By Alan J. Steinberg
In a negative sense, the Republican Party accomplished the impossible last night. In a year of economic stagnation and anemic job growth, the GOP failed to win the White House against an incumbent president who had begun the campaign with a negative approval rating. At the beginning of 2012, most pundits expected the GOP to regain control of the U.S. Senate; instead, the Republicans appear to have incurred a net loss of two seats.
The reelection victory of incumbent President Barack Obama was primarily a matter of demographics. In my PolitickerNJ column of August 5, 2012, I described this demographic factor as follows:
“Obama’s larger electoral vote base is largely a function of what I define as demographic political inelasticity, namely the tendency of certain demographic groups to vote overwhelmingly for one party or the other, regardless of the condition of the economy. Specifically, the Democrats have maintained the loyalty of African-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, and single women voters, regardless of the current economic doldrums….”
One could also add voters under 25 to the list of these Obama demographic constituencies.
Yet the President’s reelection triumph was not just a matter of positive loyalty to the Democratic Party of the Obama coalition constituents. These groups are as much motivated by antipathy to the GOP as they are by anything positive in the Democratic Party agenda. Until the GOP successfully develops a strategy to appeal to these constituencies, most notably Hispanic voters, the party will face a severe demographic obstacle to winning the White House, even in the worst of economic times.
It is ironic that during the same week as the release of the Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln, the Republicans find themselves as rudderless as ever. The GOP, on the national level, is headed for a bitter internecine war.
The Tea Party and the religious right will blame the moderates and the party establishment for the GOP’s failure to sufficiently develop an effective ground game at the grass roots level. The party establishment and the moderates will blame the right wing for their inflexibility on immigration and abortion. They also will castigate the Tea Party in particular for their insistence on ideological purity, resulting in the nomination of grossly incompetent candidates for Senate seats that otherwise would have either been retained or won by the GOP. Specific examples of such candidate failures include Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada in 2010 and Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012. The GOP must craft an effective center-right strategy in order to regain the U.S. Senate and White House. Yet I despair of that happening in the near future.
Yet all is not perfect in the White House of Barack Obama. He still faces troubling questions and allegations regarding the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and members of his staff in Benghazi.
Furthermore, as shown by the exit polls, Obama is in the odd position of having won a decisive victory without a policy mandate. This lack of a mandate is a severe handicap as the President faces negotiations with Congress to avoid a “fiscal cliff” that would result in nearly $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in January, 2013 that could throw the nation back into recession..
In this context, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner emerges as the most important Republican in the nation. By successfully leading the GOP campaign to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Boehner was the major Republican winner of Election 2012.
He will now be the GOP leader of the fiscal cliff negotiations. In this context, Boehner can establish a Republican agenda and priorities.
Indeed, in a real sense, John Boehner is now the national leader of the Republican Party. His performance in the fiscal cliff negotiations will have a most significant effect as to the prospects for a GOP comeback in the near future.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.