How President Obama Won a Second Term

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Romney had a chance to change the narrative with his vice-presidential pick.
He couldn't do that, because of the donors.

So he picked Ryan for the money?
The same thing – they had to get their money lined up and get the base all happy. Ryan accomplished all that. But in the end, I don't think Ryan got him a vote or cost him a vote. I really don't. If I look at how Obama performed in Wisconsin, it was as expected. I don't know if it would have made a difference if he would have picked Chris Christie or anybody else.

Let's talk about the Obama campaign. How did they manage to sustain their turnout in key states, despite not having people jazzed up like they were in 2008?
They connected people in a way that had never been done before with Facebook. If they knew I was an undecided voter, they also knew I was in the Marine Corps, and they'd have a retired gunnery sergeant call me to get me to vote. It was way far above anything that's ever been tried in politics before. Political scientists will mine this data forever.

The other thing is that the Republican brand tends to get Democrats out, too. The Republicans are not the only people who can be enthusiastic. African-Americans, they were 13 percent of the vote. No one really thought that was going to happen.

How did the Republicans get so outclassed in terms of technology? In 2004, Rove dominated on that front.
The most amazing story of the whole election was how personally shellshocked Romney was that he lost. They completely thought he was going to win. How can a man with a reputation of being data-driven, who does spreadsheets better than anybody in the world, be shocked that he lost? I can't wait to read the book as to what happened to Romney. It's stunning.

Part of it is how inefficiently they spent all the money they had. Conservatives have a point here: You give somebody too many resources, and they don't allocate them very well. The top people in the Romney campaign were paid $134 million in this election. The top consultants in the Obama campaign were paid $6 million. Democrats just spent their money smarter, better and with less nepotism or favoritism. It's stunning that a community organizer would be so much more efficient than a head of one of the largest private equity funds. As the rabbis have been saying for 5,000 years, "Go figure."

Did Hurricane Sandy seal the deal for Obama?
In every election the Republicans lose, the excuses pile up. In '92, it was Perot. In '96, it was the GOP Congress. In 2008, it was McCain botching his reaction to Lehman Brothers. In 2012, it was Sandy. It's a convenient narrative. If you believe that, then you don't have to change anything – it allows you a kind of fantasy.

Even Democrats thought the Republicans would have more success in turning out people who hate Obama. But according to the numbers, Romney's vote may not even match McCain's. Why weren't people fired up and ready to go on the right-wing side?
It looks like the turnout was a little down. What was surprising to me is the model they used for the white vote. The white vote in '08 was 74 percent of the vote, and that's what they were counting on this time. But according to population trends, the white vote should be 72 percent – and it actually came in at 72. And it will be under 70 in 2016. What the Republicans have is some form of a progressive disease, like diabetes – it's just going to keep getting worse until they address it.

The demographics are a creeping cancer for them, in other words.
Yes. Every four years, the white vote goes to minus two – and it's picking up steam. From 1948 to 1992, it went from 91 to 87 percent. From '92 to 2016, it's going to go from 87 to 70.

Combine that with the youth vote. It was 54 percent for Kerry, and it was 66 for Obama in '08. This year it was 60 for Obama. Remember, the greatest predictor of how you're going to vote when you're 54 is how you voted when you're 24.

The Republicans don't have any choice but to deal with this. The question is how they deal with it. Older whites are like bloody marys when you have a hangover – you just have to go back to them, but eventually they're going to catch up with you. You go down to the hotel lobby and say, "I'm shaking – I have to have a bloody mary." The Republicans keep drinking them, and they're very productive in off years, like 2010.

But isn't that what we said when they lost in 2008? I was writing the obituary of the Republican Party after Obama won on the basis of those same demographic trends.
The obituary was correct – but they're going to come back. At some point, there's going to be something like the Democratic Leadership Council that figures out how to obtain conservatism's aims through different language.

If you were giving them advice on how to reform, what would you tell them?
The first thing is that they've got to cut a deal on immigration. They have to find a way to put the issue behind them. They don't have a lot of maneuvering room on things like gay marriage or abortion. The way these congressional districts have been drawn, a lot of Republicans can't make a deal and move forward, because they'll get beat in the primary. That's got them in a box. If you're a Democrat and Obama gives you permission, you can do anything you want. But nobody can give them permission – there's no person there.

I want to get your read on 2016. Who are the top five candidates on either side?
The number-one issue for Republicans in 2016 will be, "Who can win the general election?" Not who is the most conservative, not who is the best they've got, but who can win the general. From a Democratic standpoint, the obsessive question is going to be, "Does Hillary run or not?" If she does, a lot of people are going to say, "We should act like Republicans."

There's going to be a lot of falling in line?
Falling in line, yeah. Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line, but we might be the people who fall in line this time. Someone will run against her, of course, but it will be a tough case to make.

On their side, they need a Republican version of Bill Clinton in 1992, someone who can shed the old image of the party. If Jeb Bush had been named Jeb Smith, he would have changed that brand and been the nominee, and he probably would have won. That's the person I'd be most afraid of – Jeb Smith. Maybe somebody with that kind of skill will emerge.

Somebody like a Chris Christie?
They hate Chris Christie. We have no idea how much they hate Chris Christie right now because of the Sandy stuff.

Do you think that will blow over for him?
Who knows? I've seen my man, President Clinton, leave office, and now there's not a more popular person in the world.

What will be the deciding factor in 2016?
Our party's fate, in a larger sense, is going to be tied up in what happens with the economy. The dominant issue in American politics is how you get the middle class back in the game. If recovery takes hold, the Democrats will be in a pretty commanding position.

Looking forward to the next few years, how does Obama spend his political capital now so he can build on this victory?
The danger is whatever deal he makes to reduce the deficit. Since he doesn't have to run for re-election, he may want to seal his legacy with some sort of grand bargain. The problem is, deficit reduction is popular with the elites, but it's not that popular with the country. If he does this, he's going to have to work hard at telling people why this is good for them.

This story is from the December 6th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

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