I’m thankful that once again the critical factor in electing an American president was an expanded electorate comprised of a diverse coalition of voters who cast their ballots, refusing to be ignored, dismissed, or disenfranchised.
Exit polls also indicate a more progressive issue landscape, consistent with a millennial generation that is more multicultural, fair-minded, less ideological, and cares deeply about issues. Hopefully this new coalition of voters–browner, younger, and led by women—will find ways to work together and leverage their electoral power for policy outcomes. A more accurate reflection of America, this diverse electorate has put both Democrats and Republicans on notice as Democrats look to 2016 with the reality that Barack Obama will not be on the ticket, and the GOP tries to reinvent itself.
Racist, classist, divisive post-election rationalizations flooding conservative chatter ignores the fact that for the past few years the GOP message to those of us who support President Obama (aka “47%” of the country) – white, black, Latino, male, female, young, old, working class, low income and upper income Americans – has cast us as the enemy. The conservative language and policies aimed at “taking our country back” with the hopes of returning to a more “traditional” America are inconsistent with where the demographics of the country are now.
The latest rationalization for the GOP’s substantial losses puts the blame on Governor Romney’s comments about 47% of Americans and “free stuff.” Again, conservatives are ignoring a simple fact: Romney is hardly the only person in the GOP to have contributed to the divisive “stupid” language. From Newt Gingrich talking about children scrubbing toilets, to the ongoing refusal of the party to push back on the birther conspiracy, to the war on women, to former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan complaining about the “urban vote.”
It also ignores the fact that despite the millions spent attempting to influence the outcome of the election an individual vote still holds the most power. Despite voter suppression schemes years in the making, the GOP must now figure out how to reach out to a broader coalition of the American electorate if it is to continue on as a viable national political party.
Last week Karl Rove suggested that the GOP should copy the 50-state strategy devised and implemented by former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. (Full disclosure: I served as the DNC communications director during Dean’s tenure.) But the 50-state strategy wasn’t about cosmetic changes to talking points or telling people what we thought they wanted to hear. It wasn’t just about rebuilding email lists, overhauling the database, and putting staff on the ground. Chairman Dean did do those things, but at the heart of the 50 state strategy was the belief that if you write off half of the country from the beginning with a shortsighted 18-state strategy, you’ve already lost.
In order to be a truly national party we had to show up everywhere from Maine to Mississippi, because it is a sign of respect to show up and ask people for their votes. We must show up in communities across the country on a consistent basis, not just a few weeks before Election Day with platitudes and “free stuff.”
We sought to better understand why it seemed that even those who agreed with Democratic candidates on the issues, still voted against Democrats and what we saw as in their political and economic self-interest. We brought together Democratic mayors, state legislators, governors, senators and House members; we talked and listened to Democrats across the country. We realized that it wasn’t a matter of voting “against their interests.” Many Americans who weren’t voting for Democrats actually agreed with us on the issues. Rather, they were voting for what they saw as a higher interest: their values. We realized the need to talk about the fundamental values we share, which are the underpinnings of issues and policies Democrats were advocating.
Before the Republican National Committee starts trying to put its very own 50 state strategy in place, conservatives must realize the only way to convince voters you share their values is to mean it; and the values of the diverse 21st century electorate don’t view the world as “takers” and “makers.”