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Wednesday, November 07, 2012 

That much of the same then.

It was apparent by early morning our time that Obama had won a second term as US president.  Republican spokesmen were already reduced to pleading for journalists to wait for more districts to report in the swing states, ignoring the inevitable, while on the other news channels presenters were getting their excuses in earlyBill O'Reilly no doubt spoke for much of his own constituency when he whined of how "it isn't a traditional America anymore" and "the white establishment is now the minority", as though the former were something of a revelation and the latter was anything approaching the truth.

The fundamental lesson from yesterday for the Republicans is that their base has become so extreme that undecided voters aren't prepared to give their candidates the benefit of the doubt.  Whether it's religion, abortion, gay marriage or immigration, one or the other tends to make them think twice.  In case this wasn't clear enough, yesterday also saw four states legalise gay marriage after plebiscites, while two decriminalised cannabis for personal use, something unthinkable just a few years ago.  Moreover, a staggering 68% of single women voted for Obama, according to one exit poll, while 54% did overall.  No surprise then that the two Republican candidates for the senate, who respectively said that a pregnancy as a result of rape was "something that God intended to happen", and that "the female body has ways of trying to shut that thing down [pregnancy]" if it was a "legitimate rape" both failed to win their seats.

This isn't to understate the fact that America remains a politically polarised nation.  It isn't so much polarised between the Republicans and Democrats anymore though as it is between the Democrats and moderate Republicans, who often share all but identical policies.  It's that moderate Republicans are a dying breed, as the senate race showed: just as Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell cost the GOP in 2010, so Todd Akin and Richard Mourduck did this time round.  Mitt Romney's campaign only started to pick up when he finally shifted towards the centre at the last moment, his team having realised that what just about won him the Republican primaries wasn't going to get him the presidency.  As much as there were certain local factors that helped Obama, such as the General Motors bailout (that Romney opposed) in Ohio, Romney has no excuse for failing to triumph in Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the other four states he needed to win to reach the 270 required electoral college votes.  Only in Florida did it turn out to be close.

As with Bush in 2004, this was an election the incumbent should have lost.  Only the most devoted Obama supporters would argue that he's been a great president rather than an adequate one, such was the expectation following his '08 campaign.  Combined with the policy failures mentioned yesterday and the stuttering recovery, he ought to have suffered the same fate as George Bush Snr and Jimmy Carter, both single term presidents defeated by charismatic opponents.  Except, as with Kerry in 04, the opposition chose a poor candidate from a poor field.  The only major difference was that Kerry was ruthlessly smeared by the Republican machine, whereas Romney has been brought low both by his telling the truth (the 47% video) and his party's desire for ideological purity over power.

For the Republicans to win in 2016, one of two paths have to be followed. Either the party adjusts to a changed nation and realises that it has specific policies and prejudices which are holding it back among women and Latinos to name but two groups, or it can go for the Cameron model: attempt to detoxify itself without genuinely changing much of substance, while coalescing around an attractive leader.  At this precise moment it seems dubious as to whether either will happen, such is the influence and power of the hard right, but 8 years out of power is bound to concentrate minds.

We can then only hope that, as Obama said, the best is yet to come.  I think, on the whole, we'll settle for that much of the same.

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