By David Beilstein
EVERYTHING went wrong Tuesday, Nov. 6. I’m still getting over the shock. I was convinced by data and historical precedent Barack H. Obama would be a one-term president – something his previous four-year performance deserves.
I was wrong.
I did want to recount some things. I’ve written a lot about the brouhaha-taking place in Republican ranks, but I thought it might be useful to reflect on some for the hell of it. Being in film school means I do not have a lot of time always. But I heard Rush Limbaugh say something that nailed me.
What was I thinking a couple days before the election? My head and my thoughts were confident Romney was going to win – but inside, I was deeply concerned. The proof of that can be found here. Reading this over again, I can smell the concern that was on my mind while writing. Couple lines stand out. I lowered my prediction from 320 or so to 285, so I was worried. Nevertheless, I was still wrong.
Going back, though, I could not put my finger on it but concern was all around me. Those who have been paying attention know all the punditry comments on why former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney was defeated. Changing demographics, the GOP base (three million of them anyway) stayed home; the vaunted Obama turnout machine, etc.
I picked Romney by a quarter over 300 electoral votes. I was wrong and I’m sorry. I went through all the numbers; that was the pick of my head, not my heart. Six months before the November 2008 election, I picked Barack Obama to win a landslide over John McCain. Obama did.
I did not want Obama to win – I picked him because of the polling data and environmental factors.
I used the same resources in every single blog entry I wrote in predicting a Romney victory. But Obama did what I did not think he could do; that is, he won a historic election. He beat historical precedent, which I always said was possible – just not probable.
I also did not realise three million Republican voters would sit out. Jerks!
But there was a much easier way to predict Romney’s likely defeat. Going back to the presidential elections in 1980 and 1992; both incumbents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush had the same anemic polling numbers as Barack Obama. Heavy majorities against the direction of the country, rising unemployment above 7.2%, etc.
But there was one thing that caught my eye – an oddity; one it turns out I did not give enough weight.
Obama’s approval numbers. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were at or below 40% – along with all the other downward polls. Barack Obama however, was anywhere from 46-50%. It caught my eye enough that I did not believe it. I was willing to grant Barack Obama’s approval rating as high or low – but I could not imagine with the sinking approval ratings (among core voting blocks) could mean his approval rating was above 44%.
We know now Obama’s approval rating was 50%; good enough to be reelected. And given the violently dismal disapproval numbers on economic issues and overall direction of the country – all harbingers of coming destruction for an incumbent; we know now that 55% of the electorate still blamed George W. Bush. Obama got a pass. Voters weren’t happy with things; but folks like me assumed Obama would get the blame. Why? Incumbents have always gotten the blame except maybe FDR during his first reelection.
Of this I know. The data for an Obama successful reelection was in the numbers – just much, much harder to see than most elections.
I knew things were going bad soon after east coast polls closed. When an incumbent is rejected for the challenger there is typically at least a small wave. Yet states Romney was ahead in, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, were not called right away. They were way too close if Obama was being firmly rejected as polls seemed to indicate a week prior. When George W. Bush improved upon his 2000 election performance in Florida, in 2004, Florida looked good from earlier in the night. They called Florida for Bush fairly early in 2004 and the I-4 corridor as its called – Bush’s red kept spreading and spreading past Kerry’s blue.
That was not happening at all with Mitt Romney. Had Romney headed to victory on Tuesday night, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio would have gone almost right away and Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and Wisconsin would have been the states being counted into the wee a.m. hours with Romney taking at least two of them by a razor’s edge.
Not even close.
So what does this portend? America cannot continue driving up debt like it has been for the last 12 years. Likewise, increasing the federal government and adding enormous burdensome taxes through ObamaCare will be problematic for all sectors of the economy. If America was not in fiscal peril, I would not be that worried about the future. This flu of American voters is economically illiterate in terms of how capital formation works – prosperity created – would run its course. Republicans could come back easy.
Part of me feels like there has been a rank pessimism that goes too far. Unlike past financial hard times, the jobless crisis, housing collapse, effected millions of Americans. Millions! It was a unique situation. And it imploded on a Republican president’s watch. Bush and his congressional leadership destroyed any notion of fiscal sanity with the American voter. Add to that, Bush started a preemptive war because of weapons of mass destruction, weapons which providentially were never found.
Worse, Iraq spun out of control; wounding and killing tens of thousands of Americans in a needless insurgency peppered with bad rules of engagement. Dubya tapped the man to turn Iraq around (Ret. General David H. Petraeus) but only after the majority of the American people had decided the Iraq War should have never happened. Then Afghanistan too, became a troop sump. Though it got worse under Obama, the wars had escalated before Bam, Bam Barry took office. If we are being honest, we would have to say this would destroy a political parties trustworthiness for several election cycles.
Worse than a sex scandal, or even a criminal one like Nixon’s Watergate, the Bush years were a competency scandal in the eyes of many non-partisan voters; the voters who elect the president of the United States. The ones who help a candidate cross the 270 Electoral College threshold easily. And those Bush years, sadly, eroded foundational support from paleo-conservatives and libertarian ones too; the old guard, the focus of William F. Buckley’s long-term ‘fusion’ project.
George W. Bush was good culture-warrior material for too many. All the right people hated him and cultural conservatives, roiled as usual, felt obliged to defend him at all costs. Be it said. George W. Bush was one of the most honourable men ever to serve our country as president. But when the sunglasses come off, there has to be an understanding that electorally anyway, the Bush years became unpopular for far more Americans than simply the DNC party faithful.
That is a large issue. Given the number of Republican voters who have left the Republican Party for the libertarian movement; over to Ron Paul etc., the notion an incumbent could pull off an upset (in historical terms) and get reelected with a disastrous record becomes infinitely plausible. There could be someone who thinks such excuses are antidotal – but remember, we know at least three million Republican voters did not show up. Romney got less votes than McCain!
Quite honestly, I can never remember a time – ever, when so many who were consistent classical liberals had as much animus for the GOP as the statist DNC. I share the spirit my self – going so far as to join the Libertarian Party of Florida. That was not the case in 1980-1994. Sure, some folks like the Cato Institute heads jumped ship in the late 1980s from the Republicans because of the religious right and moral majority – but never like the last eight years!
The point to all this is not to walk-back structural and communicative problems the GOP needs to address. But it does, for me, illustrate a truer picture of the reality than all the conventional media bromides about Republican irrelevancy. I remember in 2002 when George W. Bush gained seats in the congressional mid-term elections – I won a bet even, to the surprise of the political class. And I remember Rush Limbaugh talking about the Bush administration destroying the Democratic Party. I remember telling my saintly mother, Rush was right about a lot of his political insights but this was hot gas.
Same is true for the Republicans. They are in trouble, electorally – but so was the Democratic Party from the 1970s into 1990s. And Democrats did not have the percentages of governors like Republicans do now. Ebbs and flows, folks. President Bill Clinton elected in 1992, looking back, was the beginning of the parties’ resurgence.
The best thing the Republicans can do now is what the Democrats did when under the thumb of George W. Bush: become partisan and ideological. To compromise with the statist march will only impoverish the nation even more, and erect a statist edifice in which Republicans truly cannot find a pathway congressionally, or presidentially, into the victory.
The threat to the Republicans is time – not politics and demographics. The nation has run up perilous debt and it is unclear if anything can be done to put off structural failure.
But the fight goes on – until it doesn’t.