The other day, a few hours after the presidential election and a few days after Hurricane Sandy hit the mid-Atlantic coastline, I saw an E-mail in my inbox. The subject line: “It’s Why They Call Us Jersey Strong.”
Jersey Strong. I marveled at the simple phrase and assumed it was the new battle cry of old-fashioned New Jerseyans who wouldn’t stand by and be defeated by the cruel twist of fate thrown at them by mother nature. Then I opened the E-mail and discovered, to my surprise, that it came not from, say, the Sea Bright American Legion or from a sports bar in Mantoloking but rather from the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP).
I shouldn’t have been surprised. U.S. 1 did a cover story on that group in March, 2011, and its goals then were no different than they are now:
“As we start to recover from the superstorm and prepare for the next nor’easter, CAMP NJ would like to acknowledge the heroism we’ve seen and heard about over the past week. From first responders on the scene to fellow neighbors inviting each other into their homes, these are the acts of kindness that make us proud to be from New Jersey.”
By leaping to a conclusion I was in good company. The E-mail came in a day or two after the presidential election, and my Republican friends — and their counterparts at the highest levels — were still shaking their heads in disbelief over the results.
If you spent the days and months ahead of the election watching the campaign on the mainstream media, you may not have fully appreciated the story of this shock. It was a close election, you knew going into it, with Obama leading by a slight but steady margin in most of the major polls (one exception: Gallup, see page 35). And on election night that is exactly how it came out.
But if your source of news was Fox News, fair and balanced as it is, you would have heard a different take on the Obama-Romney race. As championed by many different oracles of Republican light, with strategist Dick Morris leading the way, the mainstream polls were presented as flawed tools of the liberal media. The problem, as Morris detailed it, was that those polls were modeled on the results of the 2008 election, when the prospect of electing the nation’s first black president spurred record participation among minorities and young people. That election was an “outlier,” as Morris called it.
To truly figure out what would happen in the 2012 election you had to average the participation in 2008 with 2010 (when Republicans running for Congress had a good day), 2006, and 2004. On the television shows like Bill O’Reilly’s “Factor,” Morris patiently explained his analytic methods and why Romney was certain to win, and probably in a landslide.
Dick Morris. The name might ring a bell, because he was the political operative who helped Bill Clinton run for governor of Arkansas and then came in to help President Clinton after the disastrous 1994 midterm elections. But Morris’s role evaporated when the media reported that he was socializing with a prostitute and allowing her to eavesdrop on phone conversations he was having with the president. After that Morris became a Clinton-basher — and a Republican strategist.
The Morris predictions were embraced by the Republican intellectual elite, from Newt Gingrich to Karl Rove. The results left them, in Gingrich’s words, “dumbfounded,” and none so publicly as Rove. The mastermind of the George W. Bush elections in 2000 and 2004 was so disbelieving of the media’s reporting of Obama’s success that he stomped onto the set of Fox News shortly after 11 p.m. on election night and told the anchors that they were being premature in calling Ohio for Obama. With cameras rolling Rove and anchor Megyn Kelly walked into the Fox decision center, where an analyst was confronted by Rove. The analyst insisted that the call was correct — Obama would win Ohio.
Dick Morris, to his credit, showed up on that same Bill O’Reilly show the next night to face the music. What happened to that Romney landslide, the host asked. “I feel like I’m in a mudslide,” responded Morris. “I was wrong.”
Morris’s explanation was simple: He had assumed that the conventional polls were off because their sampling was based on the 2008 electorate. What Morris had assumed was an exception to the rule was, he now believed, the new normal, and Republicans were losing their footing among those new voters.
O’Reilly — and a lot of other members of what some are now calling “the conservative entertainment complex” — didn’t take away the same lesson as Morris. “We are no longer the traditional America,” O’Reilly said. “Fifty percent of the electorate wants stuff, and Obama will give them stuff.” Ann Coulter, another right wing commentator, said simply that America has “more takers than makers.”
If that’s the case, then why would the GOP remain in business? Surely it won’t shift its policies to promise expanded welfare benefits or free healthcare.
Maybe instead it should re-examine its assumptions. In the 2012 election 73 percent of Asian-Americans voted for Obama — the Asian-Americans I know seem more like makers than takers. And 67 percent of single women voted for Obama — more makers than takers in my estimation.
In 2012 exit polls showed that 70 percent of Jewish voters — more makers than takers, one might assume — voted for Obama. And a late October poll of Muslim voters showed 68 percent support for Obama.
Given that mainstream Republicans stood idly by time and again while their crackpot fringe deliberated over whether or not the president is a Muslim (as if that would disqualify him for the presidency), it’s no surprise that Muslim-Americans voted the way they did. Will they always vote blue by that percentage? I wouldn’t make too many assumptions.
They are, after all, “Jersey strong.” I’ll bet Chris Christie won’t write them off in his 2013 bid for re-election, even if Cory Booker is his opponent.