It would be tempting to call the 2012 election the year of the woman — if only for the record number headed for the U.S. Senate and their instrumental role in re-electing President Barack Obama — but it was also the year of the Latino, the African-American and the young. That's the coalition that helped Mr. Obama, and that's the election result that ought to worry Republicans most.
Once the GOP gets past some respectable period of mourning that comes from losing a national election to an incumbent president at a time of persistently high unemployment, they are going to have to do some serious soul-searching. That the party continues to have strong appeal to older white men is unquestionable; that it can't stay relevant on the national stage with that identity is just as certain.
The truth is in the numbers. President Obama won because he essentially held his 2008 coalition together with strong support from minorities and women. Mitt Romney and the Republicans practically played into his hands with tactical mistake after tactical mistake — from the disdain they showed toward immigration reform to candidates going soft on rape and tough on rape victims.
Mr. Obama won over women by about 12 points, while Mr. Romney attracted a mere 27 percent of Hispanic vote, four points less than Sen. John McCain in 2008 and 17 points behind George W. Bush in 2004. The GOP was even kind enough to give blacks an extra reason to vote by pursuing voter ID laws nationwide that struck many as reminiscent of voter suppression efforts of the Jim Crow era.
It's one thing for Republicans to be against abortion; that's an issue that divides the nation. It's another for them to seek to limit access to birth control, attack Planned Parenthood, sneer at victims of violent, sexual assault as "legitimate" or not, or force incest victims to undergo invasive ultrasound testing. Even those women with heightened concerns about the economy (the group the GOP kept telling us would pull through for their candidate) can't ignore that kind of rhetoric.
Four years ago, Mr. Obama's strong support from young people was seen as a one-time peculiarity, a function of the youthful candidate's "rock star" following and technology savvy. Well, they came back in 2012, with exit polls showing they produced as big a share of the winning tally as they did four years ago (with 18-to-29-year-olds representing 19 percent of the electorate and supporting Mr. Obama by a 60-40 margin).
Any party that so ignores the interests of Hispanics, blacks, women and young people doesn't have a bright future. Surely, the biggest mistake Republicans could make would be to assume it's just a matter of optics — that the same point of view espoused by Mr. Romney and his white male running mate but voiced by a woman or minority would do the trick.
But it doesn't really work that way. Mr. Obama certainly received strong support from black voters, but so did Bill Clinton before him. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio may have been a strong Romney supporter, but it was the Democrat who brought home more than two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. It's not just about appearances, it's about policy.
That's why one of Mr. Romney's biggest mistakes in this election may have been his decision to position himself to the right of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on immigration during the GOP primaries. He should have embraced the federal DREAM Act, but he didn't. He might even have beat Mr. Obama to the punch and favored a ban on the deportation of the children of illegal immigrants, or at least offered something like Bush-era immigration reform.
But no, the candidate played to his ever-shrinking base. If that wasn't a winning strategy in 2012, it surely won't be in 2016, when Hispanics will represent a bigger share of the electorate. They are the nation's largest minority group and the fastest growing — racial and ethnic minorities represented more than 90 percent of the nation's growth over the last decade, according to the U.S. Census.
Republicans can blame their loss on everything from media bias to superstorm Sandy to the betrayal of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but they can't continue to ignore the interests of such a giant swath of the electorate and still like their chances on the national stage, or ultimately the state level either. Until they find a way to broaden their base, simple demographics will continue to favor the Democrats.