What we have learned


We don’t know yet who will win the election, but we have learned a few things during this election process about the state of our country. 

Here are the seven things I learned:

You still have to win the middle to win the election: Mitt Romney revealed himself to be a principled pragmatist during the first debate and suddenly moved quickly up in the polls. President Obama got a bear-hug from Chris Christie in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and helped to stop the Mittmentum. At the end of the day, the voters want somebody who can work with both sides, not an ideologue. 

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Super-PACs are important during primaries, not so much in a general election: The new phenomenon of the so-called super-PAC played an outsize role in picking the Republican primary winner at the presidential level. Romney’s super-PAC strafed Newt Gingrich in Iowa, essential knocking him out of the race, but Rick Santorum’s ability to get money from his big donors kept him in the race far longer than anybody assumed was possible. During the general campaign, super-PACs proved to be very, very good for broadcasters, but did little to move the needle in either direction. 

Demographics are a time bomb for the Republicans: To a large extent, the Obama campaign completely ignored white men who didn’t live in Ohio and didn’t work for GM or Chrysler or one of their suppliers. That strategy may or may not work in this election, but either way, Republicans better get a handle on the rising percentage of Hispanic voters, or they are going to lose the next election. 

The Obama era has done nothing to ease racial tensions, especially among working-class voters. African-Americans are going to vote overwhelmingly to reelect the president, despite the fact that the Obama economy has been a complete disaster for that community. White working-class voters are going to vote overwhelmingly for Romney, despite his clear inability to connect personally with this voting bloc. This racial polarization should trouble both sides, but neither has tried very hard to make a case to either community. 

Authenticity is still king: The most important game-changer in this election was not a clever commercial (or a million of them). It was the first debate where Romney throttled Obama. Like Reagan grabbing the microphone in New Hampshire during the 1980 primary, it is the unguarded moments that reveal a candidate’s true abilities and that matter the most to voters. 

We are entering the Age of Synthesis: If Obama’s election of 2008 was the thesis, and the Tea Party election of 2010 was the antithesis, the election of 2012 is somewhere in the middle. Despite the rhetoric of this being a clear choice, both sides tried to muddle that choice. Obama kept talking about how he was going to cut taxes for the middle class, while Romney kept talking about how he was going to preserve Medicare. Yes, during the primary, Romney moved rightward, but he had no choice. Toward the end of the campaign, he talked more about his ability to cut deals with the Democrats. Obama broadly hinted that once the election was over, cutting a deal with John Boehner would be no sweat. 

Governing trumps campaigning: The Obama campaign was far superior to the Obama White House in its execution, but that was not enough to make him very vulnerable in this election. You can’t campaign without establishing a winning and defensible record that appeals to more than just your political base. The president has done nothing but the bare minimum in the last year. He signed a bill to keep the government open, but that is about it. And it is not enough. Obama refused to move to the middle, and it is hurting him with the voters. 


Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com