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The Big Winner of 2012: True Representation

Women. And compromise. And health care. And moderates. And the embrace of 21st century life. Election 2012 showed Republicans that they need to make some major changes to keep up with today.

I'm not writing this because I’m gloating over the results of Election 2012. I'm not writing this because I think “my guy” beat “their guy.”

(Ed. Note: This is a point, counter-point style of column. Look for an opposing viewpoint Sunday.)

I'm writing this because I think the election showed us some very important things about the citizens of these United States: 

Our country’s electorate chose to recognize the plurality of all its people and cast their votes in ways to protect the rights of all its citizens. Our country’s electorate chose to promote the idea of governing for the benefit of all citizens rather than the benefit of a few. And our country’s electorate chose to cast the majority of their votes for candidates who ran on a platform of inclusion and compromise against those whose party staked its campaign on religious superiority, intolerance and values from the past century.

On the whole, we learned quite a lot about our country last Tuesday, Nov. 6.

We learned that the country doesn’t take kindly to the restrictions on women and women’s health that many Republican candidates promoted during the campaigns. We saw this in the overwhelming rejection of candidates that not only made outrageous comments about rape and contraception, but also proposed legislation restricting women’s ability to make their own reproductive choices.

Candidates like Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame), Joe Walsh, Scott Brown, Richard Mourdock (who suggested pregnancy after rape is a “gift from God”), Alan West, and others were defeated. An historic mark was made in the Senate—20 women senators will now hold seats in the upper chamber, including the legislative body’s first lesbian senator. Tammy Ducksworth, Clair McCaskill and others won spotlighted, news-making campaigns. Pro-choice candidates (including CT’s Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts) received resounding support across the country and women voters cast ballots overwhelmingly—by 38 percent—for Democratic candidates who supported women’s equality measures.

I heard one pundit on the morning after the elections make a pithy, yet incredibly insightful, analysis of what happened during Election 2012 when it came to how the Republican Party positioned itself. Matt Dowd of ABC said, “The Republicans ran a ‘Mad Men’ campaign in a ‘Modern Family’ world.” That couldn’t be more on point.

The election showed us that voters support social issues, like marriage equality and even legalization of marijuana, that are more of today than 50 years ago. When the 18-month debate and election cycle hyped the GOP’s reproductive platform that was not only anti-choice but also seemed to be anti-contraceptive, the country seemed to scratch their collective head at the end point and say, “What century do they think it is?” With states as varied as Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington supporting gay marriage referendums, it seems the country is supporting diversity more and more.

What the country doesn’t seem to support as much is the Tea Party. Five Tea Party candidates lost their runs for seats and the standard bearer—Michele Bachman—managed to only eke out a very tight win. This only highlights another major conclusion from the election: The GOP is highly fractured and needs to reassess its priorities, its leadership and its direction if it’s going to maintain a large enough electorate to represent.

Even in the less extreme sectors of the party, there is recognition that party unity has taken a major hit. Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Mitt Romney wasn’t the “spiritual leader” of the party. Former party head Michael Steele and former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani both spoke out about how the Republicans as a whole need to reexamine how to incorporate more moderate views front and center into their party’s platform.

There were other major miscalculations the GOP made, especially when it came to money, and we saw that big money didn’t necessarily equate to big wins. Despite outspending the Democrats, the Republican candidates in key battles lost to the surprise of some party stalwarts. Karl Rove, the high priest of the party, had to come up with every rationalization in the book to explain why the big bucks and his strategy didn’t work—not only to big money donors but to himself—to great embarrassment on live TV while serving as a pundit on the conservative FOX network.

Speaking of overspending and waste, just look what happened to Linda McMahon. In her second failed bid for political office, the Connecticut Republican spent $50 million, this after the first $50 million she spent losing a bid for governor the year before. That’s quite a lot of money to spend on learning that what you stand for isn’t what voters want any more.

The Republicans failed to campaign in a 21st century way. The Democrats took much more advantage of social media platforms, fundraising and incorporating contemporary methods to economize what their less full war chests contained.

Overall, the Republicans miscalculated who would come out to vote and who was important in the electorate. Despite beliefs that the youth vote wouldn’t turn out for President Obama in 2012 like they did in 2008, the opposite happened: the youth vote increased and the overwhelmingly supported the President’s re-election. The enthusiasm amongst women and minority voters was at an all-time high for the Democrats once again.

Sadly, it was reflected in the faces of the Republican candidates and spokespeople out front and center of the party. Donald Trump and the Todd Akins of the world did the GOP no favors. White men who seemed to be out of touch with the electorate became equated with what the party stood for. And in the immediacy of today’s news cycle, those kinds of newsmakers hurt the Republicans in critical ways.

Here’s what did win: Truth. Tolerance. Compassion. In the days following, we’ve seen an acknowledgement of that as Republican leaders, like John Boehner, have made more conciliatory remarks about some of the president’s major programs that voters favored—health care and immigration among them. Key to these initiatives is the intangibles of compassion and inclusion. Those are hard messages to get around and it worked in the Democrats’ favor.

We all can take away lessons from Election 2012. Compromise is something voters want. Middle ground and moderates—especially when it comes to social issues—is the way the majority of the country trends. And finally, the country is different now in racial makeup, in priorities and in the direction it’s heading. Politicians would be wise to heed what it is the citizens of this great country want when it comes to representing them.

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