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Election Night Was 'Dismal' For The Republicans


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renée Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Throughout this morning we've been reaching out for a variety of viewpoints on the election results and one person we've called is Michael Gerson, columnist for the Washington Post and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Mr. Gerson, welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL GERSON: Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: I've been reading a lot of things all morning, asking the question why the Republican Party lost. Why do you think?

GERSON: Well, it was a pretty short, dismal night, last night, for Republicans. I think that there's a broad recognition, even among people who resent it, that this is a different country, demographically. You can't drive up your percentage of the white vote high enough. You know, the future has arrived on these issues.

Mitt Romney's greatest weakness, which was that he had alienated Hispanics during the Republican primaries, turned out to be a disproportionately damaging one. If you think back a year ago during the primaries, Mitt Romney was attacking Rick Perry for providing, you know, illegal immigrants with education and healthcare benefits, and their children.

And that turns out to have been a move that, in the long term, was politically suicidal and has hurt the party.

INSKEEP: Let me throw another perspective at you - Matt K. Lewis who's writing in the Daily Caller here. I'll just read a little bit of this. He says Republicans must find a way to appeal to cosmopolitan conservatives. He says you can't survive as a party if you concede the young, the urban, and the educated. Those are his words.

GERSON: Well, I think there's some element of that. I think there was more evidence, last night, that the Republican Party has a continuing class problem. And not for the cosmopolitans, but, in fact, in a place like Ohio where there was a perception that Romney was an elitist, wealthy - his opposition to the auto bailout may have hurt him badly.

So, you know, a political party has to do many things and appeal to many people. It has to have that perception that it is intellectually interesting, it's appealing to people that are interested in policy, that want innovative, you know, bipartisan ideas. I agree with Matt on that, which you didn't see much from the Romney campaign.

But I think there was also a significant class problem with identifying with blue collar concerns, the concerns of real people. So there's a problem with a very close election, is that you can make the case that just about everything was decisive.

INSKEEP: Any one thing might have changed it.

GERSON: That's right. Exactly.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another critique. This comes from Conor Friedersdorf, he's writing in The Atlantic, here. It's a brutal article. He says - I'm summarizing here - conservatives let the conservative media delude them, separate them from reality. The mainstream media consumers got Nate Silver of the New York Times who called the election correctly. Conservatives got Dick Morris and Michael Barone, and even Karl Rove, predicting a victory, or a big victory or a landslide - and turns out that separating yourself from reality is not successful.

GERSON: Well, I think there's going to have to be a lot reassessment in the way that Republicans do electoral analysis. I mean, they made some plausible cases and they turned out to be wrong. And often this is a kind of selection bias. You pick hopeful material.

INSKEEP: And he basically argued that the party has been doing this for years. Is there some truth to that?

GERSON: Well, I think Republicans probably do need to adjust, not just their audience, but their analysis, the way that they, you know, view the electorate. This was an argument that America hadn't changed as much as the Obama campaign was arguing, when it comes to younger voters, Hispanics, you know, minorities.

And it turned out that, you know, the future is here. And the party had changed. And that was, you know, hopeful thinking. And, you know, it is important, in that context, to be reality-based. You have to - you can't criticize the country. You can't resent the country. You have to appeal to the country, and - as it is. And that's how you win national elections.

INSKEEP: And in just a few seconds, President Obama, of course, won last night. He spoke of reaching out to Republicans. What's one thing you think he could reach out to Republicans on?

GERSON: Well, I think the measure of his seriousness for many Republicans on the Hill and for people around the country, is on entitlement reform as part of a package here.

INSKEEP: Medicare and Social Security, that sort.

GERSON: Yeah, exactly. That will include increased taxes on the wealthy. He campaigned on that issue. But the question is whether he's going to be able to pare that in the deal that really does address some of these long-term fiscal challenges. And that, I think, has a chance of gaining some broader support.

INSKEEP: Michael Gerson, always a pleasure to speak with you.

GERSON: Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: He's a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.