There are two easy answers. Neither of them is correct. The first answer is advanced by proponents of liberalism. They say that the 2012 election was an ideological election, the seminal, long-awaited decision of the American public to fully embrace their inner socialists. This argument posits that Mitt Romney was an extreme conservative, Barack Obama was an extreme liberal, and the American people cast their lot with the liberal.
That argument is incorrect. As the left correctly argued during the last few weeks of the election cycle, Mitt Romney's rhetoric shifted significantly to the left as the race went on, to the point where he could plausibly be accused of me-tooism during the final presidential debate. And as the right correctly argued throughout the election cycle, President Obama posed as a fiscal moderate, a tax cutter for 95 percent of Americans, a deficit hawk and a foreign policy hardliner who brought death to Osama Bin Laden and justice to al-Qaida. Both candidates, in other words, were of the center. No matter who won the election, a significant portion of the electorate would have been bamboozled by the actual policies enacted in the wake of the election.
The second answer is a more troubling one. This answer was infamously suggested by Mitt Romney himself: the 47 percent explanation. The takers, the argument goes, now outnumber the makers in this country. More Americans are dependent on government philosophically than wish for independence from the government. If this is true, we might as well throw in the towel now; American conservatism is done until the populace, Wile E. Coyote-like, realizes they're standing over the edge of a cliff. Which isn't likely to happen soon.
So, why did Republicans really lose?
The Coalition. Exit polls showed that Republicans were outpolled again in this election cycle. In the wave election of 2008, 39 percent of the electorate was registered Democrat, compared with 32 percent Republican. The independents split for Barack Obama. In this election cycle, Republicans counted on far heavier base turnout. Instead, 38 percent of the electorate was Democrat, and 32 percent was again Republican. The Republicans have hit their roof on their coalition.