Yesterday wasn't quite as bad for the GOP, in terms of House and Senate losses, as the polls said it might be. But if you want an example of why the party's long-term problems are worrying, look at Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode.
Goode was elected as a Democrat in 1996 to a district that covers south central Virginia and includes Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. In 2000 he left the Democratic Party and became an independent. In 2002 became a full-blown Republican. He kept winning re-election fairly easily. It helped that the GOP Senate and Assembly under Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) gerrymandered the state to create a solid majority of Republican House districts.
In 2006, Goode was re-elected easily. He then reacted with horror to the election of Rep. Keith Ellison, a black Muslim from Minneapolis, and his decision to be sworn in on a Koran.
The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.
No one expected Goode to lose this year. His standing in the polls suffered after some late-breaking financial scandals, but he usually won his district easily. But as of right now he's losing. He's down 100 votes, and might turn what was a 8-3 Republican majority in the House delegation into a 6-5 Democratic majority. The Democrats have locked up seats in suburban D.C. and the Chesapeake region.
This is illustrative because of the way the McCain campaign ended. It was a mess. Frustrated that the media beyond talk radio hadn't picked up on the Bill Ayers story, McCain and Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists" and demanded he reveal the extent of their "relationship." In the final week of the race, the campaign demanded that the L.A. Times release a tape of Obama at an event with Rashid Khalidi, a pretty mainstream (American-born) Palestininan scholar. Over the weekend a 527 blasted the airwaves with ads that rebroadcast Jeremiah Wright's "God DAMN America" quote. On election day the McCain campaign alerted reporters to the freakish story of two "New Black Panthers" standing outside a Philadelpia polling place with nightsticks. Why, I have no idea. Well… I have an idea, but I don't want to say it.
McCain did not run a bigoted campaign. He deliberately pulled punches (like never talking about Wright unless prompted) and he probably feels good about that today: What if he'd sunk into the gutter and lost anyway? Because he would have lost anyway. Karl Rove, whom everyone makes fun of today, was completely right in the 1990s when he realized that America was becoming a less and less white, more and more cosmopolitan country, and that any path for Republican dominance depended on winning the Hispanic vote and pulling some percentage of the black vote. As Steve Sailer (who's controversial but gets this stuff) points out, McCain won a 12-point victory among white voters. But white voters only made up 75 percent of the electorate, and even that number is distorted by the rejection of Obama among Southern whites who also rejected John Kerry by a landslide. In those Appalachian states that were supposed to shred Obama, he did much better. Pennsylvania, Obama lost the white vote by 3 points. In Ohio he lost it by 5 points.
In Michigan, the home of the Reagan Democrats, and of Detroit, whose "hip-hop mayor" Kwame Kilpatrick is going to jail, Obama won the white vote by 4 points.
It's way too easy to write the "Party X will never recover" story that looks silly in two years. I remember Grover Norquist pronouncing the Democrats dead in 2004. But we've got definitive proof that racial politicking is not enough to win an election anymore. Too many white voters reject it, and there are too many non-whites to make it electorally sensible.