican primary process.   The hard right of the Republican Party, representing about 25% of the Party, always mobilizes for the primaries, casting an outsized shadow over the process.  In a heavily contested, multi-candidate primary, a candidate cannot lose that constituency and have much of a chance of surviving the process. Only former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman refused to pander to the hard right and he was toast after the second primary in New Hampshire.

The hard right invented a new acronym, RINO or “Republican In Name Only” with which to tar any moderate Republican who deviated from hard right orthodoxy. Well, here’s an acronym we’ve invented, CINO.  That would be a political “Conservative In Name Only.”

Obama got 55% of the female vote; much of it because of the so-called Pro Life vs. the so-called Pro Choice divide.  Conservatives who profess to be committed to the doctrine of limited federal government, but who champion the extension of federal authority into the most personal and private aspects of a woman’s life are, in our opinion, CINO’s — political Conservatives In Name Only.  We, of course, understand that the process of life begins at conception.  That is, indeed, a precious process.  But those who favor the extension of any federal jurisdiction over that process make a mockery of political conservatism and are, we believe, political Conservatives In Name Only.  Many of the women who voted for Obama over this issue did so, we believe, not because they embrace abortion, but rather because they oppose federal interference at so personal a level. In a word, they found it insulting.

There has been much written and said about the nation’s changing demographics.  White Americans of European extraction will, in just a few decades, no longer represent the majority of the nation.  We believe the pundits are obsessing over this reality and, many, for all the wrong reasons.  It should be seen more as an opportunity than as a threat. Republicans should enthusiastically embrace this dynamically changing landscape. They have much more to offer minorities seeking a better life than does the left.  It would be a grave error to assume that members of these growing minorities do not, or will not, aspire to achieve the traditional American dream.  Most minority Americans can be, and should be, easily attracted to, and accommodated within, a broad Republican tent.  Here’s a wake up call; many of the innovators on whom the future economic health of the country will depend are newcomers to the United States, many from Asia and India.  That’s something to celebrate, not something to fear.

President Bush (43) garnered an impressive share of the Latino vote (as much as 44% according to widely reported 2004 exit polls), but his own party rebuffed his forward-thinking proposals for immigration reform — how myopic and how suicidal.

Hard-nosed obstructionism by the hard right resulted in the Republican primary candidates (again, except Huntsman) having to compete to see who was toughest on immigration.  Yes, it was always phrased as opposition to illegal immigration, but the result has been a drastic, and in our opinion, a well deserved plunge in Latino support for Republicans.  Romney, an accomplished man and an uncommonly compassionate man according to those who know him well, was reduced to calling for “self-deportation” of undocumented Americans and the result was the loss of about 75% of Latino American votes.

The issue of gay marriage is slowly playing out at the state level where legislatures and courts are legislating and adjudicating the propriety of extending or denying what seems to us to be a rather basic civil right.  We do not question the right of any religious institution to address this issue on the basis of religious doctrine.  We do, however, think that politicizing the issue in Washington, and drawing partisan battle lines with federal initiatives such as the Defense of Marriage Act has been gratuitously polarizing and ill advised.

The so-called 47 percent (actually, the latest IRS data recalibrates that to 46 percent) who pay no federal income taxes should be a legitimate and non-partisan area of concern.  It has devolved, however, into a damaging Republican albatross, especially after Romney was surreptitiously recorded at a fund raiser dismissing the so-called 47 percent, essentially, as people who have become dependant on federal entitlement money and, therefore, lost to the Republicans.  Ironically, the states with the highest number of non-tax paying citizens turn out to be red states that overwhelmingly vote Republican.  A particularly high percentage of the non-tax payers are older Americans who also tend to be conservative and who vote Republican. In 2008, when voter turnout rates were at, or around, record highs, fewer than half (44.9 percent) of adults in households making less than $30,000 per year voted; yet, of those who did vote, a great many voted for John McCain (25 percent of those making under $15,000, and 37 percent of those making $15,000 to $30,000).  Superficially, it seemed a juicy political issue.  It turned out, however, to be highly toxic to the Republicans.

This was a highly winnable election for the Republicans.  President Obama with little to show after nearly four years as President, $16.0 trillion of public debt and total debt now larger than the entire economy, and an unemployment rate higher than when he assumed office, rarely polled over 50% throughout the year and couldn’t do much better than that on Election Day.  Nonetheless, the Republicans managed to lose, and, in our opinion, so did the country in the process.