Anyone who cares about electoral politics and who has not yet read Michael Barone's piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal needs to do so. Now the dean of American political reporters and analysts, Barone writes about American elections better than anyone else. He may not always be right in his predictions—which he seldom makes—but his analysis is the best there is.
Friday's piece postulates that there is, as he suggested earlier this week during an American Enterprise Institute forum on the election, "a new normal," one in which the GOP can expected to control the House of Representatives while the Democrats will hold the White House more often than not.
The reasons for this are simple: "Democrats seem to have a structural advantage these days in the Electoral College. Mr. Obama won landslide margins (57 percent or more) in 11 states and the District of Columbia with 163 electoral votes. Mitt Romney won 13 states by such margins, but they have only 104 electoral votes," he wrote.
"The House," Barone continued, "is another matter. Here the Republicans have some structural advantages which, with good luck, have given them House majorities eight of the last 10 times. That is important, because since the mid-1990s Americans have become straight-ticket voters, seldom voting for candidates of different parties."
Another way of understanding this perspective to isolate those states where the electorate is roughly and evenly spread out—like most of the so-called "red states" versus the "blue states" where the concentration of voters in one or more urban centers is enough to carry the day no matter how the rest of the state votes—like New York, Washington, Oregon, or Illinois.
In most of the post-election analyses, the pundit class is ignoring the data and other key factors that determined the election results in favor of lines of argument that support favored ideological or political shifts. Some say the party and the Romney campaign did not focus enough on social issues like Obama's extreme abortion agenda. Others say that, by endorsing the defunding of Planned Parenthood, Romney ran too far to the right and that, in order to win future elections, the party needs to move toward the center on these kinds of issues. Some people say Romney's focus on the economy was too strong while others say it was not strong enough. And on and on, seeking the media space in which to argue why they are right and everyone else is wrong.
All this—while interesting and important—neglects to consider that issues in a campaign are tools, just like fundraising and direct mail, and television ads that are used to persuade voters to pick on candidate over another. In the final analysis you always have to give the electorate a reason to vote for you, not just against the other guy which, a persuasive argument can be made, Romney failed to do.
There is also an argument to be made that Romney just got beat, Chicago-style. The Obama campaign knew where it was, where it was needed and, most importantly, turned it out. The Romney people did not match them on that score which, when all is said and done, is the most important thing in every election.
What this points to is a failure in the voter data process. Overall, turnout was down. Significantly, Obama won with fewer votes than John McCain got in losing four years ago. We can conclude from this that a winning GOP electorate still exists. It just has to be found and mobilized.
It is vital, going forward that conservatives and Republicans focus on the big picture: how issues and campaign technologies and advertizing and legislative battles in Congress all work together to produce a formula for victory. There is no easy answer, no one-size-fits-all solution that will guarantee a win next time around. And it's a critical mistake to think there is.