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May 28, 2016

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Facts catch up with the spin docs

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Volumes of political spin bump up against hard facts on election night.

One particularly amusing moment came that evening when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly interrupted political consultant Karl Rove’s wildly optimistic projections for Mitt Romney’s chances:

“Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better,” she asked, “or is this real?”

Thank you, Ms. Kelly. As the numbers rolled in and one battleground state after another fell to President Barack Obama, it was time for despondent conservatives to drop the feel-better projections and start the feel-better rationalizations.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly got the ball rolling with this memorable explanation: If Obama won, he said as the early numbers came in, it would be because of a rising tide of nonwhites looking for giveaways.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” O’Reilly said. “And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. ... And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it.”

I’m not sure what he means by “white establishment,” unless he’s talking about white voters who voted for Mitt Romney. A majority of white voters, particularly white males, voted for Romney. But a majority of other major demographic groups voted for Obama — and became the most significant trend story of this election.

If Romney had pulled the same percentage of votes among Hispanic voters as President George W. Bush did in 2004, he would be our new president. He would have carried Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Colorado, according to the Washington Times, and Nevada would have been too close to call.

Instead, exit polls show Hispanic support for the Grand Old Party’s candidate slipped from 45 percent to 27 percent as Hispanic participation grew from 8 percent to 10 percent of the electorate.

Obama’s support among white voters slipped to 39 percent from the 43 percent he won in 2008. But he made up for that loss with 93 percent of blacks, 71 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians, and 76 percent of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Significantly, his percentage slipped a couple of points with blacks but grew among Hispanics. That raises new questions about what went right for Bush, who was advised by Rove, but wrong for Romney.

Rush Limbaugh sounded a lot like O’Reilly in this rambling post-election rant: “Small things beat big things yesterday,” he said. “Conservatism ... did not lose last night ... it is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus. People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus.”

Folks, here’s a suggestion. If you want to win people’s votes, stop insulting them.

I don’t expect today’s industry of political talk show hosts and commentators to follow that advice. Punditry is a profession where nobody goes broke by giving voice to other people’s pent-up resentments. The more you sound like Triumph the Insult Dog, the better.

Unfortunately in this era of Anti-Obama Derangement Disorder, the Republican primary debates often sounded like a televised audition for “America’s Next Top Demagogue.”

Who could forget, for example, how Texas Gov. Rick Perry was booed for defending his state’s sensible policy of admitting otherwise-qualified undocumented students to Texas universities? By contrast, Obama’s executive order to stop prosecuting undocumented students was popular enough among legal Hispanic citizens to help make up for his failure to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and Cuban-American, floated the possibility in this Congress of a deal on the Dream Act to help undocumented youths get access to college, but he dropped the effort this year.

Neither party has aggressively pushed for a deal to produce the comprehensive immigration reform that the nation needs.

Now, as the GOP fears for its presidential future, the long-awaited comprehensive reform is looking a lot more attractive to Republican leaders. So is Rubio. Better late than never.

Republicans need to talk more with the voters they want to reach. More important, they also need to listen.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He writes from Washington.

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