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OPINION: What Both Democrats And Republicans Can Learn From The 2012 Election

Photo: Telegram.

By Dr. Robert Moore, The Raleigh Telegram

RALEIGH – We are a divided and fractious electorate, but most of us share a common relief that the 2012 election is over. Nonetheless, the November 6th results are surprisingly illuminating and suggest we have much to understand about our country and ourselves.


Mitt Romney and his associates were “shell-shocked” by the swiftness and magnitude of their loss to President Obama. A senior Romney adviser told Jan Crawford of CBS News that they went into the evening of Election Day confident of a good path to victory. Another Romney aide acknowledged, “There’s nothing worse than when you think you’re going to win, and you don’t. It was like a sucker punch.”

Why was the Romney camp so confident? They had large and enthusiastic crowds in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and other swing states. Tens of millions of dollars supported omnipresent television ads. The money came from mega donors and super PACs, especially Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and an affiliated operation, Crossroads GPS.


Like many, I believed the unprecedented flood of money might carry the day for Romney and Republican Senatorial candidates. However, Obama crushed Romney in electoral votes, 332 to 206; and, he deflated the widespread expectation that Romney might win the popular vote by surpassing his challenger 51% to 48%.

Paradoxically, Republicans sustained their hold on the House of Representatives. By controlling the 2011-2012 redistricting process in many states, they laid the groundwork for this achievement. They also recruited and funded the right candidates for their respective districts.

Additionally, by winning North Carolina and other governorships, the GOP extended its control to 30 state houses.


Not only did the Republicans’ best-known strategist, Karl Rove, overestimate the influence of ubiquitous TV advertising in the presidential race, he underestimated the power of the Democrat ground game. He and others also did not appreciate deficiencies in the GOP’s message to a changing American voter base.

After 2008, President Obama’s campaign team continued strengthening its organization. Paid staffers, backed by tens of thousands of volunteers, gathered data on likely Obama supporters, then set about cultivating their support.

As Amy Gardner reports, the Obama campaign assembled teams of analysts and lawyers who “studied the projections, the laws and the electorates in each battleground” and they “prepared for every contingency.” Crucially, they got their voters to the polls.

Republican National Committee official, Sean Spicer, conceded, “They won . . . if the other team outdoes you, they’ll win the game.” The GOP chattering class was less sanguine. Rush Limbaugh intoned, “We’re outnumbered . . . we’ve lost the country.”

Ann Coulter despaired, “There is no hope” because if Mitt Romney “cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached.” Bill O’Reilly declared ominously, “The white establishment is now the minority . . . the demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”


A key Republican get-out-the vote initiative, dubbed “Orca,” was designed to monitor precincts in various closely contested states. However, Neil King, Jr. of The Wall Street Journal found that in the critical state of Ohio, Orca fell apart in the days preceding the election.

King said, “The program failed for a variety of reasons, some computer-related and some due to poor organization” which “deprived thousands of volunteers of tools they needed at polling locations.” In contrast, the Democrats extensive voter-mobilization effort worked impressively.

Yet another challenge for Republicans, over 75,000 Ohio citizens declined to cast a vote for any presidential candidate.


Although operational strategies and tactics are essential to the story, a more historic and prophetic element is what the 2012 outcome reveals about the changing American electorate.

Peggy Noonan, a former Ronald Reagan aide and caustic critic of President Obama, describes the Republican political operative class as “in charge, supremely confident, essentially clueless.”

She called on fellow Republicans to face facts: “America has changed and is changing, culturally, ethnically—we all know this.” The party’s candidates and professionals, “will have to put aside their pride, lose their assumptions . . . work harder, better, go broader and deeper.”

Former George W. Bush aide, Karen Hughes, expressed frustration more graphically: “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue.” It is fair to surmise that Ms. Hughes may actually want to aim lower.


The notion that economics trumps all concerns was partly overturned this fall by those who focused on individual voters and their communities.

