On November 6, Barack Obama was re-elected president. His re-election set off a wave of grief throughout the Republican Party. So, as the GOP and conservatives seek to recover from their loss, they appear to be going through a period of reflection that has the distinct characteristics of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” model.
What are these five stages of grief?
Website Grief.com says “The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost.” PsychCentral says “The five stages do not necessarily occur in order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance.” The pace of progressing through the stages of political grief is different for all. You need not experience every stage, however it is important to not get stuck in any particular stage.
The Republican Party and conservatives appear to be stuck somewhere between stage one and four of the grief cycle. Some are still angry and bitter, shocked by the results of the election. Others are depressed, overwhelmed with the thought that America may not be the center-right country that they believed it to be, while other Republicans are struggling to find meaning in what occurred election night.
Similar to the recovery that one goes through after the loss of a loved one, the quicker the Republican Party progresses through the stages and reaches acceptance of the inevitable, i.e. a need to modify their messaging and methodology, the sooner they can return to a meaningful political existence and move on with their political mission in life. The Republican Party has to quickly move through their cycle of grief and get to acceptance so they can begin the hard work of rebuilding towards 2014 and 2016 and more importantly participating in the rebuilding of America.
That said, let’s examine the Republican Party's cycle of grief.
Stage 1 is shock and denial. This stage includes confusion, fear, and avoidance of the truth. In this stage people seek to point fingers and assign blame. Karl Rove’s refusal to acknowledge that Obama won Ohio is an example of denial.
Rove challenged his own network’s experts on live television. His shock at what was occurring was understandable. He was the architect, the polling wonk. He could not be wrong, but he was. Then the blame game began among Republicans and conservatives. Was it Romney’s poor campaign strategy, as was suggested by Laura Ingraham, or was it the Republican establishment’s insistence on selecting a Northeastern moderate to represent the fiscal conservatives. The Tea Party is blaming the Republican establishment for the loss. Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots told the Los Angeles Times that "What we got [with Romney] was a weak moderate candidate handpicked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican Party.” The "demise" of America was reported far and wide. Pundits like the conservative Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly announced that America was now a nation of takers not makers. Coulter told conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham that “We have more takers than makers and it is over.” The Huffington Post quoted Rush Limbaugh as saying “Conservatism ... did not lose last night ... it is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus.”
Stage 2 anger set in quickly. KPHO-TV reported that a young woman ran over her husband because he didn’t vote. According to the report she was “upset because Obama won reelection.” On the campus of the University of Mississippi students took to the streets to protest Obama’s victory. The Memphis Flyer said that “riots” broke out when “hundreds of students collected on campus, yelling racial epithets, and burning Obama/Biden signs.” Jezebel.com captured examples of the hundreds of angry, racist messages that were left on Twitter by angry teenagers across America. As part of stage 2, hundreds of thousands of signatures have been entered on 39 state secession petitions representing thousands of individuals frustrated with the state of America and the results of the election. Sean Hannity showed his frustration. Mediaite reported that on his talk show Hannity said “Americans, you get the government you deserve. And it pains me to say this, but America right now deserves Barack Obama. Just barely over 50% looked at his pathetic record and decided they wanted more of the same.” Donald Trump sent a slew of angry messages on Twitter that were captured by Comedy Central before they were deleted.
Stage 3 is depression. It includes feelings of helplessness and a noticeable lack of energy, known as the “blahs.” Laura Ingraham famously said “if you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” George Will concurred “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics and find another business.” Ann Coulter said “My country [is] no longer interested in conservative ideas.” PolicyMic pundit John Giokaris wrote “If the majority of voters don’t support free market principles, private sector solutions, transparency, a constitutionally-limited government and being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, then there isn’t much else I have to offer.”
Rush Limbaugh said on his show “I went to bed last night thinking we've lost the country. I don't know how else you look at this.”
Stage 4 bargaining is where so many Republicans are now in. Republicans and conservative pundits are clinging to the hope that rather than having to change their ways America will come “running back home.” In an appearance on The O’Reilly Show, Ingraham suggested that “conservative solutions offered the only hope for American renewal.” Bargaining includes a need to tell one’s story as when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Washington Post article “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.”
Stage 5 is acceptance. The Republican Party has to accept that the Democrats ran a better race. The Democrats had a better strategy, told a better story, and had a better candidate. Now they have to put a new plan in place. They have to borrow from the Democrats what they did well while holding true to their values as a party. Whiteboards, poll analysis and a vocal entertainment faction can’t overcome the actual message that alienated Hispanics, African Americans, women, and young people. While President Obama was touring New Jersey in the aftermath of Sandy, America was reminded that Republicans wish to cut the FEMA budget by 43%. Republicans argued that voter fraud was rampant in minority communities, in essence calling minorities, liars and cheaters, and the African-American community responded by coming out in force the same way they did in 2008. The immigration policy, self-deportation, is based on setting up conditions that would force undocumented immigrants, primarily Hispanic Americans to voluntarily leave the country, and Hispanic Americans responded to that as well as Romney’s refusal to accept the DREAM Act, by voting overwhelmingly for Obama. Women showed that they will not allow any regression in the right to control their bodies and they showed that with their vote they intend to be heard in Congress. The 112th Congress had 17 women in the Senate, 12 Democrats and 5 Republicans ... the 113th Congress will have 20 women, 17 Democrats and 3 Republicans. Any plan that the Republicans put in place has to start with finding a candidate that represents and unites fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and social libertarians. Alfonzo Rachel of Zonation said that the reason that Obama appealed to liberals is because he was one. It was easy for him to represent the liberal platform, because he embodied liberalism.
Obama has received more popular votes than any president in history. He has received more than 50% of the popular vote twice, a feat rarely accomplished by a president. As a Democrat, he won Florida, Ohio, and Virginia twice, another rare trifecta. Despite this significant achievement, despite the fact that his reelection proved that people didn’t vote for him just because he was black, despite that he proved his coattails as head of a major party were long enough to help increase the majority position of his party in the Senate and win some seats in the House, the Republican Party and its supporters appear to still be stuck in their cycle of grief. Republicans need to quickly progress through their cycle of grief, accept defeat and explore their options for the future.