Maybe it happens in sports. A team fights long and hard through a seemingly endless season, winning some and losing some, but finally clawing its way to the championship game, and gives it all in one final and brutal long contest, and wins it all, but then doesn’t feel much of anything. It’s all over? There’s nothing more to do? That’s it? Sure, all athletes whoop it up and celebrate that final victory – as we’ve seen on ESPN – but maybe some don’t. They just feel empty. There’s no more to say. Anything that meant anything went into the season and into that last game. There’s nothing left – the struggle was everything. Without that, what the hell are you supposed to do with your life? Victory turns out to be kind of boring and a bit flat, and maybe the same is true of defeat. Yeah, you lost, but you’ll get over it. Either way, it’s just hard to believe it’s over. Now what? What’s next?
The same thing happens in politics. Tuesday, November 6, 2012, late in the evening out here on the West Coast, while the rest of the nation had gone to bed, the epic struggle was over – Obama had won a second term. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty – a year of nastiness and silliness and deep anger –but it was over. Nate Silver had been right about what all the months of massive polling meant. Obama was never in all that much trouble and by the time the voting started did have a ninety-two prevent chance of winning, which he did of course. And many probably felt a let-down, a bit of emptiness. It was hard to believe it was over, or hard to accept that it was. It happened too quickly. There must be more to it than a few hours of watching the fancy graphics on CNN or Fox and being numbed by all the vote counts and statistics popping up in fancy windows or crawling across the bottom of the screen. Romney won the states everyone knew he was going to win – not enough to do him that much good – and Obama won the states everyone knew he was going to win – almost enough to assure him a victory. Then the swing states, those where no one knew what was going to happen, fell to Obama, one by one. Then it was over – with ABC and NBC and CBS and CNN and Fox News all projecting Obama winning Ohio, putting him over the top.
There would be no miracle finish for Romney. There were no surprises. The Republicans felt they had a shot – an incumbent president could be knocked off when the economy was this bad, or was at least not recovering fast enough from the Bush mess that nearly ruined everything. People were still hurting, badly, and Obama was in charge – but they didn’t really have a shot. They had generalized ideas about what could be done – lower taxes and get rid of regulations and immigrants and gays – but everyone had heard those before. That just wasn’t compelling, nor was their candidate – a slick businessman of no discernible principles. Yeah, he was rich. So what?
This turned out to be a perfunctory election. The epic election was in 2008 – the election of our first black president, whose middle name was Hussein of all things. He ran against a war hero too. This was just a face-off between a careful and competent and likeable incumbent and an empty suit, as even those in his own party sometimes admitted. When the expected happened the usual Democrats cheered and the usual Republican moaned and wailed, and the nation shrugged. Can we move on now?
The only fun thing was watching Fox News for a bit. That was amusing. Their research guys were forced to explain to America why they called Ohio for Obama – in detail, using the math – because Karl Rove challenged them. The Romney campaign was refusing to concede Ohio. The Fox research guys, however, were sure that Obama had Ohio locked up. Then, after a commercial break, Fox brought on Karl Rove himself, speaking either in his role as a well-paid Fox analyst or speaking on behalf of the Romney campaign – hard to tell which – saying those Fox experts were smart fellows and meant well, but he had done his own math, and even though it was informal, those in-house Fox experts were obviously dead wrong – this could take weeks of counting to work out. Everyone on-set but Rove looked very embarrassed. It was awkward.
Rove seems to want Florida-2000 again. You could see the gleam in his eye. So Obama did NOT win, and of course Roger Ailes will set his people straight – heads will roll – and on we go. There were still Florida and Colorado and Virginia and Nevada outstanding of course, but there’s also still Karl Rove.
It was all moot. Obama then won Colorado and the others were soon to follow. It was just odd:
Fox News and every other news outlet called the presidential race for Obama. Rove, the mastermind of George W. Bush’s campaign and now a political commentator on Fox, didn’t buy it. Why? According to Rove, who appeared to be going through extreme denial that Mitt Romney had lost, there were too many outstanding votes in Ohio to give the state to Obama, tipping the race in his favor.
No one else at Fox took his side. And to prove him wrong, Megyn Kelly walked down the hall in a live action shot to the “decision desk” that called the race and interviewed the men in charge. Their response was essentially that while some counties haven’t reported all the Romney votes yet, there are too many votes unreported in Democratic territory like Cleveland that it wouldn’t matter.
