In this particular case, what was overestimated and misjudged was the permanent effectiveness of the Democratic blueprint from 2012, whose mix of social-issue appeals and tech-savvy voter targeting was supposed to work in tandem with demographic trends to cement a new socially-liberal, multicultural coalition, and render the G.O.P.’s position entirely untenable absent a major ideological reboot. That blueprint really was effective in ’12, and the underlying demographic trends are real, and one bad midterm election does not prove that the coalition cannot hold together, as Republicans may learn to their cost two years from now. But from a lot of the commentary after Obama’s re-election, you would have thought that the combination of ethnic-interest appeals on immigration policy, “war on women” rhetoric on social issues, and brilliant get-out-the-vote operations run by tech-savvy Millennials (who, we were told, were too liberal to ever build a website for a Republican) posed a kind of immediate and existential challenge to the G.O.P., requiring immediate capitulation on a range of fronts, with no time for finesse or calculation and no room for resistance.
No so, as it turned out. Events have intervened, Republican politicians and their party have managed to adapt, and — as often happens — issue appeals that resonated in one political context have turned out to be less important than the fundamentals in another. The politics of immigration, for instance, turned out to look somewhat different once the issues were a sweeping executive amnesty and a child migration surge rather than the DREAM Act and the vague promise of something bipartisan and “comprehensive.” The politics of contraception turned out to be pretty easy to finesse by G.O.P. politicians with an ounce of savvy and no Akinesque tics, and the politics of abortion absolutism, as pursued by Wendy Davis and Mark “Uterus” Udall, turned out to be maybe not the way to turn Texas blue or keep Colorado from turning red. The turnout surge among minority voters that was crucial to Democrats in 2012 wasn’t easily replicated, notwithstanding efforts to use Ferguson and Trayvon Martin as rallying points. That amazing Democratic get-out-the-vote operation, staffed by geniuses and whiz kids, turned out to matter a lot less to who voted, and for whom, than more old-fashioned indicators like the president’s approval ratings. And nobody, but nobody, cared how many millions liberal billionaires spent trying to make climate change an issue.