So the mud-slinging is over for now, in the US at least, with President Barack Obama winning a second term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney by gaining more than the 270 votes needed to win.
In general that means that Europe will be waking up this morning with a general sigh of relief. Opinion polls have always shown President Obama to be more popular than Governor Romney – but for most governments continuity in Washington is better than a changing of the guard. The US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, as well as the President himself, has been closely involved in discussions on the eurozone. Added to that, the EU is so embroiled in its internal debates on the eurozone crisis that it doesn’t want any external distractions. The EU has also been working closely with the Obama administration on a variety of foreign policy issues – Iran in particular. Even if some of the key personnel change in a second Obama term, the President’s victory means there will be no dramatic change of course for us to deal with.
But what about the loser? What ought to pain Republicans most about Obama’s victory is that 2012 was entirely winnable for them. In European elections over the past few years, voters have thrown out leaders who were in charge during the worst of the financial crisis, whether those leaders deserved the blame or not. That Mitt Romney lost nonetheless is in part a tribute to his own weaknesses as a candidate. The Obama campaign put Romney on the defensive early about his work at Bain Capital, and left him there. The Republican nominee made any number of horrendous gaffes and never found a way to talk about himself or his agenda in a way that middle class voters could relate to.
But even a clumsy candidate might have beaten Obama if he’d played his cards right. Romney is not a right-wing extremist. To win the nomination, though, he had to pretend to be one, recasting himself as “severely conservative” and eschewing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of the country’s most liberal state. He had to pass muster with his party’s right-wing base on taxes, immigration, climate change, abortion, and gay rights. Many of his statements on these issues were patently insincere. His pandering to the base made it possible for the Obama campaign to portray him as a right-wing radical from the start of the campaign. According to exit poll results, Romney won men as expected, but lost among women by 11 points—too large a gender gap to be overcome.
So we have President Barack Obama for another 4 years, saying “I have never been more hopeful”.
But perhaps Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times sums it up best: “If we’re lucky, we will find that we elected a different Obama from the one who won four years ago – not just a grayer Obama but a wiser one too.”