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February 1, 2015

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The inconvenient truths of 2012

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Human nature and politics being what they are, Republicans will underestimate the trouble they’re in, and Democrats will be eager to overestimate the strength of their post-2012 position.

Begin with the GOP: As Republicans dig out from a defeat that their poll-deniers said was impossible, they need to acknowledge many large failures.

Their attempts to demonize President Barack Obama and undercut him by obstructing his agenda didn’t work. Their assumption that the conservative side would vote in larger numbers than Democrats was wrong. The Tea Party was less the wave of the future than a remnant of the past. Blocking immigration reform and standing by silently while nativist voices offered nasty thoughts about newcomers were bad ideas. Hispanic voters heard it all and drew the sensible electoral conclusion.

Democrats are entitled to a few weeks of reveling because their victory really was substantial. Obama won all but one of the swing states and a clear popular-vote majority. The Democrats added to their Senate majority in a year that began with almost everyone predicting they’d lose seats. They even won a plurality of the vote in House races; Republicans held on because of gerrymandering.

Just as important, the voters repudiated the very worst aspects of post-Bush conservatism: its harsh tone toward those in need, its doctrinaire inflexibility on taxes, its inclination toward extreme pronouncements on social issues, and its hard anti-government rhetoric that ignored the pragmatic attitude of the electorate’s great middle about what the public sector can and can’t do. If conservatives are at all reflective, we should be in for a slightly less rancid and divisive debate over the next couple of years.

Yet, Obama and his party need to understand that running a majority coalition is difficult. It involves dealing with tensions that inevitably arise in a broad alliance. Democrats won because of huge margins among blacks, Hispanics and Asians, but also because of a solid white working-class vote in states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, particularly from union members. Obama needs to think about economic policies that deliver benefits across this wide spectrum of less-well-to-do Americans. A longing for balanced budgets is not what drove these voters to the polls.

At the same time, there was a substantial middle- and upper-middle-class suburban component of the Democratic coalition that is moderate or liberal on social issues and sees the GOP as backward-looking. Many voters in this group bridle at sweeping anti-government bromides because they care about essential government functions, notably education. But they certainly are not classic New Deal or Great Society Democrats.

Such voters are central to what has become known as the “Colorado strategy.” It’s a view that the Democrats’ long-term future depends on moderate, younger and suburban voters, especially women, combined with the growing Hispanic electorate. And in Colorado, this strategy worked exactly as advertised.

As Curtis Hubbard, the Denver Post’s editorial page editor, noted, Obama won big in the party’s bastions in Denver and Boulder. But he also won Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, key Denver-area swing suburbs and, a bit farther away, in Larimer County around Fort Collins. The Democrats’ victory there had depth: The party recaptured the state House of Representatives and held the state Senate.

Managing a coalition that includes blacks, Hispanics, white working-class voters and suburbanites in the new and growing metro areas will take skill and subtlety. And Democrats need to recognize that some of their core constituencies — young people, blacks and Hispanics — typically vote in lower numbers in off-year elections. The party requires a strategy for 2014.

But these are happy problems compared with what the GOP and the conservative movement confront. They need to rethink their approach all the way down.

Many conservatives seem to hope that a more open attitude toward immigration will solve the Republicans’ Hispanic problem and make everything else better. It’s not that simple. For one thing, a more moderate stand on immigration could create new divisions in the party. And its weaknesses among both Hispanics and women owe not simply to immigration or to social issues, respectively, but also to the fact that both groups are more sympathetic to government’s role in the economy and in promoting upward mobility than current conservative doctrine allows.

A party that wants to govern has to do more than run against government. For the right, this is the inconvenient truth of 2012.

E.J. Dionne is a columnist for the Washington Post.

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  1. Much of what EJ Dionne says is accurate, but he totally misses the most important part of what is happening... and that is because Mr. Dionne is an ideologue and a partisan.

    Neither of these parties is dealing with our debt or the deficit spending. Unless growth bails us out (highly unlikely given the world economy), our currency will eventually be devalued and once that happens, every American is going to be badly hurt.

    All the stuff Dionne talks about is true, but it should be irrelevant to any thinking American.


  2. Full disclosure: I don't see the current Republican Party as representing middle class interests, but instead, being an unashamed proponent of wealthy interests to the exclusion of others. I miss the old GOP which had its Goldwaters but also had its Rockefellers. I miss the maveriky populism that used to be John McCain but is no longer.

    The GOP offers a tempting lure of returning us to the "good old days" without a time machine. But to blacks, women, and gays the old days weren't that great and I'm sure the GOP would not favor the union membership of the good old days when we were building a prosperous middle class.

    The GOP would seduce us with smaller government but the complement of that is bigger lightly regulated business such as exposed its flaws in 2007-8.

    Until the GOP becomes a much more populist force, I don't see its prospects improving.

  3. It was a close popular election. The electoral vote is skewed in favor of the democrats. Obama won 11 states and DC with margins of 57 percent or more and gained 168 EV. Romney had 13 states with the same margins of victory and had 108 EV. 2012 presidential election's popular vote is too close to call for any one simplistic reason why it went one way or the other. Dionne has a political agenda to push. Liberalism.


  4. CarmineD has a political agenda to push. Conservatism

  5. Dionne is just a bit too "lispy" for my taste. He's also a left wing nut who shades the truth or, better yet, hides it when it does not meet his kooky agenda! He's not to be believed nor is he to be trusted.

  6. There is a new normal in America....Extreme Partisanship!

    The President held a new conference on November 14, 2012 at 1:34 est. The President was respectful and Presidential as expected. Humble with conviction, determination, and giving during the entire 52 minutes of the news conference.

    The President gave opening comments then called on the press in alphabetical order. Each reporter when called by the President responded either by saying, "thank you Mr. President," or by saying "Mr. President," and than proceeded to ask a question. All but one reporter in the room address the President as such. All but one. And it was clearly noted by others in the room this was a sign of disrespect. But the President as always, remained Presidential, in control and answered the reporter question and did so with a soft tone of forgiveness and understanding, as the President knew the reporter realized how out of touch and misguided he was on the lead-in to the question.

    The extreme Partisanship we are seeing is coming from the top to the lowest levels. But there is a strong power at work to break this extreme partisanship. It will not be broken by political means. No, congress is not going to do it. Balancing the budget is not going to it. The example of strength in character, conviction, doing what is right in face of personal attack, personal attacks from invited guest who have a major role and position on our national airwave. The example is being set. The example is being seen by young Americans. New leaders are following the example right now! The example is the President. Our President, Barack Obama.

    A clear minded person would call President Obama an independent. This President is truly working for all Americans. You can say the President has created another party,... you can call it, The Party of the Reasonable. Doing what is right for all people. Or whatever label best fits the President's strength and reasonable approach to solutions and courage in the face of attacks.

    If you followed the News Conference by the President you should who the disrespectful reporter is, and what network the reporter works for.

    E.J. Dionne is pointing out the new normal, he is also pointing how this new normal will be corrected, and by whom. President Barack Obama.

  7. When Obama resigns after impeachment, will Hillary be the Vice President ready to take over?

  8. Roberta Anderson,

    Is your comment an extreme partisan question?

  9. "CarmineD has a political agenda to push. Conservatism." @JWeber

    Amen. Left of center: The new Conservatism.


  10. "When Obama resigns after impeachment, will Hillary be the Vice President ready to take over?"

    Exactly what planet are you living on, and when did Hillary become Vice President? Gadds ... another post from Bizzaro World.

  11. A bit of humor laced with wishful thinking couldn't hurt.

    If only, if only....the woodpecker sighs, the tree is made of clouds from the sky (Holes).