Now that we are a few weeks post-election, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back and dissect what happened and what happens next. I was going to start with Rep. Paul Ryan’s ridiculous comments about the “urban vote.” That’s a good thing to attack, right? The GOP was all “OMG, where did all these black and brown people come from?!?” But then Mitt Romney stepped in it when he once again revealed his true feelings in a call to donors. In this call, Romney basically said that Obama won because he gave free stuff — “gifts” — to Blacks (health care), Latinos (the Dream Act), young people (college loan forgiveness) and women (birth control). My Twitter followers were subjected to a rant about this that my parents would not approve of. But out of all the crazy things Republicans said this cycle, this was among the most egregious, because it was like they STILL didn’t get it, even after they lost.
I will make a bold prediction: If the only lessons the GOP learns from this are that Republicans need to change their tone and work on their efforts to get out the vote, they will continue to lose national elections. That’s not to say these aren’t good lessons, because they are. Tone does matter, and the GOP perfected the “alienate half of the country” attitude pretty well this cycle. In numerous policy debates, from immigration to women’s health, Republicans used hateful, at times condescending language to address their opponents. And it certainly was noticed.
On the “get out the vote” front, I think any political analyst will agree that the Romney campaign’s Election Day program — the unfortunately named Orca — failed. Or, more specifically, the Obama Election Day machine was vastly better.
But taken together, these things do not explain why Republicans lost. These are easy answers, lazy answers, answers that don’t require any true soul-searching within a candidate or party. The reason the GOP lost the Presidency and did much worse than expected in the Senate is that the policies they put forth are unappealing to the majority of Americans. And when Republicans say things like “Oh, Black people only voted for Obama because he’s Black/a Democrat,” understand what they’re saying. They’re saying that you’re sheep. That you can’t think for yourself. That you will blindly follow any person who looks like you or has a D after their name, and pull the lever for them. That you don’t give any thought to what you’re actually voting for.
We know that’s not true. No one ever says that White voters voted for Romney because he was White, and the reverse is equally untrue. Black voters, just like all voters, vote their values. And exit polls showed that people agreed with President Obama’s agenda — that we should tackle the debt by having the wealthy pay a little more, instead of raising taxes on the middle class; that we should pass comprehensive immigration reform; and that Obamacare should remain the law of the land.
Since the election, there have been a lot of conversations about demographics and how they shaped the outcome. This is something my colleagues at Progress 2050 have been thinking about for a very long time — the implications of the demographic change on our country. But it seems that most of the conversation is still focused on the superficial — “how can Republicans change their message to appeal to more people of color,” etc. Again, I argue that it is not the message, it’s the substance. The percentage of people of color in this country is growing at a fast rate, and unfortunately it is also these communities that face the most challenges. This past election provided these communities with a stark choice between a party that wanted to protect the social safety net and a party that wanted to flow more money to the top 1 percent while cutting programs beneficial to and raising taxes on these communities, among other differences. It’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of people of color voted for President Obama.
I honestly would like to see a day when Republicans and Democrats have to fight for ALL votes equally. Because that would mean that the Republicans aren’t so entrenched to the right wing of their party, and actually have to put some more moderate proposals forward. I won’t hold my breath, though.
I want to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful that you all take the time to read what I have to say!
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123