This election wasn’t an outlier. It had precedents in 2006 and 2008. Voters might not have been enthusiastic to re-elect President Obama and were not willing to give both reins back to the Democratic Party. America didn’t prove much more willing to return to the America of 2008-2010 than they were to return to the America of 2004-2006. But, for Republicans, this was a shift-happens sort of election, and demographics don’t appear to favor them for 2016.
Pundits on the right have suggested that the election shows the GOP needs to find policies which will appeal to new demographics (including younger and minority voters). But pandering to these demographics can’t be done by changing one position or another. Voters base their ballot selections less on the positions a candidate holds than on the confidence they (the voters) have in the candidate.
Many Republicans with cross-party appeal have had impeccable conservative credentials: Rick Perry won close to 40% of Texas’s Hispanic vote in 2010, Mitch Daniels won 51% of young voters in 2008, and Jeb Bush won 44% of Florida’s Jewish vote in 2002. Ronald Reagan didn’t win the 1980 election in a landslide because he was more moderate than George H. W. Bush or Bob Dole. Goldwater and Reagan both used the phrase “peace through strength,” but Goldwater was defined by his opponents — as a warmonger; Reagan was able to define himself — as a realist.
The Republicans’ best strategy is to demonstrate that they can govern. Already, there are signs that the country has more confidence in the GOP at the state level. Yes, they lost the election, but now the Republicans have 30 governorships to the Democrats’ 20. And this confidence doesn’t seem to be misplaced. Nor does voters’ distrust of Democrats.
Democrats have not come up with a credible model for government since the Great Recession began busting state budgets. California’s Jerry Brown has claimed that making the Golden Bear State the tax capital of the world is unlikely to affect its economic recovery, but this is unlikely when your neighbors include Arizona and Utah. If crony capitalism had a face, it would be that of Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who has made a policy of giving tax breaks to major corporations threatening to leave the state while hiking taxes on small businesses. Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to split the difference between Democratic instincts and the needs of New York, but Albany’s books are far from being in order.
In other words, it isn’t just Democratic states that are going bankrupt; their ideologies are too. Young voters might cast their lot with President Obama, but no informed twenty-something would move to Chicago instead of Salt Lake City in search of work. Like California, New York and Illinois, Utah has virtually single-party rule. But, unlike its Democratic counterparts, a Utah Republican supermajority has not been hazardous to the state’s financial health. It doesn’t appear that the business-friendly, socially-conservative climate of Utah has had a negative effect on peoples’ happiness either: According to Gallup, Utah is the happiest state in the Union.
This doesn’t mean that Republicans can rest easy. The Republicans can’t govern from the House alone, but that’s where they are most visible. But the GOP now controls 30 out of 50 of democracy’s laboratories. The goal for the next two years should be to put the states on the path toward economic sustainability, develop natural resources such as natural gas and oil, attract jobs (from the blue states if necessary), come up with consistent taxing models for all levels of enterprise (unlike Illinois which has favored corporations over small business), and craft an economic model which seems applicable at the federal as well as the state level. Oh yes, and don’t forget to get re-elected in 2014.