Professor Niall Ferguson concedes that having a convincing economics message helps. A distinguished Harvard scholar and fervent Republican, Ferguson observed: “Running on the economy doesn’t work if people remember your own party’s role in screwing it up and think improvement is in sight.”

He also echoes a common post-election refrain: “Demographic trends doom any Republican campaign that appeals more to white males than to any other voter group.” Unique among recent American elections, dramatic demographic shifts were crucial to this fall’s election. Let’s consider some of the most instructive ones:

Margins of victory for Mitt Romney throughout the mid- and Deep South were even larger than the lopsided ones for John McCain in 2008. Growing conservative Republican domination of the South was also evidenced in races for local and statewide offices.

New Hampshire became the first state to send an all-female delegation to Congress.

In January, we will have 20 female U. S. Senators: 16 Democrats and just 4 Republicans.

Out of almost 200 Democratic Representatives in the House, there will be 43 blacks, 27 Latinos, 10 Asian Americans, and 61 women (white and nonwhite). White men will be a minority.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) warns, “Our party is too dependent on a shrinking population of rural white male voters. We have to do a better job of being relevant to Hispanics, young people and women voters.”

The President’s four million small donors (who gave a few hundred dollars or less) contributed about 56% of his fundraising. Romney depended largely on a relative handful of wealthy donors

According to The New York Times, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads “spent $104 million in the general election, but none of its candidates won.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $24 million “backing Republicans in 15 Senate races; only two of them won.”

Polling specialist, Marjorie Connelly, found that as in 2008 few voters crossed party lines. This fall, half of all Roman Catholics backed Obama, but 59% of white Catholics voted for Romney. Connelly notes that this is the “highest proportion a Republican has received since exit polling started in 1972.”

Romney did much better among independents than John McCain did in 2008. Many believed this would prove decisive for the GOP.

However, lack of support from blacks, women, Hispanics and Asian- Americans undermined Romney’s chances. Additionally, he received 2 million fewer total votes than McCain did in 2008.

George W. Bush won 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; Romney won 27%. Hispanics apparently remembered his policy of “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants.

The Washington Post reported that 89% of those voting for Romney were non-Hispanic whites. In 1992, whites made up 87% of the electorate. This percentage has dropped steadily; it was 72% in 2012.


In the election’s aftershocks, many Republicans have bitterly criticized Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, Paul Ryan and other party luminaries. They are faulted for presiding over the loss to a president saddled with a near 8% unemployment rate.

However, political analyst, Chris Cillizza, notes that the Republicans “were operating on an incredibly narrow electoral map.” They essentially needed a sweep of nine swing states, including Florida, Ohio and Colorado. The GOP’s future Electoral College prospects appear even grimmer. The party’s challenge is now to acknowledge, and deal with, its escalating demographic disadvantages.

When I speak privately with GOP stalwarts, many appear bewildered by the election results. It would have been bad enough to have the President re-elected by a narrow electoral margin with a split in the popular vote. That Romney lost both decisively leaves many incredulous.

In unguarded moments, the visceral questions some ask include: “Who are Obama voters? Where do they come from?” Such questions echo a frequently expressed view of the President as “the other” or echo the discredited view of him as the one “who was not born here.”

Answering queries about “who” are Obama voters is complex, yet fundamental.

They are — we all are — America in the 21st century. We will either address our country’s problems together or be done in by them. Few among us will escape the consequences.  ::

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Robert H. Moore, our national columnist, worked in New York and Washington, DC as a senior executive for Alexander & Alexander, a risk management and human resources services firm which is now a part of Aon Corporation. He was a faculty member at the Universities of Wisconsin and Maryland and at West Point, where he served as a U.S. Army Captain. He is coauthor of two award-winning books, Spreading the Risks: Insuring the American Experience (with Jack Bogardus) and School For Soldiers: West Point and the Profession of Arms (with Joseph Ellis).

Article Posted: Tuesday, November 20th, 2012.

One Response to OPINION: What Both Democrats And Republicans Can Learn From The 2012 Election

  1. Dale Bell

    November 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Dr. Moore, that’s the “Democratic” party to you.