Republicans Review Election Results For Insight

This week's presidential election was very close in the popular vote. But it was a real blowout in the Electoral College. A GOP pollster says Democrats have assembled a majority coalition and that means his party has to make some big changes.

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The 2012 election was very close in the popular vote, but it was a real blowout in the electoral college. And that has Republicans sifting through the results, for lessons for the future. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Republicans have lots of theories about why they lost on Tuesday. In the months ahead, there will be even more soul-searching - and maybe some renewed family feuds. Veteran GOP strategist Ed Rogers says that's what happens after a loss like this one; a natural consequence that should be allowed to play its course.

ED ROGERS: The Republican brand needs work. How much of it was Romney? How much of it is ingrained in the party? How much of it was avoidable? It isn't clear to me yet. I'm hearing from Republican operatives and allies around the country, that we've got to reform; we've got to do this, we've got to do that. Everybody ought to take a breath; and let's make the conscious decision to do what we're going to do rather than an emotional decision here, in this fit of anguish and fatigue that the party is experiencing the morning after.

LIASSON: Topic number one in Republican circles, right now, is demographics. Everyone in both parties already knew that long-term population shifts favored the Democrats; but Republicans weren't prepared for the future to happen quite so soon. Here's Fox News host Bill O'Reilly on Election Night.

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BILL O'REILLY: The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America anymore. And whereby 20 years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney, the white establishment is now the minority.

LIASSON: Here are some statistics from the exit polls: Mitt Romney won as big a share of the white vote as any Republican seeking the White House ever has. But it wasn't enough because the white vote is shrinking - from 89 percent, in 1980; to 77 percent, in 2004; to just 72 percent, this week. And as the minority vote is growing, the Republican share of it is shrinking. Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote; 26 percent of the Asian-American vote; and 6 percent among African-Americans. Republican strategist Rich Galen.

RICH GALEN: And that gets to the crux of the problem that everybody's talking about today; and that is, the Republican Party is looking for a bigger and bigger share of a smaller and smaller market. We have figured out how to get every conceivable vote that's available to us. And in Washington terms, we have maxed out on our voters. So we need to go find new voters, to go - convince.

LIASSON: Republican strategist Ana Navarro thinks some of the problem is unique to Mitt Romney, who, during the primaries, took a hard-right turn on immigration - talking about self-deportation, and praising the controversial Arizona immigration law - all in an effort to defeat his more conservative rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.

ANA NAVARRO: Governor Romney probably went further to the right than he needed to, to try to overcompensate for the fact that he wasn't a conservative earlier in his life.

LIASSON: Republican pollster Whit Ayres says the Democrats have now assembled a majority coalition, and that means his party has to make some big changes.

WHIT AYRES: We have to do significantly better among non-whites, especially Hispanics and Asians. Harsh rhetoric about Hispanics is, for some Republicans, like smoking. You know it'll kill you; but you do it, anyway. The time has come for those Republicans to slap on the patch, and break the habit, so we don't die as a party.

LIASSON: The bad news is that Republicans look like they're on the wrong side of history. The good news is that they have a surprisingly strong bench of young, minority leaders - Senator Marco Rubio; and governors Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval and Bobby Jindal. Ed Rogers sees this generational shift addressing many of his party's current problems.

ROGERS: Part of the problem that Romney - and the party - had is, we didn't always talk very effectively to a modern audience; that too much of Campaign 2012 was filled with cliches and talking points, and pretty tired slogans. But you're going to see some newer, younger faces that are perhaps more articulate at a policy level, than the Romney generation has been.

LIASSON: It won't be long before some of those new-generation Republicans start jockeying for the chance to lead their party in 2016. But in the meantime, the current-era Republican leaders in Congress will have a lot of decisions to make - about taxes, spending, entitlements and immigration; decisions that will determine their party's ability to attract new voters.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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