The adrenalin has faded. The exhaustion is setting in. The realization that the campaign is over and the task of governing awaits is growing on the victors. The quiet reality of loss is setting in for the vanquished. For the rest of us, the question remains: What does it all mean?
So here are a few quick takes. And remember, sometimes the most obvious is also the most important.
First, the Tea Party got thumped. Its candidates lost essential senate races that the Republican Party had taken for granted mere months ago. The Tea Party isolated Mitt Romney from mainstream voters, linking him to a rabid ideology that he could not shake as he desperately tried to move to the middle in the closing weeks of the campaign. Lesson: The loudest voices don’t often command the votes needed to win in November.
Second, in the melting pot that is America, inclusive trumps exclusive. Whether it’s single women, young adults, or minorities, alienating the rapidly growing voting blocs is not smart politics. Latinos voted by a margin of almost 3 to 1 for the president. To survive, the GOP needs to invite people in, not shut them out.
Third, pandering on everything doesn’t work. Constancy of views matters when running for the presidency. You can’t be a theological right-winger on issues of contraception and women’s health and then suddenly pretend to be moderate without sacrificing your credibility. On every issue that mattered, the Etch A Sketch approach damaged Romney’s credibility.
Fourth, we really did build this—all of us, together. At a deep level, this election was about our notion of community in times of need. The public appears to appreciate the role that government plays at those times. And that is why Hurricane Sandy was such a vital metaphor. It was the real-life reminder that crises—whether the economic cataclysm of 2008 or a natural disaster—require a common effort in response. Yes, our sense of community does not override our deep belief that individuals make our nation great, but no individual can succeed without the surrounding support and investment provided by all the rest of us. Mitt Romney simply didn’t seem able to convey this simple but core notion of what it means to be an American.
Fifth, the Republican House has to figure out whether to continue to play obstructionist naysayer or come to the table. Is Grover Norquist still the head of the Republican Party? Or will Speaker John Boehner acknowledge the better angels of his nature and negotiate a meaningful comprise with the president? That, and the willingness of the Senate to pass filibuster reform, are the two biggest outstanding questions that will determine the course of the next several months.
And finally, the question for the president. Will he tell the story of our national success with power and passion, as he can and did last night, to build support for the range of issues that demand attention—from the fiscal cliff to the environment to the stagnation of middle-class income to the ravages of gun violence? He has won re-election and with it the power of the pulpit. Let’s hope he uses it.
Read more of Slate’s 2012 election coverage.