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Divided U.S. government reelected

REUTERS/Jason Reed
President Barack Obama surrounded by his family during his election night victory rally in Chicago.

On the very slight chance that you have come here to find out: President Obama was reelected Tuesday. He appears to have won a bare majority in the national popular vote (50.1 percent to 48.4 percent for Mitt Romney as of this writing), but it translated into a solid 332-206 electoral vote margin.

It appears that, against all expectations a few months ago, the Democrats will increase their Senate majority from the current 53-47 to a likely 55-45, if very shaky leads for the Dem candidates hold up in North Dakota and Montana and assuming that Maine independent senator-elect Angus King decides to caucus with the Dems, as seems likely. The likely two-seat pickup doesn’t translate into a significantly higher level of control, and certainly is not filibuster-proof, but considering that the Dems were defending 23 of the 33 Senate seats on the ballot, I’m surprised that they managed to gain any ground.

The new Senate will have 20 women, which is by far a record. Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin becomes the first openly gay member of the Senate in history.

Republicans maintained solid control of the U.S. House, although the final numbers are still moving. Several of the few remaining moderates of both parties were defeated by more liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans, which, on its face, will not make the search for compromise any easier.

In fact, before continuing with the details of the Election Night results, let’s just make this point loud and clear. Divided government was reelected Tuesday. Neither party has the votes to impose its will. The country faces large questions, starting immediately with the infamous “fiscal cliff” scenario, which will have to be faced even before the newly elected members can be sworn in.

In the next few days, a lot of nice statements will be made about the importance of bipartisanship and reasonable compromise. But Congressional Republicans have spent four years – and especially the last two since they took control of the House in 2010 – on a no-compromise strategy, especially on the inadmissibility of any tax increases. It seems likely that Obama and the Dems are prepared to also draw some lines – especially on the necessity of including a tax increase on top incomes as part of any fiscal deal.

The next three months will give us an updated picture of the new norms in the era of gridlock. But if anything changes, it won’t be because the electorate settled it by picking the vision of one party over the other. The electorate, once again, picked the neither/both option.

Back to the presidential race

As you have heard the pundits say, no president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the middle of the Great Depression has been reelected with a national unemployment rate as high as the current 7.9 percent rate. Exit polls suggest that voters did decide that the majority of the political blame for the lousy economy should be allocated to former President George W. Bush, rather than to Obama, despite Romney’s persistent effort to turn the vote into a referendum on the economy. Exit polls also indicated that voters were almost evenly divided about who would do a better job handling the economy.

On CNN, Republican operative Alex Castellanos said: “Right now, my silent majority that I hoped would be there — it’s not only silent, it’s invisible.”

A lot of the analysis was about race and ethnicity. The Republican Party remains the overwhelming choice of white Americans. The Dems are the overwhelming choice of blacks and Latinos. The demographics of the nation are changing so deeply and even quickly that this simple statement spells a lot of future trouble for Repubs unless they figure out how to appeal to non-whites. On ABC, Ron Brownstein said “if you can win Florida with 38 percent of the white vote, it’s a pretty ominous sign for Republicans.” And George Will seconded that motion.

The gender gap was also huge, with women breaking big for Dems and men for Repubs. Although when you add the married/unmarried layer, Repubs actually get a substantial majority of the votes of married women. One of the other demographic changes is that fewer Americans are married. I suspect that a wrinkle on the Brownstein quote would work here too, to the effect that it’s a big change from Ike’s days when the electorate is mostly unmarried.

Still, Obama is the first president since 1832 (we’re talking Andrew Jackson) to be elected to a second term with a smaller share of the popular vote than he received on his first election. The architects of Obama’s victory were all about building a “firewall” around the few key swing states they needed to reach an electoral vote majority, but in the end, he won narrowly in all of the swing states, unless you count North Carolina. Hardly anyone, except maybe Nate Silver, saw that coming.

