MERICANS congregated around their television sets on election night, all eyes were on Florida. With its 29 electoral college votes, losing the state would put an early end to Mitt Romney’s hopes of winning the White House. But, with quick and decisive victories elsewhere, it was clear that President Barack Obama would win re-election handsomely. As the Sunshine State continued to count up the votes into the wee hours, this thing was already over.
Republicans, who had hoped that a late surge in enthusiasm for Romney would be enough, failed to see the much-hyped talk of “expanding the map” into Democratic states materialise. Big prizes like Pennsylvania were called for the President early. Wisconsin, the home state of Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, wasn’t even close. Michigan, the state Romney was born and raised in, quickly turned Democratic blue. Republicans were only able overturn Obama’s 2008 majorities in Indiana, North Carolina and Nebraska’s second congressional district. With passions running high, such little progress will be hard to stomach.
A second term for Obama brings a fresh mandate – but it’s never that easy. There is often talk of a second term “curse”, when re-elected Presidents struggle to enact their agenda due to scandal or robust legislative opposition from Congress. Obama will certainly experience the latter. Republicans did hold onto their majority in the House of Representatives so, when it comes to resolving challenges like the country’s looming fiscal crisis, Obama won’t be able to ram legislation through a friendly Congress. As the President pointed out during his victory speech, elections “matter.” So do constitutional checks and balances.
There is now an eerie sense of déjà vu for Republicans. Like the post-mortem after John McCain’s defeat in 2008, talk about reform and the overall direction of the party have already started. It’s not too difficult to see why. Senator Lindsey Graham conceded Republicans aren’t “losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.” The party’s line on immigration has clearly taken its toll and alienated Hispanic voters, the fastest growing demographic in the country. This does not mean the Republicans need to surrender their core principles of small government and low taxes. But their platform needs to be reformed and their tone, perhaps most importantly, overhauled. Needing to win Ohio every four years isn’t just an accident of history. It’s a stinging indictment of the Republicans’ diminishing appeal.
And yet it’s not just the Republicans who need to learn lessons after Tuesday. Obama’s first term promised much but quickly became insular, confrontational and partisan. This breeds hostility and gridlock, not a legacy. Americans expect their President to be above that. In trying times like these, the office requires it.
Ewan Watt is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @ewancwatt