US Election Braindump

I am too tired and too discombobulated from number crunching to post a coherent, concise article, but there is much of interest in yesterday’s American election results. This was a decisive election for the world’s most powerful nation and, ipso facto, for the whole planet. So I’m just going to do a brain dump on lessons from yesterday. This is probably too long, and certainly insufficiently intellectually rigorous, but I would be interested in Sluggerites’ opinions (and we all have opinions, don’t we?)

The Tea Party
Leave aside for a second whether or not we agree with the basic values of the Tea Party – and I expect in NI, even on the right, we don’t. What has its contribution been to American Conservatism overall? Pretty disastrous – not only did it lose Republicans the Presidency last night, it also cost them control of the Senate, for the second time in a row.

Classic example – the Indiana Senate race. Dick Lugar, a six term moderate GOP Senator, would have cruised to re-election with 70-odd percent of the vote in a state that Barack Obama didn’t even try to defend. He lost his primary to Tea Partier Richard Mourdock. His heresy in Tea Partiers’ eyes was to have a good personal relationship with the President from Obama’s time in the Senate. Mourdock’s lead over Democrat opponent Joe Donnelly was never that big to begin with, and then threw away the race with stupid and offensive comments about abortion and rape in the final weeks. Tea Partiers also threw away an easy GOP opportunity to pick up Claire McCaskill’s seat in Missouri, just as they threw away Nevada and Delaware last time.

And yes, the Tea Party, and the nature of contemporary Republican politics, cost Mitt Romney the Presidency. Look RCP’s polling average of the Presidential race in New Hampshire, a state that Romney, with his local name recognition and popularity, should have won easily. Romney was crushing Obama until the height of the Republican Primary campaign, when he was forced a long way to the right. He never recovered.
The problem is that the majority of the GOP primary electorate in large swathes of the US is on board with both the Tea Party agenda and the Tea Party’s abrasive way of presenting itself. There is no polity in the world where it is more difficult for the leadership of a political party to impose a party line than the USA. That is one of the glories of the country, but for a GOP seeking a route back to electability, it presents a serious problem.
Also, what happens to the Tea Parties supporters if the GOP does cut them adrift.

Will they vote for a Bobby Jindal/Chris Christie/Marco Rubio led GOP where they are marginalised, or will they opt out entirely, establishing themselves as a third party that could become a serious player in the South, High Plains and parts of the Mountain West? Or does the anger, and the easy retreat into paranoid conspiracy theories and claims of stolen elections, morph into something uglier if not given expression within mainstream politics?
Tea Partiers have an entirely different conception of the proper role and function of the State than mainstream conservatives. Republicans are going to find this difficult to manage.
Is civil war about to erupt in the GOP
Until Obama, no President since FDR has managed re-election with unemployment at the level it currently sits at in the USA. Until Obama, no Democratic President since FDR managed re-election with an absolute majority of the popular vote. This was not a good election for Republicans. A segment of the GOP gets carried away by its destruction of Democrats, even at State level, in the South and High Plains and forgets that in doing so, it has essentially destroyed the party on the West Coast and North East, and is in danger of rendering itself unelectable in middle-class white suburbia in the Midwest and Mountain West.
Moderates in the GOP are well aware that this is a problem. Even before the election, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (that well known hotbed of big city multi-ethnic liberalism) said, “if we lose this election there is only one explanation — demographics. If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”

Lindsey Graham is obviously entirely correct, but I doubt that all of the GOP grassroots shares that view. There remains a strong body of opinion within the GOP that both Romney and McCain lost because they weren’t ‘real conservatives’ but backsliding moderates unable to energise the base enough to overcome massive minority and youth turnout for Obama.

While the old north-eastern tradition of liberal “gipsy moth” Republicans is pretty much dead, the party remains badly split between business-oriented fiscal conservatives, pragmatic social conservatives, Tea Partiers and the tattered remnants of the Goldwater/Reagan Western libertarian tradition. Three of those four factions can probably reach a pragmatic modus vivendi, but the fourth can’t. And, as noted above, the faction that can’t is the most powerful in the base. Expect fireworks.

Karl Rove’s tactics no longer work
A billion dollars of negative attack ads from post-Citizens’ United Super PACs failed to move Obama’s unfavourables one bit. This was entirely predictable. As well as the Fox News/AM radio noise machine, the medical lobby spent hundreds of millions in the aftermath of Obamacare defining the President as an un-American Socialist. Those who believed that were already going to vote GOP anyway. But many didn’t, including many who pulled the lever for Romney yesterday.

In exit polling, a majority of Americans believed that George W Bush still bears more responsibility for America’s economic woes, including many who thought Obama’s response had been inadequate and who voted for Romney yesterday.

