Donna Brazile: Bad night for partisanship
Election night was a good night for moderates.
It was a bad night for conservatives.
It was the worst night for partisanship.
Steve Schmidt, Sen. John McCain’s campaign manager of 2008, in an interview a few days after that election, said, “The Republican Party wants to, needs to be able to represent, you know, not only conservatives, but centrists as well. And the party that controls the center is the party that controls the American electorate.
The Republican Party should have listened to Schmidt. Instead, they catered to its far-right conservative and libertarian base, a mere 20 percent of the electorate. The Republican base is out of step with an America that is emerging into a 21st century destiny as a broader, multicultural, diverse, yet united nation.
But the Republicans, led primarily by the legendary GOP political strategist Karl Rove, devised a strategy of alienating and obstructing this emerging majority.
For the last four years, Rove, along with many of his allies, pursued a slash-and-burn strategy that was clothed in the language of bipartisanship, but had as its core objective a “severely conservative” divide-and-conquer agenda.
President Obama, a pragmatist, found himself having to deal with two major political parties that are becoming more extreme, ideological and rigid in their agendas. Political scientists, pollsters and political veterans are aware that moderate voters gathered in the middle under the label of “independents,” while both parties moved toward opposite extremes.
Obama has kept a firm hand steering his presidency in moderation, even while being portrayed as “European,” (Mitch McConnell), “Kenyan” (Newt Gingrich), communist and/or fascist or criminal (Rush Limbaugh), even while fending off liberals in his own party who felt him too uncomfortably close to some Bush Administration policies.
Yet for every move to the left that the Democratic Congress took, the Republicans took five steps to the right. “Governor, the ’80s are calling,” Obama said to Mitt Romney in the second debate. “They want their foreign policy back.” Obama could also have said, “The 1880s are calling; they want their robber baron policies back.”
During the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney chose to cater to the Republican base, which consists mostly of white, anti-immigrant, anti-labor, anti-women, anti-gay, business-oriented males, who believe the economic elite drive America’s economy. After securing the nomination, Romney attempted to move to the middle in language, while still advocating conservative policies. By so doing, Romney created personal distrust as a man who would say or do anything to get elected. This became public opinion — even among Republicans — as measured by polling. Trust became a central issue.
Romney succeeded only in carrying those states where mostly white, socially conservative, middle-aged and elderly Americans live. Obama, by contrast, expanded his coalition of Hispanics, African-Americans, women, youth, middle-class and blue-collar whites — the latter voters being a singular success in Ohio, where he saved auto workers’ jobs along with their industry. It was Ohio and other Midwestern Rust Belt states that put Obama into the winner’s column.
“We are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people,” Obama said on Election Night. The American family now includes growing minority groups that will become the majority by 2050, according to projections. Obama captured 75 percent of the Hispanic vote; even garnering 47 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida, which traditionally votes Republican.
Now pundits are saying Obama, while re-elected, achieved no mandate. Yet Obama carried 50.4 percent of the popular vote as of Nov. 7. Compare that to George W. Bush’s 50.7 percent of the popular vote in 2004 — a percentage he said earned him “political capital” that he was going to spend.
Elections change things. The changes are not always visible immediately. This election is every bit as important as both candidates said it would be. Voters faced a choice between a Republican Party that has become increasingly exclusionary, ideological and immoderate, and the Democratic Party that Obama has been expanding and pulling to the center.
The choice was made, and however slim, it constitutes a mandate. For the direction we are heading, we should listen carefully to Obama’s election night speech:
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world. ...
“We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward. That’s where we need to go.”
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.