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Further right would be wrong for US Republicans

Republicans have to learn from this loss, writes David Smith of Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre. Moving even further right would only alienate more American voters.

Republicans are accepting defeat today. How they interpret that defeat will play a major role in determining what Barack Obama’s second term looks like.

The American people have collectively chosen to return to the fractious configuration of the last two years: Democratic president, Republican House, Democratic Senate. None of these results, in relative terms, was close. But even though everything has remained in the same column, there have been some notable changes.

Congressman Allen West was deposed yesterday by 29-year-old political novice Patrick Murphy. West, the only Republican member of the congressional Black Caucus, was the most menacing presence in the 2010 Tea Party wave that brought his party to power in the House. He had been forced into retirement from the army after discharging a firearm next to the head of an Iraqi detainee during an interrogation. As a congressman he was distinguished mainly by his constant warnings that the US was in danger of succumbing to Sharia law, and his famous pronouncement that 81 congressional Democrats were members of the Communist Party. Illinois Tea Partier Joe Walsh was also defeated and Michele Bachmann only just survived, resulting in a severe blow to the Congressional Holy War Caucus.

On the other side of the ledger, Democratic congressman Alan Grayson is back. In his previous stint from 2008 to 2010, Grayson made headlines for remarking on the floor of the House that the Republicans’ plan for sick people is “die quickly” and that Democrats at least believe the right to life continues to apply after birth. He became a hero to progressives who wished Obama would say things like that, but lost in the rout of 2010. Last night Grayson was re-elected from a different district, and we can expect him to be unapologetically loud in the next Congress.

For the second election in a row, the Tea Party may have cost Republicans control of the Senate. A few months ago, Missouri was seen as a near certain pick-up for Republicans and no one would have contemplated they would lose a seat in Indiana. But in the Indiana primary, Republicans cast aside six-term senator Richard Lugar (too moderate!) in favour of Richard Mourdock, who said he believes that pregnancies resulting from r-pes are the result of “divine will”. Such a statement would be utterly extraordinary in any other year, but it was overshadowed by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who said he had been reliably informed by doctors that in cases of “legitimate r-pe” women’s bodies do not allow pregnancy, thus invalidating the argument that abortion should be legal in cases of r-pe. Both men lost large numbers of appalled conservatives.

In 2010, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said if he became the majority leader his number one priority would be making Obama a one-term president. Throughout Obama’s first term it appeared many Republicans were fighting the next presidential election campaign by obstructing everything Obama tried to do. In a lot of cases they were struggling to maintain their own party’s nomination in the face of militant primary challenges from the Tea Party.

Obama’s victory gives some Democrats hope that the next Republican Congress will be more conciliatory. The electoral repudiation of Obama has failed, and there are now huge questions about the electoral viability of the Tea Party brand.

There is a danger now that Republicans will interpret Romney’s defeat as a sign they should have gone with a more red-meat conservative. That would be a mistake.”

But this could also have the opposite effect. The right of the Republican Party may well switch from the delusional majoritarianism of being the “real America” (Sarah Palin in 2008) to the even more paranoid status of oppressed minority, no longer trusting the majority with self-government (Palin last night). Remaining Tea Partiers in Congress may now see themselves as the only thing standing between the constitution and socialism. This will not make congressional Republicans more co-operative.

Mitt Romney promised something more. He got within striking distance of the presidency by coming across in the first presidential debate as a reasonable, old-fashioned Republican who only really cared about restoring business confidence. Crusades against social change held no appeal for him, and his foreign policy consisted of not being the next George W. Bush, at least according to the third debate. He had to speak the language of Ayn Rand to keep the wealthy donors onside, but he knew to get elected he would have to be a moderate.

There is a danger now that Republicans will interpret his defeat as a sign they should have gone with a more red-meat conservative. That would be a mistake. If Newt Gingrich had received the nomination we would be wondering this morning about which way the closely-fought contest in Alaska would go.

When Gingrich was campaigning for the Republican nomination he invited conservatives to contemplate “how dangerous and radical” Obama would be when he didn’t need to get re-elected. We actually have very little idea of what Obama’s second-term agenda will be, given how much of the last two years he devoted to yesterday’s election. But it almost certainly won’t be radical, any more so than the first term in which he was the most conservative Democratic president since Harry Truman.

The first thing Obama has to deal with is the looming “fiscal cliff”. If he can’t reach agreement with Congress on how to reduce the deficit within the next few months, the US faces an automatic barrage of tax increases and spending cuts designed to be painful to both sides (this was the final deal worked out during the 2011 stand-off over the debt ceiling). If Obama can’t get a deal this year the fiscal cliff might become an early test of how the new Congress interprets political reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform may come up in the second term. Obama has indicated he wants to provide more paths to citizenship for illegal immigrants, an idea Republicans have bitterly opposed for the last four years. The GOP had enjoyed considerable success with Latino voters under leaders like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush who didn’t demonise “illegals” and were open to more forgiving approaches. Latinos, who are often socially conservative and business-oriented, should not be a homogeneously Democratic-voting bloc. The fact that more than 70% of them voted for Obama this time is because Republicans appeared to hand over their immigration policy to the vigilante wing of the Arizona branch.

