Seizing the moment

Barack Obama, a historic president, defied history again Tuesday night to be reelected amid a climate of 7.9 percent unemployment, the kind that usually shows incumbent presidents the door. His records on healthcare reform and stimulus remain unpopular, and the anemic recovery convinced only 4 in 10 voters the country is on the right track. Obama won anyway.

Republicans are blaming Mitt Romney already for defeat. Tuesday morning he was the next president, a candidate so certain of victory he chose not to prepare a concession speech. But today he is a GOP punching bag, as Republicans, leaderless for four years running, search for someone to blame. Many conservatives were on the record months ago predicting Romney couldn’t make the sale: Ann Coulter and former Sen. Rick Santorum, for example. They will review Romney’s many mistakes, gaffes and missed opportunities, and the list is long. They will recall those days in the GOP primary race  in Romney’s sixth year of running for president — when Santorum, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Michelle Bachmann  all enjoyed leads over Romney.

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Republicans will also say Hurricane Sandy won the race for Obama, that the monster storm afforded him an eleventh-hour opportunity to appear the bipartisan comforter-in-chief and halted Romney’s momentum for good. They might attribute Obama’s reelection to his team’s vaunted political mastery — the David Plouffe ground game. 

But at some point Republicans will have to begin the painful conversation about demographics — the browning and beige-ing of the electorate that will shut the party out in several cycles should it fail to appeal to new voters and make the big tent big once more. Republicans who cannot stand Obama turned out, no questions and no excuses. The intensity was there, and the Obama campaign didn’t keep any white voters at home. But the GOP was sure Obama’s 2008 coalition would not hold, and hold it did. Enthusiasm was diminished indeed, and for the deficit it faced, Team Obama found new voters, registered them and made sure they turned out in force for the president. Just as his campaign predicted, the 2012 electorate was less white than the cycle before, which was less white than the cycle before that — it is a 20-year trend, plain to see. 

The “what’s next” question for both parties is painful, too; Americans voted for more of the status quo, the same gridlocked team that has failed us already, brought us a credit downgrade and has taken us now to the fiscal cliff. 

Romney, in his closing scene, was perfect: charming, gracious and serene. He wished he had succeeded but was content he had given the fight his all. He said he is praying for the president and the nation as it confronts enormous challenges. Obama, on the other hand, did not tell the country how hard the road ahead will be. In his acceptance speech Tuesday night the soaring rhetoric returned and pleased the crowd of true believers in Chicago, but the appropriate humility and acknowledgment of how divided Americans remain was lacking. Offering to meet with Romney won’t be enough to help Obama through the wrenching days ahead — of aiding a storm-ravaged Northeast and the coming fiscal-cliff negotiations with a Republican Party unchastened by defeat and ready for a fight. 

Liberated from the constraints of another campaign, Obama must find the stomach to make the necessary compromises with his adversaries to ensure a stable path ahead for our fiscal health, our reputation abroad and our unity as a nation. If he does, he can go down in history again. 


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.