Sunday, 11 November 2012

Why the Really Bad News for the Republicans is the Other November 2012 US Election (and it was mostly their own fault!)

by Simon Lemieux

The new senator from Wisconsin, Democrat Tammy
Baldwin (left), will be the first openly gay member of the
US Senate (image: 
What is clear now the dust has settled on the 2012 Presidential election, is that Barack Obama has been returned to the White House, if not emphatically then at least uncontroversially. There will be none of the long drawn out judicial sagas of 2000 that some were predicting. The battalions of legal briefs waiting in the wings can be stood down at least for now. None of the swing states such as Ohio or Virginia went Romney’s way nor came really close to doing so. In both of those key states for example, Obama held on with a lead of 3%. Indeed all that the Republicans managed to achieve was to re-capture two traditionally GOP states namely Indiana and North Carolina. Although most presidents who win a second term, do so on an increased share of the vote (think Reagan in 1984, Clinton in 1996 and Bush in 2004) for Obama to secure a second term on an only slightly reduced share of the vote is no mean feat. He achieved this feat against an economy with high unemployment and no clear light at the end of the economic recession tunnel. Also a recent opinion poll had the majority of the population believing that the US is headed in the wrong direction. But the rest of this piece will argue that disappointing though this defeat will undoubtedly be for Romney and the Republicans, their real problems have only just begun.
In one sense the 2012 election brought no real changes at any level: control of the White House and both houses of Congress stayed where they were with the same party. But the most profound changes might with hindsight be seen in the Senate elections. Remarkably in the circumstances, the Democrats have picked up a net gain of 2 seats bringing their tally up to 53. This is despite predictions that the Republicans would increase their number and possibly even seize control of the Senate. So where did it all go wrong?
Todd Akin and prescient sign
In short, they lost a number of key races most notably Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri. Some of these defeats can be put down to bad luck, Democrat strengths etc. But the last two contests, Indiana and Missouri cannot. They were to use the soccer analogy, own goals by the Republicans. Why? In essence, Republican activists many of them Tea Party supporters, chose to select very conservative Republican candidates who proved unpalatable to a less extreme wider electorate. In Indiana, the GOP candidate, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, lost much support by his controversial comments that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended.”  In Missouri another conservative Republican Todd Akin, fatally damaged his candidacy back in August when he said women who are victims of “legitimate rape” would not get pregnant. The words might have been slightly misquoted and apologies and clarifications were subsequently issued, but the political damage had already been done. What makes the Indiana example all the more self-defeating for the GOP is that Mourdock had defeated the distinguished six-term incumbent Republican senator Richard Lugar in the primaries. In 2006, Lugar had held his seat unopposed by the Democrats and while ready to work with Democrats on some issues such as nuclear proliferation, he was hardly a liberal Republican or RINO ("Republican in name only"). Yet the votes of 400,321 Republicans (in a state with a population of around six and a half million) in the Senate primary election held in May, managed to remove Lugar as Republican candidate, on the grounds that he was not conservative enough. Result – ideological purity but electoral defeat.
Now the emblem of the Republican Party is the elephant and elephants never forget. But the Republicans appear to done just that. This is not the first time their Tea Party activists have selected unpalatably conservative Republicans who then go on to lose winnable states to Democrats. Back in the 2010 mid-terms we had Sharron Angle losing out to Harry Reid in Nevada and Ken Buck being defeated in Colorado. Most entertainingly for my money was Delaware State where GOP candidate Christina O’Donnell came out with those convincing opening words, ‘I’m not a witch, I’m you’. Her spell however failed to work with the voters, and what had been seen as an open race, resulted in a pretty easy Democrat hold. So, the GOP failed to gain control of the Senate in the 2010 mid-terms (although to be fair they did pick a few seats) and they fell back in 2012. Where does the finger fairly point?  The answer – die-hard conservative Republicans who on occasion select what might charitably be termed ‘less than electable’ candidates.
The Supreme Court was at the heart of Democrat
Elizabeth Warren's successful Senate campaign against
Republican Scott Brown, in Massachusetts.
But so what if the Republicans have failed (again) to seize back control of the Senate?  The best answer in two words is the Supreme Court. When a vacancy occurs (through death or resignation), the President appoints the new justice (judge) and the Senate must confirm by a simple majority. The current composition of the 9 strong court is finely balanced between liberals and conservatives. Two of the three oldest justices (Scalia and Kennedy are both currently aged 76) are conservative/centrist – were one or both to die or retire within the next four years, Obama could appoint (and a Democrat controlled Senate would in all likelihood ratify) more liberal justices in their place. His legacy would be long lasting too – not for nothing is the Supreme Court known as the ‘echo chamber’ of former presidents. The GOP might well win back the White House in 2016 and possibly the Senate too. But by then it might too late. Ultimately the Supreme Court ends up deciding the constitutionality of most of America’s political ‘hot potatoes’.  Health care reforms, gay marriage, gun laws, legalising marijuana, prayers in school, abortion, all those social and political issues that right-wing Republicans get so worked up about, have/will probably end up in the Supreme Court in due course, in some cases yet again. As the court essentially decides what the US Constitution says about all these issues, control of Congress and the Presidency could be of little help here to the Republicans. By all means expect the Republican House of Representatives to make trouble for Obama over the next two years at least, but it is a very real possibility that a liberal leaning Supreme Court could make life even more difficult for any future Republican administration. That is why ultimately perhaps, the elections that mattered the most in some ways were those for the Senate. The court of history will deliver its judgement in due course I guess.
NB GOP is shorthand for Grand Old Party, a popular term for the Republicans

Read Will Wallace on Why Obama's Re-election Matters

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