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Saturday, Nov 10 2012 10:00 PM

BRETT JOSHPE: What Republicans learned

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    Brett Joshpe

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The results of the 2012 election are in, and they are clear. Four years of Republican efforts to unseat President Obama and hundreds of millions in campaign spending later, America has responded with its answer: "No, thank you." The debate about who should lead the country may be over, but the postmortems are just beginning. Where does the Republican Party go? Where is America headed? What does this election really mean? These are the questions that will linger long past Barack Obama's second inauguration, and I humbly offer my opinions.

The pundits and strategists were wrong; Nate Silver was right. I, too, wanted to believe that the polls were wrong. I wanted to believe that Dick Morris actually had some notion of what he was talking about and that even if a Romney landslide wasn't in the cards, a close victory might be. And I hoped that the highly paid campaign strategists would prove to be money well spent in the end. I was dreaming. Lesson: trust science and math, not emotion. For Republicans, this truism should apply in more ways than one, as the perceived war on science is clearly not going over well with the electorate. And Nate Silver of The New York Times' 538 Blog, please accept my apologies. You look like a modern-day Galileo right now and your conservative critics Roman inquisitors.

Don't blame the mainstream media or Hurricane Sandy. Had the election been close, the result conceivably could have been attributable to Hurricane Sandy. It was not, and voters all across the country, from Wisconsin to Florida to Colorado--areas totally unaffected by the hurricane--simply rejected what Republicans were selling them both on the presidential and congressional tickets. Similarly, CNN and CBS didn't dupe Americans into voting the way they did because of their pro-Obama slant. If anything, based on the results, it appears the MSM is just giving viewers what they want. There's a reason Glenn Beck doesn't appear on network prime-time anymore.

Relegate social conservatives and tea partyers. Already, conservatives and tea partyers are asserting that this once again proves moderates cannot win and that McCain and Romney were centrists who could not mobilize "the base." Unless the Republican Party wants permanent regional status, it is time to stop letting the tail wag the dog. Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle in 2010; Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in 2012; need we say more? This is an element that managed, in an election that was supposed to be all about the economy and the 8 percent unemployment rate, to make abortion a major issue in the final days. The marginalization of those who are pro-choice, gay, or moderate, like Scott Brown -- and the reaction by some that now is the time to double-down -- betrays a politics that is completely out of touch. And while the conventional political wisdom says the gay marriage issue helped George W. Bush win re-election in 2004 by increasing voter turnout, it is a losing issue that is killing the party now.

Republicans need to build coalitions. Along that line, Republicans need to build coalitions if we want to win national elections. We need more moderates, more urban voters, more pro-choice voters, more female voters. We certainly need more Hispanics, and, quite frankly, we need more of the middle class. We need more people to feel like they have enough invested in the system that they want to preserve it. That is, after all, the essence of conservatism.

Nothing changes everything. Sept. 11 was supposed to change everything. Just a decade later, foreign policy and terrorism seemed like afterthoughts in the election. 2004 was supposed to usher in a new era of liberal governance, and, just as quickly, 2008 was supposedly the beginning of a conservative tsunami. Both sentiments proved short-lived.

2012 was also supposed to be the most important election of our lifetimes, a debate about the trajectory of America. It was not. In reality, this was an election about small ideas, not big ones. There was never a serious debate about how really to address things like Social Security, entitlements, unions, pensions, health care, or even Islamic extremism. In fact, both candidates staked significant parts of their campaign on convincing voters they would preserve Medicare and competing for the mantle of "less change." This became a mundane election about tax rates for those making $250,000 and how to handle sequestration.

Americans pretend that they want to talk about big ideas, but actually doing so becomes pretty uncomfortable. For conservatives who value slow change at the unsteady hands of government, perhaps there is a silver lining in that. In either case, it is neither morning in America nor twilight, although it may approach the latter for us Republicans if we do not learn some important lessons soon.

Brett Joshpe is an attorney and co-author, with S.E. Cupp, of the book "Why You're Wrong About the Right." He wrote this for Politico.

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