Election 2012: First Take

Robert Borosage

“The one word description of this election is spelled J-E-E-P,” said a friend early Tuesday evening. “This proves you can’t keep giving the finger to the American people and be elected president,” he said, with evident relief.

True enough, in the final days of the campaign, Romney’s oily shape-shifting, etch-a-sketch prevaricating sales pitch finally exceeded the credulity of the American people and the cravenness of the mainstream media, particularly in Ohio and the Midwest.

But Romney’s defeat was far more telling than that. With the lousy economy, voters wanting change and an incumbent president curiously intent on selling progress and continuity, this was an election that Republicans should have won. In our Gilded Age of extreme inequality, with a middle class that increasingly understands the rules are rigged against them, this was the first election in what is likely to be an era of growing class warfare. And Romney’s defeat was a clear repudiation of the revolt of the rich.

Romney, after all, was of, by and for the 1%. With his 14% tax rate on 20 million in annual income, elevators for his wife’s Cadillacs, scorn for the 47%, a fortune that, in the classic phrase of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, summers in the Swiss Alps and winters in the Cayman Islands, he was the poster candidate of the Gilded class. He won the Republican nomination because, as Newt Gingrich complained, he had more billionaires than anyone else. His company, Bain Capital, epitomizes casino capitalism, profiting from financial finagling and shipping jobs abroad. His platform came down to one claim: “I’m a businessman; I can fix this.”

With the president refusing to tell people what he would change, Romney did better on the economy than he might otherwise. But voters knew that he wasn’t on their side and had no clue about the struggles they faced. His remedy for the economy might work for the few, but it wasn’t likely to trickle down to the rest of us.

And the deformed populism of the right, the foul congeries of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, couldn’t overcome this. Voter suppression seemed to backfire, the insult apparently goading more young and African American voters to the polls. Anti-immigrant bashing only built Democratic margins among Latino voters. The war on women helped Obama back into the White House and gave Democrats at least two upset Senate victories in Missouri and Indiana.

Middle class populism triumphed. The president swept key states in the Midwest because his campaign scoured Romney for his Bain record and produced for workers in the rescue of the auto industry. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin won by standing clearly with working people against the money interests. Progressives also made gains in the House, but there clearly a flood of late big money helped Republicans stave off many strong challenges.

We’ll provide more detailed analysis when the results are finally in. Our election night poll results will be released on Friday. Stay tuned.

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