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Updated Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 10:01 PM

Republicans blew this election with insults, immature behavior

By Danny Westneat
Seattle Times staff columnist

Election 2012 was the triumph of the liberals. But the back story was it could've, would've, should've been won by the Republicans.

Except they botched it, big time. By spending much of the year suicidally insulting huge swaths of the voting public.

Here, the postelection landscape sure looks like we're the new Amsterdam. We legalized pot. Ditto gay marriage. Democrats easily won the U.S. Senate race, all three open congressional seats and eight of nine statewide elected offices, including the governorship for the eighth consecutive time going back to 1984.

So it'd be tempting for elated liberals to see in all this a dream fulfilled. That Washington state finally has become a proper extension of the People's Republic of Seattle.

It isn't. There are other clues this was, instead, a massive missed opportunity for Republicans. One that will haunt the party for a long time around here.

Example: Did you know that by a 14 percentage-point margin, voters in this deep blue state told exit pollsters the big problem with government is that it does too much. Not that it ought to do more.

Another: In a year of thinking liberally, you might imagine Tim Eyman would struggle. But he had his most decisive win ever.

His two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, a version of which squeaked by five years ago by 2 percentage points, won in all 39 counties on its way to a 30-percentage-point landslide.

It also seems Republicans will finally see a dream of their own realized: charter schools.

And then this contrary factoid: Here in the supposed Soviet of Washington, 53 percent of voters told exit pollsters they want to scrap either all or parts of the health-care-reform law. Only 41 percent said they want to keep it or expand it.

Yet many of these voters were at the same time re-electing President Obama, the architect of that law. And rejecting Republican Rob McKenna in the governor's race, though he had staked his political fortunes on undoing all or parts of it.

What happened? Why would an electorate open to moderate or right-of-center ideas simultaneously reject almost everybody with an R after their names?

Because Republicans blew it. Especially on a national level, the party behaved as if there was a revolution. They were all pitchforks and doom and gloom. When what people wanted was some adults in the room.

Locally, Republicans ran a strong (with a few exceptions), mostly moderate slate of candidates. It didn't matter. They are in a national party that spent most of 2012 in a medieval meltdown over everything from contraception to rape to a bizarre one-upsmanship contest to see who could be more dehumanizing to immigrants. Or really to anyone in the bottom half of the earnings ladder.

The day before the election, I saw that local Republicans in the 41st Legislative District, on the Eastside, were electronically passing around one of those joke e-cards that said the following:

"Obama will grab an early lead on Tuesday ... until all the Republicans get off work."

Doesn't that just sum up the attitude? GOP: "You're a taker. And I, who built this, am a maker."

Set aside how self-aggrandizing and delusional this is. It's also terrible politics. You have to be in some kind of Ayn Rand fantasy bubble to not get it's political suicide to denigrate half the voters you're trying to woo.

But so it went. McKenna, for his part, barely lost, though he outpolled his party's presidential candidate here by 7 percentage points.

Still, McKenna can also trace his loss to his own decision in March 2010 to give a stem-winding speech against Obamacare at a Tea Party rally in Olympia. In it he attacked Harvard intellectuals and egged on the crowd, who were waving signs decrying socialism and depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache.

Remember, the voters of the state tend to agree with McKenna about the health-care law. But I bet they were looking for a more mature approach. Such as: How can we fix this law? Probably not by pandering to rallies of people wearing tri-corner hats.

Nine years ago, the Seattle Weekly posed in photos what it dubbed "a new generation of Republican leaders." It was four young stars who might finally win in a blue state by taking a softer approach to politics.

"What to call them?" the article began. "Republican soccer dads?"

The hope was that these four, fluent in "cul-de-sac," could appeal to moderates in Seattle and its suburbs. To reverse years of electoral fallout from the Christian fundamentalist takeover of the party's grass roots in the 1980s.

The four were Dino Rossi, Bill Finkbeiner, Luke Esser and Rob McKenna.

Flash forward to today. Rossi lost three times. Finkbeiner lost last week. Esser's out of politics. And now, McKenna, probably the most promising, is on his way out as well.

Can anyone rebuild from this rubble?

Don't know. But when some fresh talent comes along, they'd better hope the fever gripping the Republican party has broken. Else they aren't going to win around here, either.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.


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