And the exit polls are clear: Governor Romney didn’t lose because he wasn’t conservative enough. He lost because he couldn’t get enough moderates, independents, women, and Hispanics in states like Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, and New Hampshire. He should have been a natural for some of those voters, based on his background.
But he became a different Romney in the Republican primaries, because of tea party voters. This Romney was trying to “self-deport” Hispanics by the millions, pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, and promised a gigantic, unfunded tax cut that favored the wealthy.
The tea party was also the biggest force keeping Republicans from cooperating with Mr. Obama on any of his major initiatives. Congressional Republicans all knew that their career could easily end if they voted with Obama, even once. A tea party challenger in a primary was a far greater danger than a Democrat in the general election.
That cemented the image of the GOP as the party of “no.” Look at America’s collective positive response to the picture of Republican Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor, cooperating with Obama on storm relief. The tea party didn’t let any national Republicans take popular, bipartisan steps.
The tea party, as a force in American politics, is largely finished now, barring another economic collapse. The millions of supporters of that movement are not going to vanish, though, nor will their very real issue of government spending. What the GOP needs is a unifying figure who can moderate the extremism of the tea party without squelching its fervor or its cause of lower deficits. In short, Republicans need a Bill Clinton.