By David Rohde
NEW YORK Nov 7 Within hours of President Obama
winning re-election, two faces of the Republican Party emerged.
One impressed me enormously. The other deeply troubled me.
Liberals, meanwhile, rejoiced at having averted what they saw as
a national calamity.
The time, though, is not for gloating. It is for supporting
the Republicans who can rein in their party's far right and help
us all. For me, Fox News, of all places, was a hopeful sign.
While Karl Rove questioned whether Obama had, in fact, won
Ohio, Juan Williams and Brit Hume courageously admitted the
party had lost touch with a changing nation. They embraced exit
polls showing that the surge in Latino, black, female and young
voters that aided Obama in 2008 was a permanent demographic
change, not a one-time event.
"We're looking at a new kind of politics," Williams said.
Hume stood tall as well.
"The demographic factors that Juan referred to are
absolutely real," he said.
And this morning Newt Gingrich, of all people, issued a bold
"We have to recognize that if you're not going to be
competitive with Latinos, with African-Americans, with Native
Americans, with Asian-Americans," Gingrich said on CBS, "you're
not going to be a successful party."
All of these officials should be applauded. I disagree with
them in many ways politically. I also question whether this is
the latest of many political pivots for Gingrich. But I praise
and respect them for accepting the basic dynamics of the race.
Publicly admitting you were wrong is never easy.
The reaction of far-right Republicans to the results, on the
other hand, was astonishing. They argued that the vast swathes
of female and minority voters who supported Obama would have
supported an arch conservative.
"A succession of potential Republican nominees - Sarah
Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich - were
bright, attractive, and have compelling narratives," Michael
Hammond wrote on Red State, a conservative blog.
"Instead, Republican voters (or, at least, enough of them)
bought into this Democratic mantra that only a liberal
stand-for-nothing Republican can win a presidential election."
One group of Republicans is facing reality. Another is not.
President Obama needs to quickly move to further marginalize the
extreme Republican right.
His victory speech last night ended on a stirring note, but
I wished it had contained concrete, bipartisan gestures.
James Bennet of The Atlantic got it right in a message he
posted on Twitter during the early part of the speech. "Give us
an action plan," Bennet wrote. "Gang of 8 to the White House for
budget talks next week; Romney to be commerce secretary; not
stories but specifics."
Obama, who has established few strong relationships with
members of Congress, must personally engage in the effort to
avert the "fiscal cliff." The moderate Republican senators who
are members of the Gang of 8 should be a particular focus.
Cynics will scoff, but some positive signs emerged
Wednesday. The White House released a statement saying that
Obama had called congressional leaders from both parties Tuesday
night and Wednesday morning and reiterated his support for a
bipartisan solution to the fiscal cliff. In a press conference,
House Speaker John Boehner said that he would be open to
increasing tax revenues through tax reforms. "We are ready to be
led," Boehner said.
If Obama can strike an elusive "grand bargain" with
Republicans, I believe it will strengthen him and the moderate
wing of the GOP. The question, of course, is how far Obama
should bend. Recalcitrance from the far right should not be
rewarded. Compromise by moderate Republicans should.
If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner choose to maintain their
opposition to tax increases of any kind on the wealthy, Obama
should allow the country to fall off the fiscal cliff. The best
time for the damage to occur is now - just after Obama has won
another four years.
Our country is deeply partisan. Yet Americans are also
frustrated with the failure of both parties to get anything
done. Over time, I believe that partisan brinksmanship will lose
There are some glimmers of hope. Thirteen states have agreed
to curb the gerrymandering of congressional districts by having
non-partisan commissions draw districts instead of state
legislatures. Multiple studies have shown that gerrymandering by
partisan state legislatures has created a House of
Representatives where liberal Democrats and conservative
Republicans coast to re-election.
A study released by the Bipartisan Policy Center the 2012
House races will have the lowest number of competitive seats in
over 40 years. There were 152 competitive seats in the 1970s,
according to the study. Today, that number has dropped to 101.
In 1992 there were 96 House districts that voted for one party
in the congressional race and another for president. That number
has now dwindled to a half dozen.
Some politicians show that partisan divides can be bridged.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a popular Republican
governor of a state that voted 58 percent for Obama and 41
percent for Romney. Jeb Bush has shown the same skills. So have
Republican Senators and Gang of 8 members Saxby Chambliss of
Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Mike
Johanns of Nebraska.
It will take years to narrow our vast political divide. But
I believe the dysfunction it breeds is becoming more and more
apparent to voters. A "grand bargain" to avoid the fiscal cliff
would be an enormous step forward. A small one is giving
conservatives credit where credit is due. I applaud Gingrich and
the Fox News commentators. More people from across the political