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Republican supporters watch the results of the U.S. presidential election during a party election night event in Phoenix, Ariz. (JOSHUA LOTT/REUTERS)
Republican supporters watch the results of the U.S. presidential election during a party election night event in Phoenix, Ariz. (JOSHUA LOTT/REUTERS)

MARGARET WENTE

Memo to Republicans: Hit the reset button Add to ...

No one should be particularly surprised that Barack Obama won the election. He was almost always a point or two ahead in the polls. And when the polling figures were translated into Electoral College votes, the results were projected to be pretty much the way they turned out. Anyone who followed Nate Silver, the whiz-kid polling analyst who runs the FiveThirtyEight blog, would have laid 3-to-1 odds on Mr. Obama all along.

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But toward the end of the race, something weird happened. Conservative pundits turned nutty. Not just the ultra-partisans, such as Karl Rove, whose job is to shill for their guy even when he’s obviously dead in the water. Even the rational ones began concocting elaborate scenarios showing how Mitt Romney was going to win. Peggy Noonan, usually one of the more thoughtful voices on the right, wrote last week that she could feel a stirring in the land that transcended mere data. Maybe she was feeling nostalgic for the Reagan years. But it’s been a long time since Morning in America.

All of us, even pundits, are prone to confirmation bias (the tendency to cherry-pick the evidence we like and ignore the rest). But this was a massive case of self-delusion. Conservatives had so thoroughly demonized Mr. Obama that they couldn’t understand how ordinary people could possibly vote for him. They didn’t see what ordinary people saw – someone who had done a semi-decent (or at least not awful) job in historically difficult circumstances, who wasn’t entirely to blame for the state of the economy, who obviously cared more about their interests than his opponent did.

Mr. Romney never did explain exactly how he planned to help the middle class. Mr. Obama wasn’t very clear on that point, either. But at least he promised to raise taxes on the rich – that is, people with an income of more than $250,000. Mr. Romney thought that amount was way too low for someone to qualify as “rich.”

Republicans also got the demographics wrong. They somehow overlooked the fact that non-white births in the U.S. began to exceed white births. The population of Colorado, for example, is now 20-per-cent Hispanic – and more than 85 per cent of the state’s Latino voters chose Mr. Obama. Across the United States, it’s safe to say that young Hispanics outnumber aging country-club Republicans by a wide and growing margin. Republicans seem to think those people don’t vote. But it turns out they do.

David Frum, the Republican apostate, wrote Wednesday that conservatives no longer know their own country. If they did, they wouldn’t have been so deluded about their chances. American conservatism, he argues, has to modernize and broaden its appeal if it wants to have a future. Mr. Romney, a flawed but decent man, was not the real problem. The real problem was his party. As Ross Douthat, another reform-minded conservative, wrote: “He was ultimately defeated less by his own limitations as a leader, and more by the fact that his party didn’t particularly want to be reinvented.”

In fact, the elites of both parties are out of touch with America’s broad middle class. The increasingly vicious tone of political discourse is a sign of that. It’s no accident that Americans’ approval rating of Congress sank into the single digits. What Americans really want is for their political elites to stop warring with each other and start co-operating – as they must do before the country’s monumental debt problems crush them all. The Republicans want to cut government, and the Democrats want to raise taxes, and every realist knows that both these things have to happen. Alas, realism among the political class is hard to find.

Canadians and Europeans like to sneer at the U.S. as a nation of mouth-breathers and extremists. But most Americans are actually moderate and centrist. This election proves it. A lot of Tea Party candidates were clobbered, including the two men who made unforgivably stupid comments about rape. Two states approved same-sex marriage, and two voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. (At this rate, the U.S. will be more liberal than Canada.) Best of all, the fact that Americans chose to re-elect a black president says much about evolving attitudes toward race. No matter what you think about Mr. Obama’s politics, you’ve got to be happy about that.

 

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