“How ya like me now?” — Barack Obama
OK, so Obama didn’t really say that, but surely he must have thought it behind a private smile at some point Tuesday night.
There are no smiles among the Republicans, however, only a pressing question: Can the GOP fix itself? Can a party whose appeal is wholly white and mainly male learn to appeal to a rainbow electorate which is neither? Especially after it has spent so many years denigrating that rainbow, drawing lines in the sand, placing chips on its shoulder.
There are hopeful signs that our long national hissy fit may at last be over. House Speaker John Boehner was making conciliatory noises about resolving the economic impasse the day after the election. Some of the party’s most prominent voices, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been speaking of the need for the GOP to broaden its appeal. So maybe the adults are finally returning home.
But the place is a wreck, because the kids (looking at you, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain) have been having quite the party. And repairing it is going to be a long and difficult process.
In the first place, any sudden GOP outreach to those it spurned while courting angry older white men must unavoidably appear conniving, self-conscious and self-serving. And once you get past the problem of appearances, there is the simple question of what it will take to undo the damage the party has inflicted upon itself with those groups.
How long will it be before gay men and lesbians are willing to forgive and forget that the party has routinely demeaned their relationships and impugned their moral fitness?
How long will it take before Hispanics are willing to let bygones be bygones with a party that spoke of “self-deportation” and cheered the notion of a border fence to electrocute undocumented Mexican workers?
And how much time must go by before African-Americans are willing to look past the GOP’s unrelenting and deeply personal disrespect toward the nation’s first African-American president, its insistence on treating him as some foreign Other who, in John Sununu’s memorably tawdry phrase, must “learn how to be an American”?