Neither party in America is ever permanently doomed after an election, despite the predictions that seem to arise nearly every time. Republicans have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, but the forces of political gravity — voters in the middle — will eventually drag them back to national viability.

In the meantime, the internal struggle could get ugly. So could Obama’s final term.

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  • 1
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    The shocking mathematical truth that the US govt is already collecting less revenue than its legally mandated expenditures (basically social security and interest payment on debt).

    Even if it cut all discretionary spending (no more defense dept etc), it would still run a deficit of over $250 billion.

    This is in essence what motivated the Republican base but their man had no plan to fix this. Neither does Obama. The Fed already prints 40% of the deficit - banana republic stuff.

    The fiscal crisis will only accelerate post-election, there is no plan to fix it, we are talking QE to Infinity.

    The only plan either candidate had is how to distract from this crisis. I’m expecting fireworks of some kind.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2012-11-06/it-doesnt-matter

  • 2
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Now now … why do you want to be giving the GOP sensible advice? I hope they reject it outright as another egg-headed liberal attempt at co-option.

    I’ve spent a few pleasant hours this morning scanning the web for the Tea Party’s responses to the Romney debacle. Most enjoyable in a schadenfreude kinda way.

    The most illuminating comes from the Tea Party Patriots. They knew all along that Romney would lose … too rich, too elite, not tough enough on welfare, on small government, on minorities, on women. The US voters were looking for someone much redder in tooth and claw apparently.

    The idea is that by putting the boot into Blacks, Latinos and women the GOP will inspire the fat rich white men of America will rise up off the sofa, waddle down to the polling booth and swamp these fringe groups.

    Trouble is they’re not fringe groups - as this poll just amply demonstrated. This is the USA 2012…. full of foreigners, Blacks and women. Stroppy women at that. And isn’t it all too shocking!!!

    So don’t you go throwing these fellas a set of directions or a lifeline. Let them paddle themselves and the GOP out towards the horizon in search of their mythical country.

    Even better send them a few dollars and a condolence note. Wish them well and encourage them in their good work. With friends like this lot, the Romneys-in-waiting don’t need any enemies, and we can all sleep safe in our beds.

  • 3
    The Pav
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    With California & NY the Dems have the best part of 100 Electoral College votes locked in

    Texas is the only large red state.

    If the demographic moves to math that of its western neigbours the Democrats could have a lock on the White House for years

  • 4
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It is passing strange the way Republican leaders think it to be a God given right to pontificate about women’s reproductive organs. I would dearly love to know the voting figures for disenfranchised female voters.

    I mean, why does the subject of rape and abortion sit so high on a Republican candidates’ soul? Perhaps it gives them their jollies?

    TONY ABBOTT…….should you become PM at the next election, BEWARE. LOOK WHAT HAPPENED IN AMERICA TO LIKE MINDED CANDIDATES.

  • 5
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE, Tod Akin, would have loved living at the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. His statement, “” who said he had been reliably informed by doctors that in cases of “legitimate r-pe” women’s bodies do not allow pregnancy, thus invalidating the argument that abortion should be legal in cases of r-pe.”“

    This appalling statement fits neatly into the pilgrim fathers’ philosophy of trying witches-NB guess what sex witches tend to be? If the witch, when tied into a chair, and flung into a river, didn’t drown, she was guilty of witchcraft.

    Work out that little doozie!

  • 6
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    What a lot of pundits seem to be overlooking is how close those votes are in those swing states - a little more to the Right and those electoral colleges tip the balance to the GOP.

  • 7
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Not necessarily Monsieur Klewso…

    One of the things that amazes me about the US ballots - since the 1980’s - is the increasing polarisation of voters between states … the blues become bluer and the reds get redder. Huge majorities in their heartland - 70% of the vote or more in some of them. The reduced vote for the GOP in its “Southern strategy” heartland states has been disintegrating steadily … demographics and ethnic minorities.

    There’s a useful little interactive graphic of the state by state outcomes here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/06/us-election-2012-results-live-blog

    The interesting thing to do here is to superimpose this map over a map showing Black and Latino populations. The GOP is on a long term decline down there.

  • 8
    Steve777
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It would be interesting to know what the national percentage of House of Reps votes was obtained by the two main parties. I cannot find this, only district or State results. While the national percentage is not relevant to the number of seats won by a party, it would give an indication of what the US electorate overall wants. House districts have been in many cases egregiously gerrymandered by State administrations to favour their party, so I am wondering if the Republican House majority reflects what the voters actually want, or whether it has been distorted to favour the Republicans, given the Presidential and Senate results. Are Americans more likely to vote for an individual or do they tend to follow their party’s ticket?

  • 9
    Steve777
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Just heard on ‘Planet America’ on ABC News 24. The Democrats won about one million votes more than the Republicans. OK, close considering that over 100 million votes were cast, but the Republicans look to have won about 55% of the House seats. The House of Reps result does not reflect the will of the US electorate.

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