I am certain at some point during the past 18 months you found yourself feeling like that kid riding in the backseat of the family car on what was supposed to be the “great adventure” to “some place special.” But the only thing you can muster after about 15 minutes is “are we there yet?”
While Mitt Romney had the momentum into the final weeks of the campaign, President Obama had an electoral map advantage that caused more than a few Republicans to groan. The only question left unanswered was would momentum overtake the map or would the map slow Romney’s advance?
Well, as the political gods would have it, neither the map nor the momentum would define the last days of the campaign. Instead it would be the weather.
Even still, on paper, this race should not have turned out the way it did. But campaigns aren’t waged on paper; they are waged in the trenches with grassroots organizers and across the airwaves with TV commercials. And while the GOP demonstrated its airwaves superiority its grassroots strategy left much to be desired. Indeed, Romney surprisingly received 2 million fewer votes than 2008 Republican nominee John McCain (to add insult to a clear injury, Obama received 8 million fewer votes than he got in 2008 and still won by more than 2.5 million votes).
For Romney, those "missing voters" (the 47 percent?) no doubt included many blue-collar workers in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan who couldn’t connect with a successful businessman and savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Think about that. If the Republican campaign had flipped just 300,000 votes in four states, Romney would be president today. Can you say ground game?
Now all eyes turn to what lies ahead for the president and his loyal GOP opposition.
As 2013 beckons, the president and Congress (with the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats) face decisions on both a huge tax increase and mandatory spending cuts. To address this double whammy, and to avert an even worse recession with massive job layoffs, Democrats and Republicans have to come to a consensus on both the politics and the policy.
Congressional Republicans want Obama to maintain Bush-era tax rates for another year in the name of business stability, as well as to ease the severe defense sector cut. In return, Republicans must be open to granting the president massive new revenue without hiking tax rates. That means broad-based tax reform — which both sides say they want. And most Republican lawmakers are open to getting more out of “the rich” by closing tax loopholes.
In 2010 the president agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, explaining that raising taxes would damage the economy. Well, that argument is just as relevant today — even more so since the economy is growing slower than it was two years ago.
As for the future of the Republican Party, it does not have to be as dismal as some have intimated (me included). The party’s messaging must be improved — actually, radically overhauled — especially in speaking to white females, Latinos and African-Americans who can be receptive to a party that doesn’t judge them and instead promotes to them opportunities (especially in education), free markets that make more people money and liberty.
The next couple of months are going to be exciting, demanding and a bit scary as our nation finally confronts the realities of bloated government, too much spending and historic refusals to do anything about, either. So like that kid in the backseat of the car asking "are we there yet?" our leaders and, yes, even the American people had better realize that we’ve been here for some time now; and it’s time to get out of the car and get to work.
Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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