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The Evans Report

Republicans need to calm down

Premium content from Atlanta Business Chronicle by Randy Evans

Date: Friday, November 16, 2012, 6:00am EST

Yes, the re-election of President Barack Obama is the end of a contentious 2012 election cycle. No, it is not the end of the Republican Party. Republicans need to just calm down.

Yes, voters let President Obama keep the keys to the White House, but they did not give him the checkbook. The place where all spending must start (the U.S. House of Representatives) remains in Republican hands.

While there may be many recriminations from the nomination to Election Day, the election reflects a changing America. This is not something new for the United States. It does change. And, more significantly, governing coalitions change.

Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight, there are tactical changes that might have made a difference to the outcome of this particular election. For example, in retrospect, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might have been better able to deliver Florida and put a bigger dent in the Latino vote.

And, while hurricanes and storms are never predictable, Gov. Romney might have been better served by staying on offense during the last presidential debate and through the final days of the campaign. But then, who could have predicted that a superstorm would come along, and that one of Gov. Romney’s leading advocates (indeed the selected keynoter for the RNC Convention), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, would serve up a giant bear hug for President Obama on the eve of the election?

2012 does raise a real question about whether elections can be won on purely economic issues. Millions of Republicans sat out this election — enough to make the difference in the margin of victory. As it turns out, there are more important issues for many voters than just the economy.

Indeed, it appears that for some evangelicals, Gov. Romney’s Mormon faith remained a stealth issue throughout the campaign. As one evangelical voter put it, “God sent Hurricane Irene at the beginning of the Republican National Convention and Superstorm Sandy on the eve of the election. He didn’t need to tell me twice.”

Yet, this election reflected much more than that.

President Obama successfully pulled together a coalition of this new electorate consisting of African-Americans, gays/lesbians, unions, partisan Democrats, Latinos, and just enough women to created a political (although not yet governing) majority.

To achieve this, President Obama used specific wedge “threshold” issues for his constituencies that trumped every other issue, including the economy. For gays/lesbians, he offered marriage; for Latinos, he offered a path to citizenship; for unions, he offered power; and for women, he offered protection of rights they value. Partisan Democrats were always for him. For all of them, the economy was secondary. Combined, they represented a political majority on Nov. 6, 2012.

The president’s political machine was much more effective than it had to be. As opposed to giving constituent voters a reason to vote, the Obama ground game needed only to prompt them to vote. Invested voters eager to protect things they cherish most do not require much. President Obama’s political operation gave them much more — stoking their fears of being forced to go back while offering them the opportunity to march “Forward!” Any miscue by the Republicans’ weakest links became reinforcing evidence of an unacceptable brand.

For Republicans at a national level, the bottom line is that a coalition of white men, entrepreneurs and evangelicals is no longer enough to win national elections in presidential years. While this coalition may be enough in non-presidential years (as 2010 proved), it is not enough to win consistently in presidential years, especially against an incumbent president.

With that said, the Obama coalition has not so far translated beyond President Obama. In 2010, Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives. There are now 30 Republican governors. The fact remains that President Obama is largely politically unique.

No other candidate could generate over90 percent of a constituency like President Obama does among some of his core constituencies. As a result, the political reality remains that neither party has developed a political coalition capable of sustaining a governing majority. The result is a passionate but divided electorate, with a passionate but divided government, lacking a clear mandate, and with very real problems on the horizon.

Evans is a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.