So what meaning should the Republicans take from last week's election loss? Not much, mainly because nothing really changed.
The elections in 2006-2010 were change elections. The White House, the House of Representatives, and/or the Senate changed parties.
In 2012, nothing changed. The Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate but the balance of power is still about the same.
In a lot of ways, 2012 resembles 2004. In both elections the vote was more a referendum on the incumbent as anything. The party out of power hated the incumbent with a passion and rallied behind a slightly wooden New Englander. They expected to win based and were surprised that the incumbent won by a narrow but solid majority. The results of the election started the incumbent's party talking about holding a permanent majority and the need for the challenger's party to change if it wanted to stay competitive.
There are other parallels. In 2004 we were involved in two wars so the Democrats ran a war veteran on the theory that someone who had been in combat was better qualified to command the troops. During the campaign his strong point, his military service, was discredited.
In 2012 we were stuck in a financial slump so the Republicans ran a businessman on the theory that someone who had guided businesses would be better qualified to run the economy. During the campaign his strong point, his time at Bain, was discredited.
Another similarity, in 2004 and in 2012 the incumbent had the better get-out-the-vote organization.
There are some differences. Romney is much more moderate than Kerry and in 2004 the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Bush managed to increase his lead in the popular vote. In 2012 the Democrats do not control the House and Obama's lead was smaller in 2012 than in 2008. Also, the Republicans hold a record number of governorships including several states that Obama carried.
So, what lesson should we learn?
The biggest one is how fast things change. After Katrina and mismanagement in Iraq, the Republicans lost both Houses of Congress followed by the White House. Considering the number of scandals that have come out in the last week, the chaos in Libya and Egypt, and the weakening economy, Obama's popularity may vanish as fast as Bush's did.
There are a couple of things that the Republicans need to do to help their chances. One is to quash the extreme anti-abortion candidates. They pull down the entire party. The other is to come up with a more positive stance on immigration control.
They also need to start calling the Democrats on how far to the left they moved. How can the Democrats claim to be the moderates when they are running on a platform of free birth control? Similarly, the Republicans need to start insisting that the Democrats give a strategy for entitlement reform that goes beyond kicking the can down the road.