Written on November 29, 2012 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in International Relations

Now that Obama has won re-election, those many of us confounded by and dismayed at the perversion of American political discourse over the last decade(s) can now enjoy the spectacle of a Republican Party crashing into the wall of electoral reality. A curiosity of this election season was the apparently genuine conviction by many on the right that polls showing an Obama victory were so distorted that not only were they inaccurately forecasting the president’s reelection, they were actually masking a sweeping victory for the Republicans. It is not unusual for partisans to insist their side will win, of course, in order to keep their voters enthused and willing to make the effort to cast their ballot. But this was no mere lip service in the face of secretly-acknowledged defeat, but rather a spirited conviction that, to quote Steven Colbert, the reality reflected in the polling had a well-known liberal bias.

Eric Boehlert, chief bottle washer at Media Matters, has suggested it was “blinding contempt for President Obama that led so many [conservative] pundits astray.” That the Republican commentariat has had blinding and irrational contempt for the president is beyond doubt, and this was partially to blame. But I think there is a deeper force at work here. These people live in a reality that they have been actively reconstituting for years now. They have summoned an image of the popular landscape that they know, deep in their hearts, to be true. And despite all indications from the polls to the contrary, they were able to press any number of arguments to the service of that truth, most of which have been resounding along the walls of the echo chamber which they collectively inhabit.

Put simply, claims of a Romney landslide were predicated on the deeply-held Republican axiom that America remains a place where traditionalist white voters determine electoral outcomes. Now they are surely not blind to demographic realities that show, for example, growing hispanic populations. Instead, they convinced themselves that these people would be self-marginalising.  Thus, despite an increasing pluralistic America, Republicans crafted a political strategy that simply ignored that reality because they made the fatal and fateful assumption that such people would absent themselves from political life. In the context of Republican heuristics, this is an easy assumption to make. After all, they are the shiftless  47%, takers not makers, unpatriotic scroungers too busy counting their foodstamps, or encouraging illegal immigrants to flood the border, or getting degrees from high-falutin’ Ivy League colleges to actually vote. Instead it is the core constituency – white America – that remains the most important, determinant part of the electoral equation. In every single case, self-deluded Republican pundits screeched of an election landslide for Romney based on a reading of the American electorate that augmented the presence of their (white) voters and discounted the impact of everyone else. Dick Morris, one of those who promised electoral euphoria for Republicans, said it well, in his mea culpa on (what else) Fox News: “I under-counted the minority turnout and women and young people, single women.”

Minorities, women, young people. Oh yea, them.

So two problems now. First, white voters are not monolithic (except perhaps in the deepest shade of red states), even when, by Republican logic, they are supposed to be. You can check out Republican dismay at the fact that Obama narrowly won the (mostly white) Catholic vote. Apparently deranged shouting about the evils of abortion is not enough to convince Catholics to vote for you to a man (and certainly not to a woman). But much worse than that, the other constituencies that don’t appear in Republican reality, these constituencies now are quite monolithic. And this is surely in large part because the policies and discourse of the Republican Party are repugnant to them.

It is now the unavoidable contrast between America as it is and the reconstituted reality of the American right that has the GOP mired in a well-earned dismay. For they now have to confront a most uncomfortable truth. That they are on the wrong side of the demographic trend is bad. But they have made it almost impossible to redefine themselves in order to make the party seem less anathema to these voters is far worse. It would be one thing if these voters that Dick Morris forgot, minorities, women, young people, were thinking “I won’t vote for the Republicans because of policy x, y or z.” But instead it looks like the sentiment is becoming (or has become) “I won’t vote for the Republicans because I am a minority, a woman, or young.” If true, that kind of entrenched identity politics will be apocalyptic for the party. Frankly, it is a well-deserved fate.


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