And, even as they were “effectively running over Mr. Ryan’s budget,” as Maddow put it, the GOP’s plan was rejected. But now, Maddow noticed, Ryan has gone back to proposing basically the same plan only with a few changes. Maddow said that Ryan’s plan still comes with giant tax cuts for the rich and lacks a concrete plan for making up for trillions in lost revenue.
Needless to say, Maddow said proposing the same deal that voters rejected “seems like a weird day” to deal with last year’s big defeat.
The Huffington Post had a similar response with their “What Election?” headline. In the editorial pages, The New York Times complained that Paul Ryan’s plan was a “retread of ideas the voters rejected.” The editorial board emphasized “the public opinion of these callous proposals was made clear in the fall election, but Mr. Ryan is too ideologically fervid to have learned that lesson.” The assumption is that it’s clear that Republicans lost because of their economic policies.
It is worth noting that it’s quite normal for incumbent Presidents to win reelection. Since 1900, only three incumbents have lost their election bids: Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George HW Bush in 1992. Ford and Bush both had to worry about voter fatigue. Ford was running for a third term of Republicans in the White House in the aftermath of the biggest scandal in the party’s history. Bush was hoping for a fourth consecutive term of Republicans in the White House, during a political era in which the norm is for the party in the White House to get kicked out after two terms. Carter was the only president in the 20th Century to fail to hold the White House for more than one term, although he had to deal with exceptional problems: double-digit unemployment, double-digit inflation and the Iranian hostage crisis. The three losses all occurred within a twenty year period, so it could also just have been attributed to the political environment at the time.
As a result, Barack Obama was probably the favorite to win reelection. That has nothing to do with his political talents or positions. In that case, the 2012 election may not suggest that the Republicans need serious policy changes. After Ford lost in 1976, Reagan didn’t try to run to the left in 1980. After Kerry’s 2004 loss, Obama and Hillary didn’t try to run to the right, except arguably on the topic of gay marriage. Incumbent presidents win more often than not, while the out party tends to win open elections (1952, 1960, 1968, 2000 and 2008 VS 1988) so it could be that the Republican’s loss in 2012 is irrelevant to the party’s fortunes in four years.
If Obama was a strong candidate, encouraging higher turnout among younger voters and African-Americans, the argument that Republicans need to change their political positions is even weaker, since it’s unlikely that the next Democratic candidate would have his political talents. The hope for the Democrats is that President Obama was a weak candidate, in which case their next nominee might be able to do better, or might be able to eke out a win under worse circumstances. Obama underperformed Democratic candidates for Senate in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The Democratic party won five Senate races in states that Romney carried, while Republicans only managed to win one Senate race in a state Obama carried, a close election in Nevada in which an incumbent Republican was helped by a weak Democratic candidate.
If the Republicans lost due to issues, there’s still the question of what positions need to change. Were voters turned off by fiscal policy? Or was it social issues? Or immigration? It’s not as clear cut as the liberal media (I feel comfortable using the term to describe Rachel Maddow, the Huffington Post and the New York Times editorial board) makes it seem.