11 November 2012

The election came and went. In the run up, at least one colleague and numerous right-leaning pundits predicted (and appeared to believe, judging from their subsequent disbelief) that Romney's apparent surge would turn into a rout. Looking at the post-election analyses, it's clear that this would have required every on-the-fence voter to opt for Romney. Didn't happen. 

My sense was that Romney got some traction in the debates that was blunted by Hurricane Sandy, an event that displayed Obama to his advantage and suggested, in the person of Chris Christie, that reconciliation with the right (albeit the moderate version thereof) was possible.

Some have asked what Romney will do next. My suggestion is that he help rebuild his party along more moderate and sensible lines. The key word here is "help," because a lot of the baggage he acquired in the primaries is still with him. If he looks at the election honestly, he can only conclude that it did him in. Moreover, a comparable process will do in subsequent Republican candidates. They're in the quandary that California Republicans have been in for some time, unable to nominate a candidate that can win in the general election. (Schwarzenegger only won because he secured the nomination in an open primary, proving in the process that a moderate, socially progressive Republican in the Clinton mode can win in a nominally liberal, progressive state.)

Early on, I felt that the Republicans would lose because they were in essence two, three, perhaps even four parties. However, Romney was able to hang on to the far right while moving to the middle. What he couldn't do is move to the middle in a way that convinced most voters - it was too quick, and of course the attack launched by rivals like Gingrich, picked up by the Democrats as soon as he emerged as the frontrunner, stuck, never effectively parried until the first debate. For this, Romney can only blame himself - he ran an inept campaign, alienating a lot of possible supporters: women, Hispanics, the middle class. It's a case study in how not to build a broad coalition of support, but it reflects the distractions of trying to get nominated by the Republican Party as it now exists.

I was skeptical of Obama, but I have some optimism for his second term, given that his legacy is at stake and he seems to have learned something from the campaign about his own shortcomings. Ideology isn't really politics - this is the big takeaway of the election. "Hard positions" boil down to deadlock, which leads to crises, a sense of "no adults in the room." Obama has to lead. He has to be engaged and prepared to cut deals. He should bring Bill Clinton in as a key political advisor, especially after everything Clinton did to help him. He should jettison most of his inner circle, clear the air. Claiming a mandate is premature and, in any case, mandates aren't a substitute for politics.


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