Last January, I predicted here that Mitt Romney would lose, based partially on the Curse of the E-Trochee: American presidential candidates whose last name is two syllables ending with a long e sound have always failed; they just can’t be taken seriously. It may seem ridiculous but, as Novalis said, ‘Language is Delphi.’
Closer to realpolitik, Mitt failed the Safety and Sincerity tests. Voters like to feel safe, to be assured that things will generally be all right, that there will be no bad surprises. I’ve always believed that Obama won in 2008 thanks to Sarah Palin. McCain – though he’s still with us – looked old and tired, and the possibility that the dim Northern Light might suddenly illuminate the Oval Office was scarier than a black man with a funny name. He at least seemed level-headed and intelligent.
This time, it was the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans and Mitt’s pandering to it. Having no strong political beliefs – other than laissez-faire and lower taxes for himself and for his kind – Romney selected Paul Ryan as his vice president to rally the base. It was a huge mistake. Ryan was not only the architect of a budget that would essentially eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – our scraps of social welfare – but a hardcore right-to-lifer who supported a constitutional amendment granting ‘personhood’ to a fertilised egg, thereby criminalising abortion, many forms of contraception, and even in vitro fertilisation (which, ironically, had led to Tagg Romney’s three children). This potential Ryanisation of the country spooked seniors, women, and men who live with women. After he was revealed to be a locker-room braggart (lying about his marathon times – a cardinal sin in the US – and his mountain-climbing prowess); after he was laughed off the stage by Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate for his ignorance of foreign policy or much of anything else; and after he declared he was going to be a vice-president like Dick Cheney (an insult to Mitt), Ryan was ‘disappeared’ from the campaign. He only surfaced briefly to pose for some embarrassing photos, lifting weights for Time magazine and washing already washed dishes in a soup kitchen. He never even managed to drum up votes – as vice-presidential candidates are supposed to do – in his home state of Wisconsin.
As for sincerity, it became impossible, even for his supporters and spokesmen, to say what Mitt’s position was on almost any given issue, and sometimes even difficult for Mitt himself (‘I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was’). Obama, in the first debate, was completely caught off guard when ‘severely conservative’ Romney suddenly turned into Moderate Mitt. By the third debate, the man who was ready to ride the bombers with Bibi and had said he wanted John ‘Blow Up the UN’ Bolton to be his secretary of state was putting smiley-face stickers on Obama’s foreign policy and declaring so repeatedly his love of peace that one suspected he was secretly wearing beads along with his special underwear. It was hilarious to hear old-fashioned conservative pundits, such as David Brooks at the New York Times, declare that the Real Romney had at last been revealed – in other words, everything he had said earlier didn’t matter at all – while the neocon hawks found convoluted expressions of support. Anything to defeat Obama.
The shape-shifting, however, shifted into blatant mendacity, far beyond the usual exaggerations of campaign rhetoric. According to Think Progress, Mitt lied 82 times in the three debates; the speeches to the party faithful had many more. By the end of the campaign, there was the astonishing spectacle of the CEO of a major corporation calling the Republican presidential candidate a liar – for his repeated declarations and television ads stating that Chrysler was moving its Jeep factories to China. (Chrysler even retaliated by giving all of its workers a day off to vote.) Some say that a beneficial result of the 2012 campaign will be the lesson that blatant lying doesn’t help, but that remains to be seen.
The larger question is what the Republicans will do next. They have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. (Obama, however narrow his victory in the popular vote, is the first Democrat since Roosevelt to win two elections with more than 50 per cent.) Obama won the votes of women in general, people under the age of 44, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans (the latter two groups by three to one). The working-class ‘Reagan Democrats’ in the Rust Belt abandoned Romney, thanks to his opposition to the auto bailout, and Obama did extremely well in another formerly Republican bastion, the military, whose troops and veterans Romney startlingly did not find ‘important’ enough to mention in his convention acceptance speech. The Republicans, in short, have become the party of the aging descendants of cowboys and slave owners. Along with a few Corn Belt states, their remaining domain is essentially much of the Wild West and most of the Confederacy.
Time and demographics are against them. Social conservatism is shrinking as quickly as social media is growing. On Tuesday, two states approved gay marriage, two states legalised marijuana, various anti-abortion laws were defeated, and the first openly gay senator was elected. The ‘legitimate rape’ and ‘rape babies are a gift of God’ senatorial candidates were defeated, and women generally demonstrated their repulsion at the prospect of a bunch of old dude blowhards making their medical decisions for them. The problem seems insoluble for Republicans: having built their mansion on a foundation of social issues, how will they be able to abandon this solid, but diminishing, base? How do they keep the misogynists and attract the 60 per cent of the voters who are women, keep the homophobes and attract the majority of the nation that now supports gay rights?
Latino voters are another matter. One can no longer get elected nationally without the Latino vote – Bush Jr in 2004 had twice as many Latino votes as Romney – and if the Republicans continue their police state anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, it is quite probable that their biggest electoral prize, Texas (as well as Arizona), will turn into a blue state. I suspect this will be one issue where the Republican House will suddenly demonstrate its ‘compassionate conservatism’ and its ‘bipartisanship’ by accepting Obama’s immigration proposals (such as amnesty for those who arrived undocumented as children). Moreover, there was a very interesting development on Tuesday: Puerto Rico, for the first time, voted in favour of statehood. Obama, concerned with his legacy (and with the personal attachment of his early years spent in Hawaii), would surely support creating a 51st state. For Republicans, it would be an uncomplicated (and business-friendly) way to show their concern for Latinos. Puerto Rico, forever in semi-colonial limbo, is about to become news.
At the end of this seemingly endless campaign, the one certain thing is that the punditocracy was wrong about nearly everything. It was never a ‘tight’ race: Obama was ahead in the electoral votes from the beginning. Obama supporters, particularly minorities, who had supposedly lost their enthusiasm and weren’t going to vote, in fact did, in the same or greater numbers. The left did not abandon Obama – the prospect of a Mitt presidency and a Mitt Supreme Court was too horrible. All of the things, whether said by the left or the right, that were going to sink Obama – the unemployment rate, the housing crisis, the performance at the first debate, the killings in Libya, the hundreds of millions of dollars from the Super-PACS, the voter suppression laws, the rigged voting machines – didn’t. The conservative talking heads on television kept repeating that they knew in their guts that the polls were wrong and that it would be a Romney landslide. But the polls were right all along: the leading number-cruncher, Nate Silver, correctly called all 50 of the states.
The good news is not only that Obama was re-elected, but that Mitt is gone and won’t be back. Defeated presidential candidates who cannot return to a Senate seat go, overnight, from Leader of the Party to oblivion. And Mitt, who was never loved by his party and who only ever served one term as an elected official, has nowhere to go except to his vacation homes and his tax shelters. He’ll have a milkshake and count his money, and Ann will ride her dancing horses.
Mitt believed that God wanted him to be president, but on the morning of the election, God sent a sign: a double rainbow over Hokulani Elementary, the school in Honolulu that Obama had attended as a child.