For conservatives fretful over the future of the party to which they have given allegiance, "How Barack Obama Won: A State by State Guide to the Historic 2008 Election" reads like something out of Edgar Allan Poe.
Co-authored by NBC's Chuck Todd, it is a grim tale of what happened to the GOP in 2008, and what the future may hold. Yet, on second and third reads, one discerns, as did Gen. Wolfe's scouts 250 years ago, a narrow path leading up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham — and perhaps victory in 2012. First, the bad news:
Obama raised the national share of the black vote to 13 percent, then swept it 95 percent to 4 percent. The GOP share of the Hispanic vote, now 9 percent of the electorate, fell from George W. Bush's 40 percent against John Kerry to 32 percent. Young voters ages 18 to 29 went for Obama 66 percent to 31 percent. And Obama ran stronger among white voters with a college education than did either Al Gore or Kerry.
Put starkly, the voting groups growing in numbers — Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, folks with college degrees, the young — are all trending Democratic, while the voters most loyal to the GOP -— white folks and religious conservatives — are declining as a share of the U.S. electorate. And demography is destiny.
Other grim news: As noted here recently, 18 states and Washington, D.C., with 247 electoral votes — all New England save New Hampshire; New York and New Jersey; the mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland; Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota; the three Pacific Coast states plus Hawaii — have all gone Democratic in all of the last five presidential elections. And John McCain lost every one of them by double digits.
In this Slough of Despond, where is the hope? Despite all of the above, John McCain, two weeks after the GOP convention, thanks to the surge in energy and enthusiasm Sarah Palin brought to the ticket, was running ahead of Obama. It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the crash and the panic that ensued, which McCain mishandled, that lost him all the ground he never made up. Had the crash not occurred, the election might have been much closer than seven points, which in itself is no blowout.
Second, an astonishing 75 percent of voters thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Obama won these voters 62 percent to 36 percent. But if the country is seen as headed in the wrong direction in 2012, it will be Obama's albatross. Third, only 27 percent of voters approved of Bush's performance as of Election Day; 71 percent disapproved. Only Harry Truman had a lower rating, 22 percent, and Democrats were also wiped out in Washington in 1952.
Here is Todd's dramatic point: "With the single exception of Missouri, which barely went for McCain, Obama won every state where Bush's approval rating was below 35 percent in the exit polls, and he lost every state where Bush's approval was above 35 percent." Obama rode Bush's coattails to victory. Had Bush been at 35 percent or 40 percent, McCain might have won. But, in 2012, Obama will not have Bush to kick around anymore. On candidates' qualities, the situation looks even rosier for the GOP. In 2008, no less than 34 percent of the electorate said that the most important consideration in a candidate was that he be for "change."
Obama was the "change candidate." He patented the brand, and he carried this third of the nation 89 percent to 9 percent. But in 2012, Obama cannot be the candidate of change. That title will belong to his challenger, the Republican nominee. Obama will be the incumbent, the candidate of continuity. The second most critical consideration of voters in choosing a president was "values." No less than 30 percent of the electorate said this was their primary consideration in voting for McCain or Obama.
Among values voters, fully 30 percent of the electorate, McCain won 65 percent to 32 percent, or by two to one. What these numbers demonstrate is that liberals and neocons instructing the GOP to dump the social, moral and cultural issues are counseling Republicide. When African-Americans, who gave McCain 4 percent of their votes in California, gave Proposition 8, prohibiting gay marriage, 70 percent of their votes, why would the GOP give up one of its trump cards — not only in Middle America but among minorities? A conservative who could have sharpened the social, moral and cultural differences might, from the exit polls, have done far better.
McCain's diffidence on life, affirmative action and gay rights, his embrace of amnesty and NAFTA, all help explain the enthusiasm gap. Twice as many voters were excited about the prospects of an Obama presidency as were about a McCain presidency. Lastly, on Election Day, only 7 percent thought the U.S. economy was doing well, while 93 percent rated it as not so good, or poor. The GOP will not have to wear those concrete boots in 2012. The tide is still running strong against the GOP. But there may be one or two more White Houses in the Grand Old Party yet.
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