President Obama didn't even need Florida, where the vote counters actually went home before finishing their job. Barack Obama cruised over the finish line, earlier and easier than most analysts predicted. The Obama camp last week said this was how it would be, and the pundits thought it a bunch of bluster. It wasn't. Here, five rather eclectic observations from the president's impressive re-election:
1. Obama simply ran the superior campaign
Clearly, the Obama campaign out-organized Team Romney where it counted. Their ground game was better and more extensive. They had more boots on the ground in each swing state. And surprisingly for the number- and analysis-driven Romney, the Obama camp had better data on who they needed to get and how to get them. Obama also surrounded himself with street brawlers who knew the GOP playbook and used it against them.
2. Minorities have rapidly growing electoral clout
Aside from short-term strategy and tactics, the powerful long-term tide of demographics made a huge difference for Obama. Romney won the white vote by a 58 to 40 percent margin, the biggest since 1988. But — and this is what the Republicans don't seem to get, though they might today — whites don't count as much as they used to. Yesterday, they comprised 72 percent of the electorate, the lowest since exit polls began recording such data. In 1976, white men were 46 percent of voters; yesterday, 34 percent.
As the clout of white voters continues to slip, that of minorities continues to rise. In 2010, they were 26 percent of the electorate. Yesterday: 28 percent. A 2 percent bigger slice of the pie doesn't sound like much, but in a tight election it's everything, and helps explain why Obama, with the exception of North Carolina, swept every single swing state (and leads in Florida).
The Republican Party — once the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan — has been hijacked by the far-right and needs a re-branding.
We're obviously talking about Latinos — by far the fastest-growing segment of the population. Over the last decade, two-thirds of Texas' growth and 55 percent of Florida's came from Latinos. And since 65 percent of America's entire population growth over the next four decades will be Latino (according to Census Bureau projections), it won't be long before red states turn purple — then blue.
Consider this: 37,000 Latinos moved to New Hampshire from 2000 to 2010. Since Latinos went for the president by a 71 to 27 percent margin (even better than 2008), that's tens of thousands of extra votes for Obama in a state he won by 34,000. The rapid growth of Latinos, and their broad dislike of Republicans, reaped big dividends for Obama last night.
Even worse for Republicans: Not only are Latinos the fastest-growing segment of the population, they are the youngest. Their median age last year, 27.4, is significantly younger than America as a whole, 36.8, and significantly younger than the median age for whites, 41.2 (2011 data).
For the first time, whites make up less than half of all births in the U.S. — ominous for Republicans who cater to whites while largely dismissing everyone else. If the GOP has any hope of improving its electoral odds — they've already lost four of the last six presidential elections — they absolutely must be more accommodating to this demographic reality. I don't think you'll hear much self-defeating talk of "self-deportations" and such from the GOP in 2016.
3. Republicans have to stop bowing to the far right
It can be argued that Republicans were doomed from the beginning. Right-wingers like Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum, all of whom had their moments in the primary sun, would have fared even worse in a general election against Obama than Romney. Republicans simply must weed out bomb-throwers and attract people of talent and reason. Such people exist. But Jon Huntsman was quickly shoved aside, while others, like Mitch Daniels, declined to run. The Republican Party — once the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan — has been hijacked by the far-right and needs a re-branding.
Speaking of hijacking, Tea Partiers have also arguably cost Republicans control of the Senate. Were it not for poor candidates like Delaware's bewitching Christine O'Donnell and Nevada's Sharron Angle in 2010, and downright stupid and insulting ones, like Missouri's Todd Akin and Indiana's Richard Mourdock this year, Mitch McConnell might be the new majority leader. Instead, Harry Reid, much to his delight, will continue to lead a surprisingly solid Democratic majority.
4. The cyclical nature of politics is on full display
The pendulum that is American politics swings back and forth with increasing rapidity. In 2008, Obama won 365 electoral votes. The House, which had been under Democratic control for two years, saw even more seats go left, and Democrats won an outright supermajority in the Senate. Just two years later, Democrats lost control of the House in a wave election and slipped, though held on, in the Senate. It was, as President Obama called it, a "shellacking." Yet just two years later, Obama received more than 300 electoral votes in a convincing re-election victory. No one party has the upper hand for long, which may convince whichever party is out of power to obstruct and play for time until the next election. Because Washington's division of power didn't change last night — the House remains Republican, the Senate and White House Democratic — it's unlikely, despite the mounting domestic and overseas problems we face, that there will be much cooperation.
5. Obama has a Supreme Court opportunity
Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of the president's re-election will be his ability to further shape the high court. In his first term, Obama appointed two justices: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. In a second term, he may have the opportunity to name two, possibly three more. But whether he can change its ideological makeup is another matter. That's because two of the oldest Supreme Court justices today are liberals: 79-year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 74-year-old Stephen Breyer. Replacing one liberal with another wouldn't tilt the court. But Anthony Kennedy, 76, is regarded as the court's swing vote; if he were to go, he could be replaced by someone more reliably liberal. As for the oldest conservative, 76-year-old Antonin Scalia shows no signs of wanting to retire; in fact, the Reagan appointee may now decide to stay on until 2017, in the hopes that a Republican president may be elected. Bottom line: It is entirely possible that Obama could leave the White House four years from now having named, perhaps, more than half of the entire Supreme Court. It is that possibility, more than anything else, that may allow the president to leave his stamp on the nation for decades to come.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Is 'feminism' just another word for 'liberalism'?
- What political elites don't understand about Scotland's push for independence
- Obama knows he can't really 'defeat' ISIS. Americans need to wake up to that reality, too.
- The U.S. dollar has been strengthening for 3 straight years! (That's not good news.)
- Why gay people of color are still losing
Subscribe to the Week