Right before I shut down Facebook to go watch the election returns come in, one of my especially militant Republican friends told me that he was going to go crack a beer and settle in to watch his candidate "smash" mine. I had been feeling mildly optimistic about Obama winning all along but I wouldn't have dared to make such a declarative statement without allowing myself even the slightest wiggle room in case I had to eat my words later. I wondered where that boldness was coming from since the polls didn't reflect such a definite outcome.
Well, sure enough, it turned out that the polls were exactly right, maybe even underestimating Obama's strength by a bit.
The next day, Romney supporters appeared genuinely stunned by the result. It wasn't what their leaders had promised them was going to happen. Not only were they stunned but bitter as well. Because they'd cast this election as literally a war between the forces of good and evil, they saw Obama (and, thus, his brain-washed minions like myself) winning a second term as the ruination of America. (I think I may have reached a personal best for the amount of times I was called stupid in one day).
I have watched them all campaign long, and even before that, constructing the most elaborate (and, as it turned out, precarious) of alternate realities.They had their own media including a network dedicated to feeding their biases with Fox, and their own talk show hosts (Rush, et al) and their own newspapers and magazines and oh, yes, definitely their own fenced-off section of the blogosphere - "True Believers Only - Everyone Else Stay Out!" They had an abundance of nutty billionaires like Trump and Adelson and the Koch Brothers, who pledged comforting gazillions to the cause. They even had their very own God whispering to them, not to worry, he was involved behind (or perhaps that should be above) the scenes.
When they needed reasons to hate the president, they created fantasies out of whole cloth, casting him as an alien, a traitor. When he wasn't an undercover Muslim Brotherhood mole, he was a European-style Socialist (aren't those two designations in conflict with one another?) When the polls weren't positive for them, they pooh-poohed the pollsters and their methods. When the Congressional Research Office (a non-partisan group whose findings had been accepted by both R's and D's for generations), issued a report at odds with Mitt Romney's economic conclusions, they scoffed at the CRO and demanded the report be pulled. When they didn't like the unemployment number, they claimed that the numbers had been "manipulated" to favor Obama. They turned tragedies like Fast and Furious and Benghazi into scandals, then blamed the "lamestream" media for not covering them the same way. One of their representatives on the Science committee attributed climate change to dinosaur flatulence. Another one, the infamous Todd Akin, stated that women couldn't get pregnant in cases of "legitimate rape". Romney's campaign scornfully stated that it would not be bound by fact-checkers and its supporters, who'd cast fact-checkers aside long ago, heartily agreed.
Through the entire campaign, they floated happily along in a fragile bubble of denial. I think they were truly shocked when that bubble popped upon collision with the reality of an election to discover how many every day Americans had turned against their increasing radicalism. Even people who would normally have leaned red shied away this time. In my own state, the Tea Party gave away a Senate seat that could have belonged to the Republicans forever when they cast out Dick Lugar in favor of the "severely" conservative, Richard Mourdock.
In addition to all of that, their tactics were more like those of Attila the Hun than Mahatma Ghandi. They forswore any attempts at persuading leaners to their side in favor of bullying and badgering and name-calling. They told their opponents they were idiots who must not "care about America", users who had no higher motive in supporting Obama than wanting food stamps and free cell phones.
It was never enough for them that they disagreed with Obama's policies. It couldn't be as simple as competing philosophies about governance but rather that Obama, and by extension his voters, were ready to overthrow America's very constitution and way of life.
It never occurred to them to consider how many groups they were turning off in their arrogant insistence that they know what's best for all of us and we should just shut up and fall in line - Latinos and women and union workers and young people and Asians and Jews and African-Americans and gays. In the end, their largest constituency was white men and in the America of 2012, that's not enough to win, especially when so many of those men seemed not to have the best interests of the rest of us at heart.
So, it is time for Republicans to re-evaluate but if Facebook is any indication, they don't seem to be anywhere close to doing that. They are mostly either a) wringing their hands about the downfall of America or b) ready to take up arms because if they can't win by election, they'll, by God, take their country back by force.
I hope their voices of moderation prevail but I fear there aren't enough of them to make a difference. America needs two strong parties to counter-balance one another. Believe it or not, I want a strong Republican party that I can respect even when I disagree with them. For that to happen, the party has to be willing to re-join the reality-based community.