“There just aren’t enough Republican votes left for Mitt Romney to get there,” said decision maker Chris Stirewalt.
Then it got really interesting:
Rove was apparently listening in. The jolly Fox host Bret Baier tried to describe Rove’s reaction – the GOP strategist was writing things down, and pointing at Fox personality Bill Hemmer. “A lot of things are going on right now,” Baier said.
They cut to commercial. Then they came back and Rove was as defensive as ever. While the crowd in Chicago cheered and danced on the split screen, there was Rove, saying that all the votes in Ohio’s Hamilton County needed to be cast. The projection, he said, was a “very early call.”
Charles Krauthammer came on to talk about it. Then they cut back to the screaming crowd in Chicago. And it was Kelly who turned the page. “They are not listening to Karl,” she said. “They don’t care what Karl said.”
It was pretty cool, and certain things were said on MSNBC, like this from Rachel Maddow:
“I don’t mean to cross-advertise here, but on the conservative cable news network Fox News Channel – Fox News Channel called Ohio for Obama, but the on-air talent at Fox News Channel is refusing to concede that they believe it,” she said.
“Can you define that word ‘talent’ for the people who are not in this industry,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews jumped in. ”They happen to have positions. It doesn’t say anything about their quality.”
“People who are wearing makeup and have cameras pointed at them,” Maddow replied. “It’s not everybody who’s on Fox News tonight, but some of the people who Fox is putting on tonight are refusing to believe their own network’s call in the state of Ohio.”
Maddow added that Rove “is now trying to get on air the Fox News Channel to rescind its call in Ohio in favor of the candidate that he has bankrolled to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. This is a remarkable thing.”
Yes, lots of millionaires gave Rove lots of money and all their candidates lost. Oops. Something had to be done, but Chuck Todd saw this as a Republican problem – “It’s more than just a feeling of grief that they lost; they don’t believe it.”
No one wanted to believe the big game was over:
“This goes to the larger point that I’ve been trying to make that there is going to be a big chunk of one of the two sides that was not going to believe they lost – it’s more than just a feeling of grief that they lost, they don’t believe it,” Todd said on MSNBC. “And I think you’re going to have a large chunk of the Republican base that doesn’t understand it. They’ve been told that the polls were skewed for week. They’ve been told for weeks there was something wrong with the polling and there was something wrong here and so that just makes it more difficult to govern. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t.”
There was also this:
Maddow also said Rove’s challenge is indicative of something that is happening on the right: “questioning what used to be basic agreed upon data.”
“It’s worth looking at close races and I do not begrudge the Romney campaign for saying that they’ve got issues with what’s gone on with Ohio,” Maddow said. “But to decide that a result isn’t a result as long as you don’t like the outcome is something that means that we cannot work together as a country anymore. And we can’t go down this road very much further.”
All that was more interesting the election, which came out just as predicted, and Holly Bailey at the Ticket offers this:
Perhaps the biggest unknown about Mitt Romney in the waning hours of his campaign is whether his giddy behavior was a sign of a candidate truly at peace with losing his second bid for the presidency or whether he really believed the White House was within his grasp.
It’s hard to believe Romney, who became a multimillionaire based on his obsession with numbers and data, could have missed the signs of President Barack Obama’s looming victory.
On the other hand, she doesn’t find that all that surprising:
Over the last month, the momentum and energy of the race seemed to be on Romney’s side, as he scored some of the biggest crowds of his political career – including 15,000 in Florida, 20,000 in Ohio and 12,000 in New Hampshire in the last week alone. Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane on Tuesday afternoon, Romney said he had intellectually felt he would win the race for some time but had come to that thinking emotionally, as well, because of his crowds.
The GOP candidate emphasized that point by telling reporters he had written just one set of remarks for election night: A 1,118-word “victory speech.”
But was it all an elaborate head fake?
Yes. There was a reason he gave no interviews in the last weeks and hid with his family. He knew, or at least that’s the speculation here, if it matters. It doesn’t, now, and the demographics killed then. They lost women and Hispanics and black and gays and the young and anyone that wasn’t hardcore white-bread.
