Opinion Columns & Blogs

Jennifer Rubin: How and why Republicans had a big election


The exit polls become fascinating after an election when one can see how one side won rather than try to pinpoint the margin of victory.

For Republicans, the U.S. House exit polls showed an electorate that went from a 7-percentage point Democratic advantage in 2012 to even this year (36 percent of the electorate for each major party). Republicans won every age category older than 40, lost women by only 5 points, won married women overwhelmingly, won the suburbs by 12 percent and won the $50,000-100,000 income bracket by 10 points.

Health care was the second most important issue after the economy. Republicans won 35 percent of Hispanics, who made up just 8 percent of the electorate. (In 2012, Hispanics were 10 percent of the total.)

The GOP should be cautious about extrapolating to presidential election years when the unpopular president will not be on the ballot – although his policies might still be. The demographics will not be as favorable in a presidential year in which more young, minority and occasional voters show up. Still, there is much to be learned.

In an exceptionally gracious acceptance speech in which he said his opponent “deserves a lot of support” and declared that she had earned his respect, likely new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke not about government’s evils but about politicians who “forgot it is their duty to serve.” He said it was his party’s job to “restore hope, confidence and optimism” and warned, “It doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.” He emphasized that “government can make a difference and we do every day,” but it also has the power to be destructive and impose pain on ordinary voters. It was a grown-up message from a responsible leader. His party should take its cue from him.

Meanwhile, John Kasich in Ohio, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Terry Branstad in Iowa, Rick Snyder in Michigan and Brian Sandoval in Nevada all won governorships in blue or purple states after expanding Medicaid. In all of these states plus Wisconsin, where Scott Walker won handily, the Common Core curriculum standards are alive and well. These are not libertarian governors, not even ones who can be characterized as antagonistic toward government. Each one of these is a reformer. They were elected to do something, and they were rewarded for governing well.

In sum, in the most Republican electorate they could have hoped for, staid conservatives (not a single GOP “establishment” incumbent lost), young reformers, hands-on governors and a lot of women House and Senate candidates prevailed. Voters did not want dysfunction or rebellion; they wanted good governance and responsive officials.

Most of all, they wanted to stop the president in his tracks. Republicans should be careful about the lessons they learn from arguably the best election night in a decade.

Sure, liberals are reciting the canard that the election was not about anything. Right-wingers are convinced that this proves the shutdown right (the recovery for the GOP began, of course, as soon as the shutdown ended and McConnell reasserted control over his caucus). In the reality-based community, however, the GOP establishment, the donors, the voters and the party operatives put quality candidates on the ballot who ran disciplined races, tapped into anger toward a failing president and got their voters out. The GOP will need to do all that and more to win back the White House.

Jennifer Rubin writes for the Washington Post.