I have not called this op-ed “What the Election Meant.” That might be a bit grandiose for the day after. But Nov. 6, 2012 definitely taught us some things we must not ignore.
First and possibly foremost, stuff happens. In this case it was a hurricane. Sandy kept Mitt Romney off TV for five crucial days, days which, without Sandy, would almost certainly have seen Romney’s lead solidify and grow.
Instead, Barack Obama had a rare (and rarely taken) chance to look truly presidential, for the entire last week of the campaign, with zero competition. He did take it, aided indelibly by visuals of a certain portly Republican firebrand governor fawning all over his presidential greatness.
Which is the second half of this lesson: Sandy may have put Obama over the top. It may also have relegated Chris Christie to the list of also-rans.
Second, this election was not some massive failure by Mitt Romney. It’s always easy to dump on the loser, but the truth is, Romney ran a solid campaign – despite all the Monday morning quarterbacking you are now hearing – and got beaten.
Should he have avoided dumb mistakes like the 47% rant? Sure, just as Obama should have avoided telling people to vote out of “revenge.”
This election meant that we aren’t doing our jobs. It meant that from the Beltway to the Baptist church to each of our boardrooms and break rooms, the free ride is over.
Should he have driven harder at Obama in the third debate? Maybe in hindsight, but it was a reasonably smart strategy at the time.
Welcome to the NFL.
Third, let’s just say it: Obama knocked it out of the park. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, to a lesser degree Michigan and Minnesota should have been in play.
North Carolina and Florida certainly should not have been in play: they certainly were.
This is a testament to an amazing organizational effort which, unlike anything remotely similar on our side (hint: there wasn’t anything remotely similar on our side), started sometime in 2007 and never shut down.
MoveOn and Organizing for America (OFA), not to mention ACORN (or whatever it calls itself now) and a host of other groups just never went home: they dug in to win, maintaining field offices and staff without a break. And we didn’t. We never do and never have. But it’s a new world, and the old rules don’t work anymore.
Which brings us to:
Fourth, the Democrats continue to dominate in technology.
If Republican leaders think of technology at all, they think top-down (lists) and broadcasting (alternate media). They aren’t wrong to think of these things: they’re just leaving oh so much on the table: it’s kind of like using your iPad as a hammer, or perhaps only using it to play Pong.
The Internet is about mass communities, networking, conversation, organizing. But these things threaten the Republican establishment’s pecking order and income stream. It is a massive case of “not invented here.”
The Internet is also about Big Data, and therefore microtargeting. But the GOP is largely lacking this political atomic bomb because they continue to ignore Silicon Valley or anyone else outside the Beltway consultancy class.
By contrast, a Facebook co-founder was drafted to run Obama’s Internet campaign in 2007; and in 2012, media reports indicate that 34 Facebook executives and staff took leadership roles on the campaign.
If there’s a well-recognized “enthusiasm gap,” and you need that few extra points at the margin, an extremely organized well-oiled machine of millions of passionate volunteers, expertly-trained in what to do, equipped with the very most advanced tools, and intrinsically prone to creativity and initiative might just be your margin of victory. And moreover, at some point, if you keep ignoring a development of such magnitude while the other side keeps using it against you, your outdated tactics start making you look like the Polish Cavalry being mowed down by German tanks.
We have reached that point.
It will get worse.
Fifth, the now near-total bias of the media represents something like a trillion-dollar in-kind contribution to the left.
Could Sandy have possibly helped Obama if it had been covered like Katrina? If billionaires like Donald Trump really want to change things, they should send less money to the Kochs and Crossroads (not that Trump patronizes either) and takeover CBS or NBC instead.
Creating more balance in the media – not through some bogus “Fairness Doctrine” censorship scheme but through private establishment of diverse media – would utterly remake America.
Sixth, minorities were 26% of the vote, but are 51% of live births. Republicans do not have to abandon their principles, but they absolutely must mend fences with Hispanics and Latinos in particular. This will require creativity. But time is running out; indeed, it may have run out this year. Which is also…
Seventh, a case for the church and social conservatives. Take for instance, oh, Hispanics (!), many of whom find libertarian and Randian appeals to be heartless and foul – even (ironically) as so many of them are capitalists in every possible sense – but who respond extremely well to engagement on social issues; and indeed, 85% of Hispanic and Latino Americans who convert to Evangelical, Reformed or Pentecostal Christianity also start voting Republican.
But if there’s a case to be made for the church, there’s also a twofold lesson for it.
Lesson one: Half of Evangelicals still aren’t voting, and that’s the direct responsibility of cowardly clergy, who value their tax status and their cushy jobs above applying God’s truth to the life-and-death issues before us, not least in this election being Obama’s assault on religious liberties.
And lesson two? The inescapable conclusion of that statistic a couple paragraphs back about Hispanic voting: Pastors, your stagnant church attendance and faithlessness in taking the Gospel to your city, state and country is a self-executing curse. When you stubbornly disobey Christ’s Great Commission, Christ increasingly swallows you up in a nation of unbelievers who revile you and everything you believe in.
Oh wait, that was “What the Election Meant” after all. This election meant that we aren’t doing our jobs. It meant that from the Beltway to the Baptist church to each of our boardrooms and break rooms, the free ride is over. We can still win America. We can still maintain what the Founding Fathers bequeathed us. But not by waiting for someone else to do it, not by slopping through with half-measures and not by “throw money at it” schemes.
We have to decide to bring our A Game. And then we – all of us, each and every one – have to live up to our responsibilities as Americans and get to work.