Coming out of last night's defeat, it occurred to me that there are some important things that we don't know, and some important lessons that we now know.
What We Don't Know
Was the President's appeal personal or political?
In some ways, Barack Obama presents the perfect political storm for non-Democrats. He has particular appeal both to minority communities and to the affluent academic-elite-lefty components of the Democrat party. So was last night's heavy Democrat turnout a new benchmark for Democratic turnout based on support for Democrat policy, or was it a particular testament to Obama's persona and his extraordinarily talented political team?
What We Now Know
Only idiots fail to learn from defeat. This is what we "now" know -- because until last night, these were open questions, and had the result been different, the strategies that came up short would have been hailed as genius. So I'm not setting these out in "I told you so" mode; these are observations based on information as we now have it.
Republicans simply cannot allow Democratic attacks -- however outlandish -- to go unanswered.
In a fairer world, the President and his minions could not have gotten away with spending the summer characterizing Governor Romney as a murderer, felon, tax cheat, heartless capitalist pig. Had the distortions and abuse been directed at a Democrat, rather than being directed by one, the press would have been all over it and the truth would have been widely disseminated. But as we've seen, it's not a "fair"world.
Republicans have to realize that they are the only ones who will defend themselves/each other, no matter how egregious the smear (if the "right" person or group is doing the smearing). We saw this once, when President Bush declined to defend himself against absurd untruths that he "lied" us into war in Iraq. We saw it again in the trashing of a good and decent man, Mitt Romney. The problelm is that if these attacks go unrebutted, a critical mass of low-information voters simply start to believe them. And apparently, there wasn't enough time to right the "perception gap" between October 3 (the first debate) and the election.
Republicans need to ensure their nominees are excellent communicators.
Tea party adherents will argue that Republican Party retreads like Thompson and Allen simply can't win. GOP establishment types will argue that Tea Party candidates (like Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell and Richard Mourdock) can't win. Neither is true -- and both are. The Tea Party may have given us the trio above, but they've also given us Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee. Establishment GOP who are good people include Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake. What we need, above all, are candidates who can explain and defend our positions without sounding weird or not-ready-for-prime-time. The press will help "explain" the gaffes of a novice or sub-optimal Democrat. Not so wtih Republians. Charlotte Witton once said, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good." I don't know if that's really true for women -- but it's certainly true for anyone running with an (R) beside their name, anywhere but in the reddest of red states.
Incidentally, Todd Akin deserves a special mention. He is in a class by himself for cluelessness, classlessness and selfishness. He cost the GOP not just Missouri's Senate seat, but also Indiana's. He provided indispensable ammunition for the President's demagogic and demeaning "war on women" theme. He has set the cause of life back, made a laughingstock of Christian conservatism, and he is an absolute disgrace. It's time for older, white male Republican candidates to stop exploring the theology of abortion. Please. And if you step in it, have the grace not to take the rest of the movement down with you.
At least for now, Republicans cannot have any more very rich white male presidential nominees from privileged backgrounds.
I stand second to no one in my admiration for what Governor Romney has achieved. I don't believe anyone should be ashamed of great wealth, honestly made. Having the chance to earn and enjoy it is an important part of the American dream. It's a sign of intelligence, talent and hard work. But for now, especially in an era of great economic hardship (worsening thanks to Obama), a very rich white male Republican nominee from a privileged background simply has too high a hill of class-warfare-based suspicion to climb. A very rich (self-made) female or minority Republican might be ok, and so might an entirely self-made one (who, himself, had been a plasterer -- not, like Gov. Romney, whose father had been a plasterer). It's a sad sign of the times, but there are demagogues among us who have simply convinced too many Americans, even against evidence and reason, that the GOP is nothing more than the "party of the rich."
I won't even point out the obvious irony that rich liberals -- like Ted Kennedy -- are proclaimed "icons." Apparently, what makes you "worthy" isn't giving away your own money to charity, as Governor and Mrs. Romney have done . . . it's more "noble" and "caring" to want to take other people's money by law, to be given to the government for inefficient redistributionist schemes. (That's a contradiction I will never understand.)