The race for president is over. Barack Obama won a second term as president of the United States. The president and his team survived a grueling campaign. After lurching to the right during the Republican primary, Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, was beset with a series of obstacles too much to overcome as he tried to bring himself back to the center.
Before we move to the next steps — a lame-duck session of Congress, speculation about Cabinet posts in the second Obama term, second-guessing on who should have done what and (ahhhhh, please not so soon) the inevitable jockeying on who will run in 2016 — we should pause a moment to reflect on four Election 2012 takeaways.
A mandate isn’t in the cards this time
The current Washington math is extremely difficult. To make significant progress on the nation’s challenges, one side needs (a.) the White House, (b.) a numerical majority in the U.S. House and (c.) a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority in the Senate. That let’s-get-moving trifecta was never really likely for either party during the 2012 campaign.
Congressional Republicans have shown enormous discipline in rejecting practically every major Obama-led initiative over the past four years, including foolishly toying with the nation’s credit rating. Nothing in this election leads us to believe things will change in a second Obama term.
After his 2004 re-election, George W. Bush announced that voters handed him “political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” Despite his efforts to make good on that pledge, Bush was swamped by the opposition — from congressional Democrats and, in the case of immigration reform, by conservative members of his own party. We wouldn’t be surprised if Obama meets a similar fate.
The bottom line is the nation and its most pressing agenda items — job-creation, national security and the size of the Pentagon’s budget, taxes, the deficit, climate change and so on — will likely remain stuck in a low gear. We wish that wasn’t so.
2. The Supreme Court is not helping
The high court’s 2010 Citizens United case, along with some friendly Federal Elections Commission rules, let loose a torrent of what’s called “dark money” into presidential and congressional campaigns, contributions that are largely obscured from the public.
At least $300 million worth of undisclosed dollars oozed into the election cycle. For more than a century, the nation has operated under a principle that voters have a right to know who is giving how much to influence our political system. Now, donors can secretly give as much as they wish.
Democracy wilts under the cover of secrecy. An activist majority on the Supreme Court has provided cover to the deep-pocketed sugar daddies who prefer to quietly pull the strings of candidates.
For the entire 2012 election, the Center for Responsive Politics estimated the total bill would come to around $6 billion. It’s time for citizens and candidates to consider a campaign season too often focused on small ideas, trivial matters and phony controversies, and wonder if we are getting our money’s worth. The answer from here is no.
3. The South remains comfortable with one-party rule
The Republican Party continues to keep a firm grip on the Deep South. In Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia were the safest bets going for Romney. Alabama, for instance, Romney put up huge numbers Tuesday over Obama. That’s despite the fact that he was trounced by the more conservative Rick Santorum during Alabama’s presidential primary earlier this year. No matter, the vast majority of Southern voters were never going to consider voting for Obama.
Historians will note that only the labels have changed. The South once was dominated by Democrats, they will say, and now Republicans rule the roost. Yes, but that’s not a requirement. As it stands today, one-party rule has meant this region is largely taken for granted by Republicans and ignored by Democrats.
For most of his presidency, Obama has ignored the South. We hope he will work harder at making his party’s case here over the next four years.
4. It sure is lonely in a non-swing state
Thanks to the Electoral College, the outcome of this presidential election — like the most recent ones — came down to results in less than one-tenth of the states.
Much of the map is already nailed down for one party or the other. Alabama’s nine Electoral College votes, which went Tuesday to Romney, were never in doubt. The same could be said for California’s 55 Electoral College votes, which were consistently in Obama’s tally all year.
The states that could go either way become the ones where the candidates spent the most of their time. The Obama and Romney campaigns focused heavily on Ohio this year, as well as Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Florida and just a few other so-called swing states. In truth, in the final months of a campaign, a candidate is wasting his time in the other states unless he is picking up a seven-figure campaign contribution.
There is a different way, however. Under the Constitution, states are free to allocate their Electoral College votes any way they see fit. For example, states could hand a majority of votes to the outright winner, but divide the rest according to a candidate’s share of the vote. Suddenly, Romney has an incentive to campaign for Republican-friendly areas of California and Obama has a reason to seek out reliably Democratic sections of Alabama.
Another effort at Electoral College reform is led by the advocates at National Popular Vote. Its aim is to elect a president based on which candidate receives the most votes in the United States. It is promoting the idea state by state. States would only be required to enforce it when states equaling a winning majority of electoral votes — 270 — have adopted similar legislation.
With nine states already on board, the movement is halfway to its goal of 270. There’s more at www.nationalpopularvote.com. Americans tired of presidential politics coming down to the whims of a handful of states might wish to take a long look at alternatives.