Romney was a little slow to concede after all of the TV networks had declared Obama the winner. And Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer fought a rearguard battle against reality live on the Fox News Channel (even after Fox itself had long since called the race). But once he decided to concede, Romney was the perfect picture of grace and kept his farewell blessedly brief.

Obama was also gracious, even going out of his way to pay tribute to both of Romney’s parents for their public service. (Mama Romney, in case you missed it, was a pioneering Senate candidate, although she never held office.)

Obama, on the other hand, was not blessedly brief. He probably talked too long, and the speech was full of familiar bromides along the lines “not a red America and a blue America but a red, white and blue America.” Still, it inspired, or at least made it difficult to maintain full cynicism.

A couple of closing jokes, except only one of them was intended as a joke.

Humorist Andy Borowitz headlined his election night piece: “Obamas return to White House as Romneys return to 1954.”

That was the one that was at least supposed to be funny. As the outcome appeared inevitable, Donald Trump tweeted: “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 11/07/2012 - 10:22 am.

    Money spent

    I think about all the spending enabled by Citizens United and what a waste it was! Considering the financial straits this country is in, that money could have been put to SUCH better use than an election morning result of “everything’s still just like it was yesterday”.

    • Submitted by Diane Nelson on 11/07/2012 - 12:25 pm.

      I beg to differ – I absolutely believe there will be change!

      And Pat this is the first time I’ve ever disagreed with you and your well-written and thoughtful commentary. It is unfortunate the waste of money ill-spent, I agree, but you can say that of any costly effort that fails. And I too am disappointed there is no net change in majority status of the federal Senate and House.

      However, we now have a Republican Party with two choices – and either way, it’s a win for me, and those in my camp: they will either stop (please!), or choose to continue (okay, you had a chance to learn well enough alone), to rail on about and put forth legislation regarding the definition of rape, the results of rape, the healthcare choices of whether to offer birth control and calling female proponents sluts, the defunding of PP, the refusal to agree the Ledbetter Act was worthy, whether gays ought to be treated differently in the Constitution, photo ID, no separation of church and state, etc. etc.

      If they’re smart, they’ll give it up, and realize they are becoming the minority, and would not like being treated the way they treat minority voices, or

      They continue the social issue cause, and likewise continue to lose their behinds in elections every two years.

      Either way, I see it as win- and I see change!

      • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 11/07/2012 - 06:15 pm.

        Thank you for the nice compliment.

        But I will always have a hard time convincing myself that more than a billion dollars spent on campaigning is not quite literally an obscene waste when you consider how many people in this country are struggling in poverty.

        Still – thanks for the pat on the back!

  2. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 11/07/2012 - 10:39 am.

    Republican Future

    30 Republican governors = Rep. Majority in House
    Senate majority= popular vote totals, narrow but trending Democrats for next few cycles
    Electoral win= makers outvote takers, Blue states account for 60% of GDP.

    The future?
    Slow decline in Midwest Republican advantage as minority populations and young dominate voting.
    Republican irrelevance as they become more stridently Conservative, losing an increasingly non-white USA.

    The democrats need to come more to center and not overreach.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/07/2012 - 10:58 am.

    While this was supposed to be a referendum on Obama, I think it was turned into a referendum on Romney–partially through the re-election team’s effort, but mainly through the hard-right primary season, statements like the 47% comment, and the blatant lies that were most clearly exposed in the Ohio/Chrysler issue.

    One thing that perturbed about some TV commentary was a statement that Obama needed a popular vote majority to be able to exercise a “mandate”. Who’s kidding who? When was “mandate” redefined? 50% plus 1 is not a “mandate”. 75% is a mandate. It’s a representation that the US is still deeply divided.

    It seems to me that the Republicans LOST the election more than Democrats WON the election.

    It’s up to the Republicans if their future ascends into the “crazy uncle in the attic” or remains in a civil discussion at the table about real policy choices that relate to the bread-and-butter issues. Solutions are needed.

