So how does a President with historically high unemployment, a vastly unpopular domestic policy record, no plan for a second term and an electorate that believes the country is on the wrong track win a second term – and win decisively?
A year ago, pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell co-authored an editorial for The Wall Street Journal in which they opined that President Obama could only win reelection by running “the most negative campaign in history,” and that the political damage following such a campaign would leave him unable to govern in a second term.
It was one of the boldest predictions of the election season – and it was right.
No sooner had Mitt Romney secured the Republican nomination than Team Obama hit him with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of negative advertisements casting Romney as, as Haley Barbour put it, a “wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian.”
The Obama blitzkrieg defined Mitt Romney before he could define himself. And despite an inspired first debate performance, he never recovered.
According to the Obama campaign, Mitt Romney was a corporate raider and a vulture capitalist, and he was coming after your contraception.
And then Obama had the gall in his acceptance speech to tell his supporters that they voted against “politics as usual.”
In the same speech, Obama said he was “looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties” and “sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together.”
His first-term record doesn’t suggest that he’ll keep the first promise. Does anybody really believe he’ll keep the second?
Even as he celebrated, Obama was well aware that the nation is more deeply divided than it was when he got here.
Obama is now the only President in history to be elected to a second term with fewer popular votes than he won in his first term, and just the second to be elected to a second term with fewer electoral votes than he won in his first term (the other was Woodrow Wilson in 1916).
2012 was not a wave election like 2010. While hundreds of millions of dollars worth of negative ads beat back Mitt Romney in swing states and dragged down Republicans at all levels of the ballot, the House of Representatives is still firmly in Republican control.
Yes, the demographics are shifting. The Republican Party has work to do, particularly in terms of making inroads with the Hispanic community and women.
But 2012 is not evidence of the sort of “permanent realignment” in favor of the Democrats that James Carville predicted in the aftermath of Obama’s 2008 victory.
Already, the Republican Party has more Hispanic statewide elected officials than the Democrats.
We gained one more when Hispanic Republican Ted Cruz won a Texas senate seat in overwhelming victory Tuesday night. He joins a deep bench of up-and-coming minority Republican leaders including Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval, Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal.
The Republican Party is in better shape for the future than it might seem in the aftermath of a big night for the Democrats.
We were beat back in 2012 by a negative assault from an entrenched incumbent, but Obama is a President who only pays lip service to bipartisanship, and whose sole justification for a second term was an ad hominem onslaught on his opponent.
America’s partisan divide is now so wide that it may be beyond Obama’s political skills to bridge.
The President will reap more partisan gridlock from his decidedly negative reelection campaign. And in 2014, Republicans will reap control of the Senate and in 2016, the Presidency.
David Laska is Communications Director of the New York State Republican Party.