Nobody really believes Fox News is fair and balanced, including many who are glued to it, just for the craic. Packaging its key messages into 30 second ads worked in 2004. It doesn’t in 2012. Karl Rove ended up like most failed generals, trying to fight this year’s war with last year’s battle tactics. That didn’t work for Ludendorff either.
Republicans’ final article of faith in this election was that they would win because the polls were biased. One GOP surrogate after another took to the airwaves and teh intertubes in the final week of the campaign to assert that Romney would prevail because African Americans and young people were going to sit this one out. I have never, anywhere on the planet, seen a more self-defeating media line guaranteed to motivate potential stay-at-homes from the other side.

Social change
Until yesterday, marriage equality campaigners in the US had lost 32 referenda on the trot. Yesterday they won four out of four, including Minnesota, a state where Republicans once looked set to take over but now are in retreat. The pace of change on this issue is extraordinarily rapid in the USA, as it is in Europe.

Moderate and libertarian GOPers played a key role in legalising marriage equality in New York last year, and in Washington State yesterday. Yet marriage equality supporters continue to be a small minority of the party’s elected representatives and virtually invisible at the Federal level. They day is not far off when a Republican can’t expect to win statewide office in the Pacific Northwest, in the Northeast, and probably in the near Midwest, as an opponent of marriage equality. How does the GOP manage the expectations of its socially conservative Southern base in this context?

Two states, Colorado and Washington, voted for full decriminalisation of marijuana, the first to do so (and in conflict with Federal law). In what is, by European standards, a very young country, the pace of change in social attitudes on these issues will continue to be rapid.

Hillary is 45
Hillary Clinton must already be the heavy favourite for the Presidential election in 2016, if she runs. And she is going to run. Bill did not spend months of heavy campaigning for Obama for fun. This was about getting the Obama imprimatur, and his appeal to young and minority voters, for the Clinton ’16 campaign.

Her solid performance as Secretary of State has transformed opinion of her, and don’t forget she was the Democratic candidate who ran best with working-class Southern and Appalachian Whites in the 2008 primaries. Polling shows her to be is the most positively viewed active American politician from either party. The only retired, living, politician who rivals her popularity is her husband, whose Presidency now looks like something of a golden age for the USA. She will be hard to beat.

Barack and Bill’s bromance
Although Hillary and Barack seemed to bond once Obama faced the same tidal wave of healthcare reform negativity that Hillary faced in 1993, relationships between Barack and Bill remained icy. But on the campaign trail, the obvious coldness of the relationship seemed to thaw with time, with particularly warm hugs between the men at the end of election rallies in the final fortnight. Some have even called their new found friendship a ‘bromance’.

Rumour has it that it was Bill, back in May, who told Obama that he should not give up on Florida. Although cripplingly expensive to fight, President No. 42 told the incumbent that a campaign heavily focused on Medicare issues could sway the heavy elderly population in the Sunshine State. And so it seems to have proved. Even in the ultra-conservative Panhandle, Obama kept his low, but critical, share of the White working-class vote intact and even recorded positive swings in some Florida counties. Slick Willie remains the world’s most formidable election campaigner. Al Capone said you can go a long way with a smile.

What happens to Obama’s machine?
Another key consequence of the Barack-Bill reconciliation is that Obama’s formidable election machine might not simply decay as it did after 2008. And it was formidable. David Axelrod gave up on Indiana, but otherwise batted .889, fighting partly in deep Republican territory. A polarising black Democratic President, with particular problems among working-class Whites in the South, is playing defence in North Carolina and loses by less than 100,000 votes? You’d better believe it was an impressive machine.

Axelrod, the Chicago operative par excellence, dominated the Midwest as might have been expected, yet so long denied by Republicans. You don’t win elections in Illinois without a solid working-class White vote, and Axelrod’s Ohio campaign, in particular, was magisterial. Note also how Obama dominated the Wisconisn farmbelt and eastern Iowa, and fought Romney to a standstill in the more Evangelical-heavy centre of the Hawkeye State. I did tell people that farm policy would be an unheralded strength of the Obama campaign.

Clinton, as we have noted, is not one to miss a political trick. If he has any sense, in return for all the hard yards he put in, culminating in an exhausting day in Pennsylvania on Monday, he’ll ask for the keys of David Axelrod’s Chicago castle.

A nation divided
Nothing epitomises the divided nature of American society more than North Carolina, where despite Obama’s strong performance, both state houses and the governorate were captured by the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction, and Colorado where both state houses and the governorate are now in the hands of the Democrats.

Americans, across the spectrum, despair of the endless negativity of politics and the inability of politicians to bring the country together. Healing America’s national rift, as he initially promised to do, may turn out to be defining issue of his second term.

Americans are rightly disgusted with the rocket salvo of negativity in their elections. The Supreme Court’s decision to abandon any meaningful regulation of Political Action Committees in Citizens’ United was ideological insanity writ large. Meaningful campaign finance reform is essential.

Oh, and Nate Silver was right, despite taking a lot abuse, some of it pretty nasty. I hope he feels vindicated tonight.

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