    Minnesota is the future–the defeat of marriage and voting amendments show that the social issues are a loser for the Republicans–if the Republicans will learn.

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 11/07/2012 - 02:55 pm.

      Republicans Lost

      Yes, given the economy and out-spending the Democrats, “Republicans LOST the election more than Democrats WON the election”. But why?

      1. Romney had to tack to being to the right of Attila the Hun to win the primary. Then had to flip flop to try to win the election. All candidates have to do this to some degree, but not to the extreme that Romney did.

      2. House Republicans looked like a toddler in the terrible twos. Refusing anything unless they get 100% of what they want. Boehner knows better, but he was a eunuch. Maybe now, not so much. But had they been less obstructionist, and the economy still not improving fast enough, more people would have blamed Obama.

      3. A highly refined ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Where do they find these guys like Aiken and Murdock? You’d almost have to believe they’re planted by the Democrats.

      So what now? Despite public pronouncements that basically define their views as the political center and encouraging Obama to meet there, both McConnell and Boehner are smart enough to know they lost big time. Even with heavily gerrymandered house districts and attempts to suppress Democratic leaning voters in Ohio and Florida, they lost or almost lost some high profile ones (West, Bachmann). Democrats gained in the Senate in spite of having to defend more seats.

      If smart, Republicans will rally around a “grand bargain” a la Simpson/Bowles, then claim victory when economy recovers.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/07/2012 - 03:10 pm.

      Not a mandate but. . .

      I think “mandate” got redefined during the Reagan years when his just above 50% of the popular vote was loudly proclaimed by the right wing as a “mandate” and not contested by the get-along-go-along politicians who call themselves Democrats.

      So no, Obama has not won a mandate but I think the election has sent a message to the returning Republican members of the House: that their strategy of blocking everything so they could defeat Obama as a “failed Presidency” was itself a major FAIL. I remain very disappointed with Obama as a President but I recognize he was forced to deal with a Congress whose Republican members, including the likes Michele Bachmann (chair of the “Tea Party caucus”), were totally fixated on making Obama a “one-term President.” There is nothing like seeing the likes of those Republican members of Congress being proved wrong in having the President re-elected despite their best efforts to hypocritically use their own obstructionism as a reason to vote against him. The President’s re-election is not a mandate but it is a decisive rejection of this Republican strategy of the last four years.

  4. Submitted by Tom Clark on 11/07/2012 - 03:18 pm.

    Republicans kept power in the House

    largely thanks to having control of a majority of states where they were able to redraw their Congressional districts to favor Republicans. For instance, Republican-tilted redistricting is why Wisconsin went for Obama and also elected Tammy Baldwin to the Senate, but only elected three Democrats along with five Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives.

  5. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/08/2012 - 03:28 am.

    Obama can make a difference

    Obama can impact history by focusing on enforcing the advantages inherent in the Affordable Care Act and giving teeth to the new financial regulatory law which can actually be rigidly interpreted. In four years it will be impossible to repeal Obamacare due to the efficiencies, cost saving and obvious benefits to nearly everyone in the United States. That in itself will be a repudiation of republican misinformation that dominated this election discussion and a legacy of which any President would be proud . Obama can use the justice department to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to eliminate voter suppression on a wide and systematic level by creating more fair and accessible poling places and prosecuting states that don’t follow the law. Obama can continue to ignore DOMA and work to repeal it. The Justice Department can help protect the civil rights of gays and lesbians on many different levels. Obama can direct federal programs that encourage alternative and renewable energy. He can also can continue to pursue a foreign policy that is less unilateral and more multilateral. Obama can close Guantanamo and apologize for our use of torture for the first time in US history. Obama will continue to pursue terrorists whereever they go in any country with all of the special operations available to him. John Bolton will never again be allowed to represent US foreign policy. For these and many other reasons, Obama can leave a lasting legacy

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