The Republican Party failed in many ways Tuesday night.
They failed to unseat a vulnerable incumbent president in a sluggish economy with high unemployment. They failed to pick up key seats in the Senate (Missouri) and even lost a few (Massachusetts, Maine, Indiana) seats that were more than winnable. They failed to translate their Tea Party-leanings into a viable electoral strategy that could continue to compete and win on a national level.
While failure inevitably leads to reflection and self-evaluation, there are at least three lessons that the GOP should NOT learn following this year's election.
First, Tuesday was not a repudiation of principle or of the party. Governor Romney was virtually tied with President Obama in the popular vote and lost several key swing states by very tight electoral margins. Republicans maintained their solid majority in the House. The Democratic lead in the Senate is small and virtually meaningless given the ability of Republicans to muster 41 votes to filibuster legislation.
The GOP did not win Tuesday night, but neither did it lose. It failed; insofar as it sought greater electoral success than it otherwise enjoyed before. As far as the result of Tuesday night's election, the nation simply voted for the status quo: a divided government between Democrats in the "higher chambers" and Republicans in the "lower chambers."
Second, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the GOP should not attempt to pivot to the center in the hopes of being rewarded politically. The GOP is the party of limited government, free enterprise, national honor, and traditional values (at least rhetorically). Any attempt to sever any of these pillars will only lead to further and more serious electoral disappointments. Irrespective of tonight's outcome, most Americans still believe the country is on the wrong track, that the government is too big and that it does too much. If the GOP needs to moderate anything, it is their collective tone rather than their philosophical positions.
Third and lastly, the GOP must not allow their electoral disappointments with Hispanic voters to result in a political about face on the issue of illegal immigration. Granting citizenship to illegal aliens would only further exacerbate the GOP's demographic dilemma by increasing the national share of minority voters who are far less receptive to a small government philosophy than is the GOP's largely white base. Capitulation on illegal immigration would lead to one of two long-term scenarios: political irrelevancy or the abandoning of its limited government philosophy. Instead, the GOP should focus on articulating to Hispanics, in a warm, hopeful, and respectful tone, how their governing philosophy would benefit them.
The GOP failed in many ways Tuesday night. Yet its failures were tactical, not substantive. There remains in the United States a deep political appetitie for a philosophy of limited government. The GOP neglects this reality at its peril.