One week after, Republicans are still digesting Obama’s victory. It must not be easy, since many of them have passed the last 4 years trying to make the president fail. For the GOP, now it is the moment to interpret the result, and look forward. The near future of American politics will very much depend on their reading of the last elections.
My guess is that they will not see any need to change their main policies and the essence of their message. Despite having a weak candidate -Romney won the primaries only after all other candidates were cast out- and an inferior electoral machine, the result was very close. In the popular vote, Obama beat Romney by around one point. In the key battleground states, Obama’s edge was similar.
In addition to this, Republicans kept the majority in the House of Representatives. So it is normal that they feel that their policies have been vindicated as much as Obama does. The president’s victory was not decisive enough to soften GOP’s approach on taxes, and there is a real risk for the US to fall off the “fiscal cliff”.
However, I do think that Republicans’ problems do not only stem from their presidential candidate, but also their policies. This weakness was not too evident this time because the fragile state of the economy provided them with a powerful message. “Obama does not know how to manage the economy”, was the main rational of Romney’s campaign. In a deeply anxious America, many people bought it. But what will happen if the economy is in a better shape in 2016? Where will Republicans draw the lines?
Pushed by the call for purity of the Tea Party, the GOP has moved away from the center of American politics. Its opposition to raise the taxes to millionaires, while the budget is severely cut, places the party at odds with a large part of the middle class. Democrats have succeeded in defining their adversaries as “the party of the rich and the big corporations”, an idea that was reinforced by choosing a plutocrat such as Romney. Sooner or later the GOP will have to address this handicap.
The other weakness was more visible: the latino problem. Obama increased to 72% his support among latinos, which represented a key constituency in his victory. In this issue, it is more clear that Republicans have to pivot and support some kind of immigration reform. In fact, John Boehner, the majority leader in the House, has already acknowledged this in an effort recapture a bigger slice of the growing Hispanic electorate.
The good news for Republicans is that in 2016 they will have a pack of candidates much more inspiring than the one in 2012. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Nikki Haley, etc. I have no doubt that the next presidential elections will be very close, as they have been in the last three out of four elections. But I am not sure that choosing a charismatic leader, without any ideological change, will be enough to prevail, since the other side may also present a strong contender.