The Democrats' victory in the 2012 elections--primarily President Obama's reelection but also the Democratic caucus in the senate growing by three senators*--has caused a fair amount of hand wringing among conservative circles about the future of the Republican party--the new fashion in political circles seems to be guessing which of opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, opposition to gay rights, and opposition to tax hikes for the wealthy will have been felled by the 2012 election. I agree in large part with the long term trend of American politics, but I think it's important to keep it in perspective.
Barack Obama won the presidency last Tuesday with a resounding 332-206 electoral college victory, but it's important to view this number in context. The electoral map this year favored president Obama; the robust electoral victory came along with just a 51-48 popular vote result, not dissimilar to the 2004 presidential election. Furthermore this gap was due partly to the superior Democratic campaign machinery and partly to the weak Republican field. It was also a result largely in line with what would be predicted by the state of the economy.
It is true that the Republican party will modernize because it has to modernize; my point is that it's not because of the results of what was a largely gridlocked 2012 election cycle. The reason that the GOP will have to modernize is because it's on the wrong side of history on just about every issue that's likely to be judged unambiguously by our ancestors. Their discrimination against gays, denial of climate change, defense of a robust church-state connection, and mindlessly nationalistic attitude towards immigrants will not go over so well in fifty (or even twenty) years and for that reason the GOP will drift away from its positions on those issues. But this has been true for a while. The Democrats have won the youth vote--a leading indicator of the direction of the country--in every presidential election since 1992. Public sentiment for gay rights has been shifting steadily in the Democrats' direction for about fifty years. Religiosity in America, though higher than in just about every comparable country, has been dropping. Latinos have been a quickly growing voting block in America for a while. Rick Santorum is not going to end up being the future of the Republican party but that's been clear for a while.
Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather have a president who endorsed gay marriage instead of one who didn't really seem to give a shit about it; one who couldn't pass climate change legislation instead of one who no longer believed it was man made; one who has had some doubts about the bible instead of one who believes that a 1830s convicted fraudster spoke the word of god. I'm glad that president Obama won.
But the need for the modernization of the Republican party has been apparent for a while, and would be true no matter who won last Tuesday's election--an election that, in a slightly different universe, could have been a victory for the GOP.
*The Democrats gaining three seats is contingent on Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, caucusing with them, as he is expected to do.