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November 20, 2012

The GOP's cold comfort

No sooner had the electoral thundercloud arrived on Election Day than some Republicans began searching it for a silver lining. It is an understandable impulse after a defeat to want to minimize its magnitude and rationalize away its causes. But there are no comforting augurs for Republicans in President Barack Obama's victory. It was crushing and ominous, and it's pointless to try to deny it. Republicans are comforting themselves with a few arguments, none of which is too persuasive.

It was a close election. Yes, but that doesn't quite capture it. A better way to think of it is as a narrow landslide. The president won by more than two points nationally, a big margin by contemporary standards. The Electoral College magnified it into a 332-206 stomping. While just 400,000 more votes in four key states would have won the election for Mitt Romney, two can play that game. John Kerry lost by about 120,000 votes in decisive Ohio in 2004, and Al Gore by 500 votes in decisive Florida in 2000 (while he won the national popular vote). These, by the way, are the only two presidential elections Democrats have lost in the past six.

This year, Republicans only managed to take back Indiana and North Carolina from 2008. And Obama had coattails. Democrats picked up two Senate seats in a year when Republicans dreamed of taking back the majority because so many Democratic seats were up. They picked up about seven House seats despite re-districting that tilted the playing field in the GOP's direction. Republicans had better hope they don't suffer defeats in many more such close elections.

Mitt Romney was a weak candidate. Sure, Romney was flawed. He was never a natural politician, and his private-equity background amplified negative perceptions of Republicans. But Romney was clearly the strongest of the candidates in the primary field in the run-up to a winnable general election. What does that say about the party? The Washington Post points out that in almost every important Senate race, the Republican candidate actually underperformed Romney.

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