5 Election Day lessons for the GOP

Tuesday didn't turn out the way Republicans hoped. What can they learn from this debacle to improve their odds the next time around?

Mitt Romney pauses during his concession speech on Nov. 6: After coming up well short in battles for the Senate and White House, the GOP has some serious soul-searching to do.
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republicans' high hopes for this year's elections have been dashed. President Obama was struggling with low approval ratings, and the middling state of the economy seemed certain to drive voters into Mitt Romney's camp. There were enough vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election that the GOP was understandably bullish about its prospects of seizing control of the Senate, which, with their strong House majority safe, would have given them newfound power to accomplish conservatives' mission to slash taxes and spending. Yet Obama beat Romney with a solid majority in the Electoral College, along with an edge in the popular vote, and Democrats added to their narrow Senate majority thanks to a string of victories in high-profile races in Massachusetts, Montana, Connecticut, Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri. What happened? Here, five lessons Republicans should take away from their losses:

1. The GOP has a huge Latino problem

Latino voters account for 10 percent of the electorate, and their share is growing every year, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. The GOP's harsh positions on immigration helped Obama win 69 percent of Latinos' votes. Romney got just 29 percent. The GOP's "huge Hispanic problem" was the reason Florida was a tossup, and it will be enough to make once deep-red Arizona a swing state in 2016. "Texas could even be a swing state by 2020 unless Republicans" see the writing on the wall and find a way to make inroads with Latinos. "The Republican Party simply cannot lose 7 in 10 Hispanic voters in elections and expect to be a viable national party in 2016, 2020, and beyond."

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2. Conservatives must soften their rhetoric on abortion

The biggest lesson "from this debacle," says Joe Battenfeld at The Boston Herald, is that the GOP needs to start winning back women. Putting more women like Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) into GOP leadership positions would be a nice start. Symbolism only goes so far, though. The GOP also has to shed policies that fuel charges that "the party is unfriendly toward women," and one way to do that is to "reassess their hard-line position against abortion rights." At the very least, staunchly anti-abortion Republicans need to stop pushing "the rhetorical envelope" when they talk about banning abortion, and whether there should be exceptions in cases of rape, says Lindsey Meeks at The Seattle Times. As Todd Akin found out in Missouri after making his comments about "legitimate rape," and as Richard Mourdock learned in Indiana when he said pregnancies from rape are "something God intended," when you're dealing with a sensitive topic and you use insensitive words, you lose.

3. The GOP nominee has to be more aggressive

The thing that sank Mitt Romney, says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, was that "instead of playing to win, he appeared much of the time — as did Paul Ryan — to play not to lose." Nowhere was this more visible than in the third and final debate, "when Romney let Obama slide on Benghazi." Obama's mishandling of the attack that killed our Libyan ambassador and three other Americans left him "mortally vulnerable" on this issue, yet Romney gave him a pass in a bid to play it safe by looking presidential. Let's hope the party's next nominee will treat his Democratic opponent "as aggressively as he'll (she'll?) have treated the other Republican candidates that he beat to win the nomination."

4. Lying doesn't work

The Romney campaign's "most shocking strategy" was acting like "winning was more important than truth," says Robert L. Cavnar at The Huffington Post. Romney "freely lied about the president, the economy, welfare reform, the auto bailout, major companies, history, and even Americans themselves. He flipped on every single social issue that he had advocated as governor of Massachusetts and stridently concealed his own tax records." When confronted, he doubled down and told stretched the truth even further. In the end, though, Romney's failure to be straight with voters "badly damaged his reputation" — and proved to be a losing strategy.

5. Republicans need to stop ripping each other apart in primaries

Republicans, says Battenfeld at The Boston Herald, must "stop engaging in ridiculous primary fights." Everybody knew from the get-go that Romney was going to be the Republican nominee. He was clearly the most electable candidate in the field. But that didn't stop "ego-driven Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum" from viciously tearing him apart for months. They forced Romney to overtly appeal to conservative primary voters "when he should have been honing his message to moderates," doing serious damage to his prospects in the general election against Obama. "Newt, Donald Trump, Karl Rove, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum all need to step aside. It's time to put a new face on the GOP."

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