Jonathan Chait offers this:
Democrats will not keep winning forever. (In particular, their heavy reliance on young and non-white voters, who vote more sporadically, will subject the party to regular drubbings in midterm elections, when only the hardiest voters turn out.) Eventually, the Republican Party will recast and reform itself, and the Democratic Party’s disparate constituencies will eat each other alive, as they tend to do when they lack the binding force of imminent peril. But conservatives have lost their best chance to strike down the Obama legacy and mold the government in the Paul Ryan image.
There really has to be some way for Republicans to connect with Hispanic voters in a big way. I don’t like what that is likely to mean for immigration policy and affirmative action, but I fear that a GOP that remains principled and purist on these issues will continue to be marginalized nationally, as the country becomes a lot more Hispanic, and a lot more liberal.
There was also this at the Economist:
I expect Obama will finally turn to immigration reform and climate change in earnest. I think we might see a more muscular Obama in the second term who confronts Congress assertively in pressing for his agenda. The presidential mandate might be largely a myth, but with his last campaign behind him Mr Obama will have an opportunity to make more of a mark on domestic policy without worrying about the next election – if we can move into 2013 without falling off the fiscal cliff. More generally, I’m gratified that American voters have re-elected a black president despite deep strains of racism in our society.
Ezra Klein in this item looks at the changes Obama’s second term will bring:
The Affordable Care Act – the single most significant bill of Obama’s first term – is law. It’s law that mostly won’t go into effect until 2014, but it is law nevertheless. Mitt Romney’s key campaign promise was that, on day one, he’d begin working to pass a new law that would repeal it. But Obama doesn’t have to do anything to make health reform happen. He doesn’t need 60 votes in the Senate. He doesn’t need 218 votes in the House. It’s already happening. Obama’s reelection is all that was required to for the United States of America to join every other industrialized country in having a universal – or at least very near-to-universal – health-care system.
There’s no stopping that now, and Adam Sorensen wonders here about what is next for the losers:
If Republicans blame Romney for this election’s outcome, another conservative retrenchment could mean more gridlock and more primary bloodletting. If the fault falls on conservative candidates like Missouri’s Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock – a group that not only weighed down the top of the ticket but may have cost the GOP control of the Senate – things could be different. Republicans might rethink the wisdom of playing to a shrinking coalition, as Democrats run up margins with women and Latinos. More importantly, they might resign themselves to work with the President they couldn’t get rid of.
Lots of people had lots to say, but Andrew Sullivan stands out:
Romney’s was, I thought, one of the most graceful and gracious concession speeches I can recall. I thought for a split-second: what if this Romney had run? And then I realized that his party would never have nominated that Romney and his ambition had trumped his integrity long ago anyway. But there was still poignancy to that moment – the gap between what a human being can be (or still is, as a father or husband or friend) and what politics and wealth and power can do to someone.
The president’s oration was almost a summation of his core belief: that against the odds, human beings can actually better ourselves, morally, ethically, materially, and we can do so more powerfully together than alone, and that nowhere exemplifies that endeavor more than America. It was Lincolnian in its cadences, and in some ways, was the final, impassioned, heart-felt rebuke to all those, including his opponent, who tried to portray him as somehow un-American. How deeply that must have cut. How emphatically did he rebut that charge.
That was the whole point of all this:
What he reminded me of was how deeply American he actually is – how this country’s experiment truly is in diversity as well as democracy. And his diversity is not some cringe-worthy 1990s variety. It is about being both white and black, both mid-Western and Hawaiian, both proudly American and yet also attuned to the opinion of mankind.
And Sullivan certainly doesn’t think this was a perfunctory election, given this and all else that was decided:
America crossed the Rubicon of every citizen’s access to healthcare, and re-elected a black president in a truly tough economic climate. The shift toward gay equality is now irreversible. The end of prohibition of marijuana is in sight. Women, in particular, moved this nation forward – pragmatically, provisionally, sensibly. They did so alongside the young whose dedication to voting was actually greater this time than in 2008, the Latino voters who have made the current GOP irrelevant, and African-Americans, who turned up in vast numbers, as in 2008, to put a period at the end of an important sentence.
That sentence will never now be unwritten. By anyone.
No one should feel empty about what just happened – so very much actually changed. But it’s the middle of the night here in Los Angeles and what just changed forever and what we do next will have to wait for the next column or two, or three. This is, however, no time to cheer. It’s time to think carefully and get to work.