I spent election night this year among the Republicans, stationed out at a bland Embassy Suites for the Oregon Republican's party, snacking on NOBAMA 100 Grand candy bars. The people in charge of the election party had started out the night streaming CBS, then switched over to FOX (which prompted cheering), then when even the news on FOX got so bad, turned off the TV altogether. The crowd quickly turned inward, everyone staring down at their phones.
As Ohio swung for Obama, I struck up conversation with the best dressed people in the room, the Log Cabin Republicans. By that point, even FOX had declared Obama the president. Everyone was a little glum, but the Log Cabiners kept their heads up.
"We have our work cut out for us," said Oregon Log Cabin President James Owens. "We'll be making the Republican party more inclusive, which will be making a better Republican party in the future."
That's the message of this election: Can the Republican party become less bigoted toward the groups that are increasingly turning out to vote? If the Republican leadership actually tries to branch out over the next four years, they'll have to work toward policies that benefit LGBT people and women's reproductive rights.
In this election, the Republicans alienated all kinds of voters. The Republican anti-abortion platform and rape-talk alienates women, who lean more Democrat and trounced candidates like Todd Akin. Their platform and rhetoric alienates people of color and supporters of LGBT equality and young people. Polls show that Republican leaders were hoping fewer young people would turn out than in the previous election—instead, people under 29 made up more of the electorate than in 2008 and went 60 percent for Obama. When your election strategy hinges on not turning out the vote, you know you've got a problem.
So: Can the Republican party actually change? In the next four years, are we going to see party drop any of its main alienating policies, or will it stick to its guns—so to speak—and hope the young, non-white, pro-gay voters just don't show up on election day? To survive, it seems like the party will have to follow the advice of people like Owens and work to be more inclusive. What will be the bigoted policy they axe? Anti-same-sex-marriage campaigns? Racist immigration reform? Laws that limits birth control and abortion access? Promise to repeal the youth-friendly Obamacare? It will be interesting to see whether the Republican leadership can embrace the smartest people in its party—people like Owen, who understand the need for change.