President Barack Obama seized his place in history last night, ensuring his health care reform survives and vindicating the Keynesian response to the financial crisis of 2008.
But the nature of his victory leaves the President with an uncertain path forward.
The Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives, forcing compromise (or gridlock) in Washington. The soaring rhetoric of 2008 was replaced with grinding negativity in 2012, leaving a mandate for Mr. Obama defined in the opposition to Governor Mitt Romney. There is even grumbling from Democrats that the Obama campaign didn't do enough to support them in Congressional races, potentially complicating the legislative calculus.
There are five major lessons from the election, but it is defeat that helps us learn the most, so let's start with the two on the Republicans.
1. The Republicans, immigration and Hispanics
Hispanics are a vast rising demographic group, strongly aligned with the Democrats.
According to the Globe, "NALEO, a group dedicated to promoting Hispanics’ political participation, projected their vote would increase 26 per cent from 2008, to 12.2 million."
Key states that Gov. Romney needed to win but lost can be attributed to this rising Hispanic vote and its pro-Democrat voting pattern.
Florida was the bedrock of Gov. Romney's strategy, including hosting the Republican convention in Tampa. It appears to have been lost.
Colorado was a reliable Republican state, consistently red except for 1992. Now it has voted twice for Mr. Obama.
Nevada has shifted from reliably Republican to leaning Democrat. New Mexico has shifted even further into the Democrat camp.
Even look at California. She elected favourite sons Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan while voting Republican in nine out of 10 elections between 1952 and 1988. It is now the cornerstone of the Democratic majority.
Hispanics have anchored this shift in formerly Republican states into the Obama coalition.
If you want to find the day the 2012 election was lost, don't look to hurricanes or debates or conventions or even Mr. Romney's nomination in the spring.
Go all the way back to June 28, 2007, when the Senate killed George W. Bush's immigration reforms, and – in a heated debate between conservative and moderate Republicans – confirmed the intemperate and short-sighted attitudes in the Republican Party.
Without the support of Hispanics – many religious conservatives who vote Democrat because of cultural and immigration policies – the Republicans will continue to shrink and lose elections.
2. The Senate and the Tea Party
The second strand of the Republican loss is the Tea Party.
A linked phenomenon to the immigration reform, this small-government, live free or die movement toppled sitting Republican Senators and imposed unelectable candidates on the ballot.
Joe Donnelly had no business winning a Senate seat in Indiana, but his Republican opponent was so far out of the mainstream the Democrat picked up the win.
Todd Akin failed to win a vulnerable Democrat seat in Missouri, again because he was too far outside the mainstream.
Tea Party orthodoxy drove Olympia Snowe out of the Senate, allowing that safe Republican seat to fall to an independent likely to caucus with the Democrats.
The real tragedy is that Tea Party candidates won in ultra-safe races like Texas, giving the movement a false sense of success.
The spin was underway before voting began, with Tea Party supporters attributing the Indiana loss to remarks about abortion rather than the fiscal positions of the movement.
But it is exactly that fiscal intransigence that puts the Republican Party in the minority position.
Refusal to engage and demands of orthodoxy are the hallmarks of an insecure losing coalition. This path in politics leads to an ever narrowing appeal, particularly as the demographic groups that support economic austerity are superseded by the changing face of America.
It appears the Tea Party will need more defeats before it learns the value of compromise in expanding the appeal of a political party by adapting to new conditions.
3. State-level polling matters
One of the stranger debates during the closing weeks of the election was a backlash against quantitative analytics by pundits.
This article by Dylan Byers at Politico kicked off a spirited media wolfpack.
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