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Susan Estrich: If Republicans Ever Want to Win Again, They Have to Change Their Ways

By Susan Estrich |

Now that the election is over, and President Barack Obama has returned to Washington to try to turn all the rhetoric about working together into something real, Republicans and talking heads (especially the conservative ones whose predictions seemed to be based entirely on wishful thinking and perhaps the desire for some last-minute fundraising) are obsessing about how Mitt Romney managed to lose this election.

They are criticizing everything from his campaign to his pedigree. If only the campaign had been better (How exactly was it supposed to have been better?) or the candidate a little poorer (Most presidents are rich. Who else could afford the luxury of putting their lives and incomes on hold, as so many do?), then the result might have been different. If only the media hadn’t sat on stories about the mistakes made in Libya (Was anyone in this election voting based on Libya?), if only Super-Storm Sandy had come a week earlier or 10 days later (Is God really a Democrat?), things might have been different.

Maybe the problem is the Republican Party, and not Romney or the media or Mother Nature. Maybe the problem is that a party that demonizes immigrants as if this were still 1980, that turns off women and gays and lesbians and their families because of its positions on social issues (choice, gays, even contraception, even rape) cannot put together a solid majority in a changing America, a problem that will get worse over time, not better. Maybe the problem is that the nominating process forces electable candidates (the Massachusetts Romney) into unelectable flip-floppers. Maybe the problem, certainly at the Senate level, is a stunning lack of pragmatism that leads to the nomination of candidates who can be beaten instead of those who can’t lose (hello, Richard Lugar).

And maybe it’s not just that Romney lost, but that Obama managed to win.

He won despite the highest unemployment figures for a re-elected incumbent since FDR. He won despite the fact that Obamacare remains a source of grave concern for the majority of Americans. He won despite the fact that we are facing a fiscal cliff. He won despite a terrible first debate and despite the horrifying murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He won despite the fact that after the initial flush of bipartisan responsiveness in the wake of Sandy, my friends in the hard-hit areas are now (with great frustration) waiting for the locust to hit next.

How?

Three reasons I think.

The obvious one: Things are getting better. Slowly, painfully slowly, the economy is coming back. Unemployment finally fell below 8 percent; in Ohio, it is 7 percent. If Obama was responsible for the recession (a mostly questionable proposition, but one that Republicans insisted on), then he must also be responsible for the recovery.

The almost forgotten one: Obama, when he turns it on, is a great candidate. For all the differences between 2008 and 2012, watching his speech on Election Night, watching the reaction of the crowd, I could not help but believe that “yes, we can.” Friends who saw him at rallies across the country say they left believing we should not give up hope. This is, after all, the man who beat Hillary Clinton when he was a first-term senator, with a checkered past, running in a country that has only rarely elected black senators, much less presidents.

And the reason that has nothing to do with the economy or even with Obama himself: Democrats have grown up.

I lived through the 1980s. I lived through them in the suites where the bad returns came in and the concession calls had to be made. Losing stinks all around.

After 1988, Democrats made changes. They nominated a candidate who could win, not only because of his personal charisma, but also because he didn’t have to flip-flop in the primaries to do it. They matched the Republicans in money and negativity and out-and-out hardball. These changes might not have been good for politics, but they were good for winning.

Ultimately, Democrats united behind an imperfect president who had disappointed many of them, and we decided to go out and vote for him and work for him anyway.

Republicans, when they stop blaming each other and the media, might actually learn from that. After all, it’s something many of us learned from them not so long ago.

— Bestselling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.




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» on 11.12.12 @ 11:04 AM

Well stated.  I’m a Republican, and I agree with you 100%.  Until Republicans recognize that they will not win unless they appeal to the center - that means dropping their focus on things like abortion, religion, etc. - and start finding candidates that inspire instead of criticize, they will continue to lose.  Even if they lose, the country will benefit.  After all, we may differ on individual issues, but at the end of the day, we are all Americans, we all want our country to prosper, we all want our citizens to be happy and have access to the things they need.  This election really underscored the great divide between the focus of the Republican party and the issues that were most important to the vast majority of the country (the economy and jobs).  In my opinion the Republicans deserve to lose when thy ignore what voters care about most.

» on 11.12.12 @ 12:35 PM

What a load of crap. No one demonized immigrants Sue you big liar. The problem with the GOP is they continue to let democrats define them, then they go out and do what the democrats tell them they are. Idiots.

What was demonized was ILLEGAL immigration, you know Sue, a bunch of fence jumpers cutting in line ahead of the millions who have waited patiently for LEGAL immigration. Yet the GOP let you liars define it as an anti immigration issue and the Hispanics bought your snake oil. Wait until the Hispanic population realizes how badly you throw blacks under the bus, ignore them and use them as voting cannon fodder. The only Hispanics that identify with true democrat ideology are those interested in your divide and concur strategy.

As for economics, there is little difference between Wall Street looters, pirates, pillagers, banksters, gamblers and speculators and government bureaucrats, all are engaged in liberating others from their money. If and when this country ever realizes that banks and Wall Street don’t build things, industry does, and that building things is how wealth is made, not from investment portfolios, then we can turn our economy around. Wall Street and the finance industry were built by industrialists and now we have two parasites literally hawking that base to fatten their wallets, Wall Street and government, with the help of lawyers of course, the biggest parasites of all.

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